Be Smart About Updating Renovate early, not right before you sell

The phone call usually begins: We’d like you to see our place and give us an idea of what we need to do to make it ready to put on the market.
Well, I can give the caller the most important piece of advice without even seeing the property.

Don’t spend $20,000 on your powder blue and harvest gold kitchen the week before you sell!

Don’t spend $20,000 on your powder blue and harvest gold kitchen the week before you sell!

Don’t spend a fortune on renovation the week before you sell it.
Many owners have either done some renovation since they bought or the previous owner had updated the property.  Even if nothing had been done since then, the property is better than in original condition.  In that case, do the absolute minimum to dress up the property and price it to sell in that condition.

Generally spending more than a few thousand dollars to paint or replace carpet won’t bring a much higher price but it might bring a quicker sale.  And even that should only be done if the carpet and paint or other such items really create a terrible impression with buyers.
Sometimes you walk into a condominium that looks exactly like it did the day Kennedy was shot.  OK, there were no condominiums in Summit County that day.  But occasionally the blue shag and mahogany Packard-Bell stereo unit are still there.  Even in that case my advice is to price the property as it is and not to renovate the kitchen and baths just ahead of the sale.  You won’t get a price high enough to repay your improvements right away.

This is particularly true of condominiums which are basically interchangeable.  Except for location in the building, there’s not much difference between them that can’t be replicated with renovation.  $40,000 will generally make a condominium a show place.

But will it sell for $40,000 more than the one next door right after your new kitchen is done?  Probably not.  The appraiser will take the renovations into account, but not enough to justify $40,000 more than the recent comparable sales.  Unrenovated, it will probably sell for not much less than the fully renovated competition.

Homes are different and that kind of investment can perhaps be justified, but barely.  So you sell for $40,000 more and break even on the renovation.  Congratulations, you just did a large construction job for no pay.  The new owner will probably reward you with a hearty handshake.

If you are going to hold the property for more than a couple of more years, do the complete renovation immediately and enjoy the granite and tile and new carpet and appliances.  When you finally do sell, your property will show better and sell for more money than the one next door which did little or none of that.

But whatever you do, don’t let your property languish in a bygone era.  Re-evaluate its condition periodically and do the repairs, maintenance and improvements as you go along.   It will take effort to keep it up to date, and it’s supposed to be a place you come to relax, not work.  But neglect will catch up with you, probably at the most inconvenient time.

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