Monday, January 19, 2009

10 weekend projects to improve your home's value

You don't have to shell out big bucks to get a better price for your home. These easy, inexpensive fixes will add value to your home without breaking the bank.

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

Fetching top dollar for your home in today's tough market doesn't require an $80,000 kitchen remodel or an expensive landscape redesign.

Real-estate experts say your best bet is to invest a little sweat equity into a series of small weekend jobs — $300 or less — that boost your home's appeal and eliminate buyers' biggest objections.

Here are 10 quick ways to add value to your home without breaking the bank

1. The de-clutter weekend
De-cluttering should be the first job sellers cross off their list before starting any other project, agents and real-estate investors say.

Most people, says Atlanta house flipper Brian Trow, get used to their clutter and don't realize what a distraction it is for buyers. "You want to give a buyer the chance to see their stuff in your house," says Trow, whose firm Foundations Investment Group is featured on A&E's "Flip This House." Moreover, he says, it gives the illusion of space.

Get a friend, colleague or casual acquaintance (who won't mind offending you) to walk through your house and give it to you straight. What is distracting? What needs to go?

Figure out a way to get your clothes, books, appliances, papers, toys, art and photos under control. Shoving everything into cabinets, closets and the garage is not the answer, says Toronto-based home staging expert Debra Gould, owner of The Staging Diva.  People will look there and think, "If they can't fit everything in there, neither can I."

Pack things away in boxes and put them in the attic or put them in storage. Gould recommends coming up with a system of folders for bills, mail and important papers. Clean out a junk drawer or drawer in your entertainment center to hold these folders, so they can be cleared off counters easily. Likewise, clear the decks of a lot of your kids' toys, putting only 15 or 20 in rotation at a time. Donate some and store the rest in boxes in the attic or garage.

"You have to think, 'What can I live without?' for the next few months," Gould says.

2. Make over your cabinets
The kitchen is the most important room in the house to get right, says Timothy Dahl, editor and founder of home-renovation blog 
Charles & Hudson. And cabinets are often one of the biggest problems, he says.

You don't need to get your cabinets refaced or replaced to make them look presentable. If they're scratched or look dated, just spring for a couple of cans of paint and put a new finish on them.

White and other light neutral colors work best for most kitchens and bathrooms. If you have a larger kitchen that gets a lot of natural light, you could even try a dark chocolate brown or black, Trow adds.

Once you're done painting, don't neglect the finishing touch: the hardware. "It's an accent that people notice," Dahl says.

Choose something simple and relatively modern for the pulls, preferably in a brushed nickel. Steer clear of brass, brightly colored glass or anything decorated with pictures of birds or flowers.

3. Patch and paint
A fresh coat of paint in the living room, kitchen and master bathroom — the most important rooms in the house — will pay big dividends, says Elizabeth Blakeslee, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Washington, D.C. "Paint is one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do to freshen up your home and add zip to it."

Just don't try to jazz things up with bright colors, experts say. The most universally appealing shades are neutrals: yellow-based tones such as off-white, mushroom, medium brown or taupe, Trow says. And stay away from anything too dark. It will make the room look small.

A few more paint don'ts from the pros:

  • Don't try to experiment with accent colors or walls. (Most people don't get this right.)
     
  • Don't choose four or five different colors in the house. A satin wash of one color or a couple of related colors should flow smoothly from room to room.
     
  • Don't leave those wallpaper borders up when you paint. Their time has come and gone.
     
  • Once you're done painting, don't ruin the fresh look by re-hanging too many of your family photos or pieces of art, Trow says.

4. Spiff up your home's curb appeal
One quick way to entice more buyers into your house is to spruce up what
 they see from the street. Spend a weekend cleaning or replacing your mailbox, putting up new street numbers thatmatch the style of your house, cleaning your storm door and windows and touching up chipped paint on your front door, Blakeslee says. "You want their first reaction to be, 'Isn’t that cute; doesn't that look nice,'" she adds.

Take a good hard look at your landscaping and trim back any shrubs around the front that are unruly. Get rid of lawn ornaments, toys, leaves and other debris from the yard, as well as those tools or construction materials propped against a fence.

If you see bald spots, plant a few flowering shrubs. A pot of flowers by the front door, or flowering plants along the walk is a nice touch, too, agents say. Power-wash your driveway and walk (and the house, if you have vinyl siding). A tidy front yard makes buyers more willing to come inside for a look.

