The market is heating up, interest rates are still relatively low, and even the weather is improving. For some this may be the perfect time to put the house in central New Jersey on the market and either downsize or relocate — perhaps to a place where the winter weather is not an issue.
For whatever reason, if you decide to put your house on the market, you want it to command the highest price. So what can you do to maximize your home’s value, without breaking the bank to do it? Princeton area real estate brokers have some advice on what to do — and what not to do — to maximize the resale value of your property.
The most common theme is not to overdo it.
As Marty Stockton of Stockton Realty (www.stockton-realtor.com) says, “new kitchens and baths are great but simply de-cluttering, cleaning, refinishing hard wood floors, and making sure a lot of natural light comes into each room is an amazing way to grab interested buyers. Buyers are wanting a light, bright, clean house reflecting very little to do.”
A fresh coat of paint, Stockton says, “can do wonders. Be careful to stay neutral with the colors, wash the windows, caulk the bathrooms, don’t leave dirty dishes, in fact, try to remove as much as possible from the kitchen counters. If you can remove carpeting to show wood floors, do it. If not, make sure the carpet is clean or replaced. Don’t be present when there is a showing.”
Stockton adds that hiring a Realtor can make a difference. By “being deliberate in pricing” your house will present itself as a good value, she says.
One of Stockton’s colleagues at the Chambers Street-based agency, Libby Hicks, notes that, “as hard as it may seem, sellers should remove all family photographs and memorabilia. Buyers need to be able to see their own photos and envision their own memorabilia in the house.”
That theme was echoed by Robin Wallack of Berkshire Hathaway/Fox & Roach (www.robinwallack.com). “First of all, the house should be as free of clutter as possible. Even if the objects are beautiful, you will have to pack them away at some point, and that point is now.”
In addition, Wallack says, “the house should be clean and smell fresh. Paint any peeling areas and fix loose things, like closet doors that might be off their track, or knobs on kitchen drawers. Wash the windows and manicure the lawn and shrubs. Replace any light bulbs of low wattage with brighter bulbs. If you need to re-grout tub areas, do so.”
Experts nationally agree that most major remodelling projects rarely increase the value of a house more than the amount they cost. “It can be tricky to determine which home improvement projects are worth the sweat and which aren’t. To gain the most from your improvements, select projects that do more with what you already have,” says the Do-It-Yourself network (www.diynetwork.com).
“Projects that add value: kitchen and bath updates; replacement of exterior siding; fresh interior paint; and rejuvenation of landscaping.”
“Less-profitable projects share one of three flaws: they cost too much, they involve a space that isn’t used every day, or they reflect too much of your personal taste.”
For all those reasons, Wallack says she rarely suggests entire remodeling. “A bathroom or kitchen makeover is costly and time consuming, and if a person is selling, they are not usually inclined to spend the money and effort needed to accomplish the task in a quality manner. It might be better to reflect these conditions in the asking price.
However, Wallack continues, “if the seller wants to do this, obviously, kitchen and bathroom renovations can be the difference not only in price, but in the rapidity with which the property sells. This can be translated into dollars.”
Wallack says that some home improvements are better just done but not bragged about. “When the homeowner replaces something that broke and announces proudly ‘I just replaced the hot water heater,’ that most likely was because the old one broke and they had the Atlantic Ocean in their basement. This is simply part of the joy of home ownership,” Wallack says.
Anne-Marie Tustin of Keller Williams Realty has a top 10 list of home improvement projects posted on her website — www.Anne-MarieTustin.com.
In home improvements, as in many other things, moderation can be a virtue. For example, writes Tustin, “another bathroom is particularly valuable if you have only one bathroom in your house. However, once you have more than 2.5 baths for a 4-bedroom house (for example), an additional bath can be overkill.”
You might also consider concentrating your efforts on improving your home’s first impression. “The front of your house is what people see when they first pull up in the driveway,” says Tustin. “You want your house to look nice. Replacing your old front door or garage doors with new, energy efficient, low maintenance doors add value. Plus, they’re not that expensive relative to the other projects. Options include steel, fiberglass (long lasting), and wood (looks nice, but expensive and high maintenance).”
