Preparing to sell your house can be overwhelming, to say the least. As we have embarked on this whirlwind of a journey that’s been full of unexpected twists and turns, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are either selling or thinking of selling soon and one thing I’ve learned is that everyone has the same concern: How do I make sure I’m getting the most money back on my investment?
Many people seem to think that you need to have your home in perfect shape in order to put it on the market, but one thing I’ve learned in my experience with buying and selling homes is that couldn’t be further from the truth! I knew my Realtor would have some insights into what the best approaches are to maximize profits when selling a house, so I sat down with her to pick her brain about ROI and what she recommends to her sellers who are preparing their homes to go on the market.
Before we dive in, allow me to introduce you to our Realtor, Stephanie Garcia. She has six years of experience in the real estate world and is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes the north Austin, TX area. She’s been such a fantastic guide for us while buying our last two houses and offered to share some of her expertise with Homes.com. Let’s hear what she has to say:
What would you say is the most important piece of preparing a home for the market that might surprise a lot of people?
The front entry of a home is something that I always tell my sellers is one of the most important things to focus on. When a Realtor is showing you a home it always takes a couple of minutes to unlock that lock box, and buyers are just standing there on the front stoop looking around. If they see a freshly-painted door, flowers, and a well-maintained front entry then they’re impressed – but if they see cobwebs in the corner and a front entry that hasn’t been maintained, it leaves them wondering what else hasn’t been taken care of.
If you’re looking to do actual improvements to the home, you will see the most ROI from focusing on things like new flooring and fresh paint. The smell of a house drastically affects a buyer’s impression, and there’s nothing that helps a house feel clean and smell fresh like new carpet and paint. This will almost always give you a great return on your investment, as long as you choose neutral options that will appeal to a wide-range of people. It might surprise a lot of sellers, but buyers are generally willing to look past dated finishes in the kitchen or bathroom – but they rarely look past old, worn carpet or a home with a bad smell!
If your seller only had one week to get the house on the market and not a lot of time to make upgrades, what would you advise them to focus on fixing?
Cleanliness is one of the most important things in selling a home, along with how it presents in photos. Focus on cleaning the home from top to bottom (especially the bathrooms), make sure all of your light fixtures are clean and working (lighting makes a huge impact on buyers), and be sure to catch the dirt and grime that we tend to ignore on a day-to-day basis. Buyers will be touching your light switches and doors, and most of us have fingerprints all over them! Give everything a quick wipe-down, and you’d be amazed at how much cleaner the house feels.
If you have time for any actual changes to the home, a fresh coat paint will always go a really long way to helping the home feel cleaner and more updated.
How about if a seller does have some time and money to invest in preparing their house? What projects give the best ROI?
Kitchens and bathrooms are the rooms where you’ll see the biggest return on your investment, as long as you choose finishes that flow with the rest of the home and aren’t taste-specific.
Some sellers want to update things like their AC unit, the windows, or the roof – all of those are great things that can help sell the house, but they won’t get buyers interested in the first place. Focus on the things that will make an impact in the real estate photos and get people to fall in love with the home, because that’s what will help secure an offer.
What are some mistakes you see sellers making when choosing finishes, and what are some things a lot of sellers focus on that they really shouldn’t?
- When it comes to finishes, be sure that anything you choose flows well with the rest of the home and isn’t specific to your personal design style. For example, if you have really traditional cabinetry and countertops in a warm color tone, don’t go with super modern, gray flooring – even if you love it. Your choices need to feel like they belong with the rest of the home, even if there are parts that are dated.
- A lot of sellers get distracted by fixing little things that no one will ever notice. Things like new light switch plates, repairing tiny pieces of trim, or cleaning out every single cabinet will not give you much return on your time. Most buyers won’t notice or care, and your time will be much better spent focusing on things that will impact how the home photographs or feels.
- Finally, some sellers make a to-do list that’s a mile long and ends up delaying their ability to put the house on the market by weeks or even months. Some people even end up missing windows of high-traffic for home sales because they’re still working on preparing their house. Keep your list short and only worry about updating the things that will really make a difference (like paint, flooring, curb appeal, and cleaning).
Is it worth it to add on to the home (example: adding a bathroom, a bedroom, or finishing out a basement)?
It depends on a variety of factors. If you only have one bathroom in your home, or if you don’t have a master suite, it’s almost always worth it to add a bathroom – but, if it would be the third or fourth bathroom in the house, you might not recoup your money. Same with bedrooms or other additions – you’ll see a return on your investment if you’re fixing a major problem in the home, but otherwise you might not get all of your money back.
Your best bet with any questions about additions or specific improvements would be to talk to a Realtor who is familiar with your specific market – they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction!
What about staging? Is it worth the time and expense?
I always recommend that you stage your home with things you already have around the house – don’t go out and buy a ton of new things just to stage. If the home is vacant, it’s generally fine to leave it empty. The only exception to this is if you have a space in your home that might be confusing for potential buyers, like a really large combination living and dining room. Buyers sometimes have a hard time envisioning what to do with these spaces, so a little bit of staging can help. Even then, I only recommend staging that specific room, and maybe adding a bed to the master. You don’t need to fully stage the whole house!
All that being said, if you have a vacant home and it’s just not getting showings or offers, go ahead and stage it to see if that helps. As with everything else, you should also consult with a Realtor who knows your market. When choosing a Realtor, I also recommend looking for someone who includes staging consults as part of their listing package.
Are custom details like wood shutters or moving the laundry room upstairs worth the added investment?
This will always depend on your market, but generally speaking the higher-end finishes will only give you a return on your investment if you’re in a higher-end price bracket. People will likely be happy to see these touches in a lower or mid-range price bracket, but they won’t be enough to drastically change the price of your house. However, if you’re priced in a higher-end range, then people are going to expect to see these kinds of finishes and it’s absolutely worth it. This is another great example of a time when you should have a Realtor that you trust who is intimately familiar with your area – they’ll be able to tell you what specific upgrades are worth it for you, and what upgrades aren’t.
What are some things I should look for in a Realtor so I know my house will be priced well?
It’s vital that you work with a Realtor who is familiar with your specific area. A Realtor who services a really large area will only have a general idea about what the market is like directly around you. Instead, look for someone who specializes in a smaller geographical area and who is very familiar with all of the neighborhoods around you. There are neighborhoods in my area that I can practically price just by driving down the street! If you choose a Realtor you trust who knows everything there is to know about your specific market and speak to them before you’re ready to put your home on the market, they can give you some tips about what you should do in order to get it ready.
Any other important information to add?
If you aren’t planning on moving in the next one to two years, don’t consider future buyers when you’re making decisions for your home. You should love the home you live in now, and if that means colorful choices on the walls or a really bold patterned tile, go for it! Once you reach a point where you’re considering moving in the next year or two, you can start to be more strategic about your choices. You should still make decisions that you love but try to choose things that might appeal to a broad range of people. As for what to do with those bolder choices when it’s time to sell, you can either change them up when the time comes or just list it and see what happens! You might be surprised at what buyers like.
Hopefully this is valuable information for you, and it gives you a little insight into how you can make the most of the improvements you’re making to your home! I had a blast learning from Stephanie, and she taught me quite a few things I hadn’t ever thought of!
Of course, when it comes to real estate please always remember that everything varies pretty wildly depending on where you live! This information is super helpful and can definitely be used as a general guideline, but if you have specific questions you should always consult a local Realtor because they’ll be able to give you the most accurate information for your specific market. If you’re in the market to buy, sell, or rent, visit Homes.com to find free step-by-step guides to help you along your journey.