5. Fix your lighting
You don't have to go crazy here, agents say. Just replace anything damaged, dated or
 distracting.

Get rid of that Hollywood dressing-room-style lighting that frames your bathroom mirror, or at the very least, replace all of the bulbs.

Ditch that tacky, low-hanging chandelier over the dining table and replace it with a simple pendant lamp hung a little higher — at least four feet from the top of the table, Gould says.

Ditto for that energy-efficient, but oh-so-ugly fluorescent tube in your kitchen. "Nothing looks good under them," Dahl says.

You don't have to spend a lot on new fixtures — $100 or less — unless your house is priced in the upper tier of the market, experts say.

And consider replacing the light bulbs you have in your darker rooms with a higher wattage, just for the time you'll be showing your house, Gould adds. "You want lots of light in that house."

6. Get fabulously clean floors
Flooring is one area where none of our experts seemed to agree. So your safest
 bet is to spend very little and leave that choice to the buyer. "You don't want to invest in something that someoneis not going to like," Dahl says.

Settle for a floor that looks spic and span. If you have very dirty carpet, rent a steam machine and get out the stains. If you have hardwoods, buff and polish them, agents say.

And if you have a vinyl floor that is horrendously loud or damaged, consider putting down some vinyl stick-on squares in a light color to keep it from becoming a distraction, Dahl says.

If you are very handy and can find a bargain at your local big-box store, you might be able to afford a Pergo or cork replacement for a small kitchen.

7. 'Dress' your house
Once your house has been cleaned, patched and painted, it's time to think about the best
 way to show it off. Home stagers and flippers say it pays to spend a little time on new "clothes" for your house.

In the bathroom, that means replacing your old shower curtain with a new model that is lined and made of fabric. Buy a new bath mat that is simple and not too bright — one like the type found in hotels is great, Gould says.

In fact, the look of an upscale hotel bathroom is what you are going for, because it looks peaceful and doesn't make you think too much about the people who have used it. Adding fresh rolls of toilet paper before you show the house helps with that effect, Blakeslee says.

Buy a set of towels that actually match and hang them from a nice-looking towel bar. Gould says you'd be amazed at how many high-end houses she stages where the owners leave out threadbare towels that detract from a $100,000 renovation.

Clear the counters and make sure accessories such as the toothbrush holder or soap dish are coordinated and look elegant.

In the bedroom, consider your comforter. Is it stained, ripped or dated? If so, consider buying a new duvet cover or spread to keep the focus on the room, not your questionable taste.

And take a good hard look at your window treatments. Keep it light, bright and simple.  Tie back dark or flouncy curtains, or replace them with pre-made panels. If you're handy with a sewing machine, whip up some simple solid-color panels on your own.

8. Create an impression of extra rooms
Most people are willing to pay a premium for a little more breathing
 room. But no one is going to add on just to sell his or her home. One way you can give buyers more livable area is to spruce up your garage or basement, Dahl says.

Organize the tools, sporting goods and other items in your garage and get them off the floor, as much as possible. Make sure there's adequate lighting and clean or polish the floors. You want it to be a space where people canimagine spending hours tinkering on some craft or woodworking project.

Likewise, if you have a basement, Dahl says, spend some time clearing and cleaning the floor, installing adequate lighting and shelving, and sprucing up the stairs and entrance. You could even try out a sealant for concrete floors, he says. "People see these as extra rooms they want to finish," Dahl says.

If you don't have a basement, Trow suggests creating a sitting area in the backyard, with some pavers, outdoor seating and a few large potted plants, a flower bed or water feature.

9. Tackle the small stuff all at once
Instead of spreading out those annoying minor repairs over several months
 or a year, why not take care of them all at one time?

When you show your house, little problems such as a leaky faucet or a cabinet that sticks can be distracting, Gould says. "You don't want to put up doubts in people's minds about whether they are buying a good solid house,” Gould says.

You want the attention to be on your home's potential, not its problems.

So make a list and invest a not-so-fun 48 hours in fixing those broken drawer slides, replacing moldy caulking around the bathtub and fixing that cracked tile or broken step leading down to the basement.

10. The finishing touches
Lastly, before you open your house to buyers, make sure you've got the details down,
 Trow says.  Replace old, yellowing or brass switch-plate covers with new ones made of brushed metal.

Likewise, swap out old brass doorknobs and hinges and replace them with something more up-to-date.

1 comment:

Debra Gould, The Staging Diva said...

Thanks for including Staging Diva Home Staging Tips in your blog post!