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Since the start of the pandemic, the residential real estate market has taken off as people have looked to move from crowded apartments into their own spaces or to trade up to find houses with more room to accommodate working from home.
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Low interest rates and equally low inventory fueled the market to a projected 19.5% increase in home values in 2021 over the previous year, Zillow reported. The company also predicted a 13.6% increase in values between October 2021 and October 2022.
And despite low inventory and ready buyers, you still will want your home to stand out in the marketplace to bring top dollar if you plan to sell this year. Before listing your home, take an objective look at your property to see improvements you can make to increase its appeal to buyers. You don’t need to go as far as the makeover shows you see on HGTV and gut the kitchen or tear down walls to open up the floor plan. The big changes won’t bring big profits, but the little ones can attract buyers and will more than pay for themselves.
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“For anyone pondering home improvement projects in 2022, it’s worth noting that in general, there are no major projects that actually add more to a home’s value than they cost,” said Shannon Jones, who works with Keller Williams Realty in Long Beach, California. “Sometimes homeowners assume that they should replace a roof, update the HVAC system or make other major improvements, but the only times that’s economically advisable is if the system has actually failed or if you plan to stay and enjoy it yourself.”
Small Improvements Pay Off
Some of the improvements you can make cost no more than time and require a minimum of skill and a toolbox. For others, a gallon of paint or some new hardware might do the trick.
“The smaller projects that improve a home’s visual appeal are the ones that will give you the best economic return,” Jones said. “Start with curb appeal and consider the following projects: Sprucing up landscaping; replacing house numbers; power washing the exterior of the home; touching up paint if needed; and painting the front door to add a pop of color. Red, yellow and turquoise are popular.
“Inside, look around to see if anything broken can be easily fixed. Loose doorknobs, closet doors that are off the tracks or cabinet doors that don’t fully close may give buyers the impression that the home hasn’t been well maintained but these projects won’t cost much to take care of. “
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A Thorough Cleaning
Before listing your home, clearing out and cleaning up are essential steps to make your home sparkle for prospective buyers, said Kimberly Jay, a broker with Compass in New York City.
“Cleaning and decluttering the home is a surefire way to boost value with minimal effort. When you’re getting ready to sell a property, that’s the time to depersonalize your home and make it show ready,” she said. “Buyers will not be able to see through your things and mess. They want to see themselves living in your home. No more clutter on the table, boxes in the corner, shoes in the hallway and clothing in closets. This easy and cheap ‘fix’ will make your home feel spacious and clean. Cleaning supplies and packing materials can cost as little as $50 if you choose to do this yourself, but it can become more expensive if you choose to use a cleaning service.”
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Painting the interior of your home in a neutral palette will appeal to buyers; Jones suggested repainting any rooms with “wild colors.” Those hues might have fit your style or worked for your teenager, but they might not suit others.
“Today’s buyers want new properties,” Jay said. “Choose a color that will brighten up the home. White, off white, light grey or light beige. The home will feel fresh and light, plus hide any imperfections.”
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“The first thing I advise all sellers to do is look at the overall condition of the home and create a honey do list. When I come to price the home out, I create one as well and we compare notes,” said Stacy Mafera with Coldwell Banker Realty in the Boston area.
“Almost every time, if the floors are hardwood, I recommend having them refinished. There is something about gleaming hardwood floors.”
Boosting the Curb Appeal
Your front yard is your first impression for homebuyers. Trimming the shrubs, mowing the lawn, painting the front door, adding potted flowers and pressure washing the house and driveway will go a long way toward beautifying the home and showing buyers you’ve given it TLC.
Much of that you can do yourself.
“Exterior yard cleanup is essentially free as long as you’re willing to put in the labor,” said Kristen Peabody of exp Realty in the Phoenix area. “You may need some new plants, or landscaping supplies such as mulch or rock, so I’d budget maybe $200 out of pocket max.”
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Letting the Light In
Natural light is a big draw for homebuyers. Don’t block out the sunlight when you’re selling.
“Remove heavy draperies, shades and unnecessary window treatments,” said Michael Shapot, an associate broker with Keller Williams in New York City. “Buyers today are looking for homes with natural light. Let the sunshine in whenever possible.”
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“In a hot real estate market, home staging helps because if enough buyers are bidding on your home, the selling price goes up way past your asking price. Most buyers can’t look past unattractive or disorganized rooms or figure out how their furniture might look in an empty room.,” said Ellen Silverman, another agent with Compass in New York City. “The International Association of Home Staging Professionals claims that 95% of staged homes sell in an average of 11 days or less and sell for 17% more.”
While professional staging is expensive, Silverman said that in many cases all a seller needs is a consultation with a pro and not for a batch of furniture to be brought in.
“Sellers can use what they already have. Often the main staging tasks needed are to declutter, pare back on furniture and accessories and reposition existing furniture, accessories and art for better balance and flow.
“However, it is recommended that a home stager be brought in for at least a home staging consultation. For a small investment, the home stager will provide professional advice on what exactly needs to be done to get a home in show-ready condition.”
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Taking Care of Minor Repairs
You might be OK with a leaky faucet that goes “drip, drip, drip,” but a prospective buyer won’t.
“Fix the deferred maintenance,” said Jonathan de Araujo, who works with William Raveis Real Estate in Lexington, Massachusetts. “Do you know about an outlet that doesn’t work, or a sink that leaks? Take the time to fix those things now to avoid issues with the home inspection. Little repairs can add up to a big price reduction after a home inspection.”
Mafera said that even homeowners who don’t have a ton of money to spend on improvements can make their spaces better with the finishing touches.
“We also look at things like the pulls on cabinets and drawers, switch plate and outlet covers — inexpensive touches that can jazz up a room — and always make sure all lightbulbs are working and in the same color tone.”
Gary Trembinkski, the broker at EXIT Realty Lake Superior in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, said small repairs will let buyers see a modern home. He starts by recommending changing switches and electrical outlets.
“You’d be surprised how many sellers ask me for simple tips to increase their homes value and this is something that none of them think of,” he said. “Install the new Decora switches and outlets and you’ll instantly feel like you’re in a much newer home. Again, this can be done by yourself, or you can hire an electrician if this is too hefty of a task. I’d budget anywhere between $200 to $500 to get this job done. It’s well worth the money.”
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