And, she says, don’t forget the condition of your roof. “An old-looking roof says ‘I don’t really care about my house.’ Roofing materials come in a variety too from typical asphalt shingles, to wood shingles, to slate. To save money, you could consider roofing over existing materials, particularly if there is no rotten plywood to be replaced.”
Susan Hughes of Callaway Henderson (suehughes.callawayhenderson.com) has another piece of advice, related to the timing of your decision. “During the summer months the real estate market, like many people, usually takes a ‘slow and easy approach.’ However if the summer time is the time you are choosing to put your house on the market, you may have the advantage of a lower inventory of available homes,” she says. “With that in mind you need to do a few simple staging tips to make your house stand out from the crowd.
“Starting from the street, make sure the mailbox is fresh from the winter weather. If it is tarnished or dented, replace it. If it is dull, paint it. Refresh, or replace, the numbers so that the home can be easily recognized from the street.”
Given that the days are longer and people are likely to use the evening hours to drive by houses they are considering buying, Hughes advises sellers to “Make sure all outside lighting is working” and “think about turning the lights on earlier than usual and leaving them on later. Well-lit homes are very attractive on a quiet evening for anyone choosing to make the first visit a drive-by. Do the same check on the back of the house.”
Gardens, she says, should be weed-free with colorful seasonal flowers. “Make sure all patio furniture is cleaned and all cushions on all chairs. Outdoor living, and entertaining, is on the top of everyone’s summer to-do list,” she says.
Adds Hughes: “As potential buyers will enter the home from the front door, make sure the walkway is cleaned and weeded if necessary. If any bricks came loose with the freezing and the thawing of the ground, have them reset. Any beds next to the walkway should be planted with colorful, seasonal flowers. Keep these beds free from weeds and freshly mulched.
The front door, she says, is “the final invitation to enter. Make sure it is fresh and presentable, paint if necessary. Also polish the doorknob and clean any windows. Potted plants on the porch will help to welcome the buyers.”
Other tips: “Do a quick walk around the entire home. Look to see if all the siding is clean, a quick power washing will clean up the overall look. Are the gutters full? Dead leaves spilling over? A quick cleaning will remove any negative first impressions a buyer may have.”
Says Hughes: “Buyers want to see their family in your home. These simple summer staging tips will help them to visualize how they will fit into your surroundings. They will also set you apart from the competition and perhaps even sell your home more quickly.”
Meanwhile, there are some home “improvements” that will not come close to paying for themselves when it comes time to sell the house. Bob Vila, the home improvement specialist who rose to fame on “This Old House” and other television shows, lists several on his website, www.bobvila.com. Among them:
Built-in electronics. Bragging rights last only a few months when it comes to the latest televisions and sound systems. Once the next gizmo lands on the market, today’s shiny toy quickly tarnishes. The value added by splurging for top-of-the-line freestanding electronics may be debatable, but at least you can easily take the gear with you. Built-ins often dominate the entire room and their reverberations can erode the usability of adjoining rooms, too.
Eliminating a third or fourth bedroom. Sure, a walk-in closet and expanded master bath would be a selling point — but only if that space isn’t hijacked from a third or fourth bedroom. If the neighborhood norm is three bedrooms, a two-bedroom house is at a severe disadvantage.
The number of bedrooms should be in balance with the common living space. A house with too many or too few bedrooms has a lopsided layout that won’t be useful to many buyers.
Over-improving the basement. Below-grade improvements never pay back as much as space renovated or added above grade. Carefully compare the cost of renovating the attic, adding a dormer or even raising the roof, to a high-end basement remodel. This is especially true for mid-priced houses. High-end houses may well be able to retain the value of a finished basement, but only if all the above-grade space is livable.
Expansive outdoor living space out of synch with the climate. Outdoor kitchens with manly grills and wood counters can be used 10 months a year in the south, so those projects retain value. Not so much in the north, where a fireplace is a cozier investment. Especially if you are relocating, settle in to the local lifestyle before creating a sunroom, screened porch, elaborate deck, or outdoor kitchen.
“Each of these horrors,” Vila continues, “is grounded in the grand misconception of home improvement: if you build it, they will pay. As you scope out the budget for your project, keep the total tab to no more than 10 percent of the current value of your house. Spend more only if you count the payback in terms of personal enjoyment.”