What to Remodel Before Selling Your Home: 9 Light-Lift Projects

As you prepare to list your home on the market, you’re likely facing two of the most common questions home sellers ask — can I get more money for my house if I remodel? And if so, how do I decide what to remodel before selling?

To untangle this conundrum, HomeLight asked top real estate agent MaryBeth Harrison of Dallas, Texas for her expert advice on which projects are worth doing.

Harrison advises sellers that buyers are touring houses hoping to see themselves living there. While there are some well-seasoned buyers who will wonder when the roof was last replaced or how run-down the HVAC system is, most buyers will simply be searching for a move-in ready space.

Many of these projects have great return on investment, but they also may not be the flashy changes you’re thinking of. That said, Harrison estimates that some of her clients have added $25,000 to $50,000 to their home sale price by following these tips!

So here are 9 renovations to tackle — without much hassle — before you list, plus advice on when to let a dated house sell for what it is.

1. Paint neutral, uniform colors

Paint is one of the easiest and most effective ways to change the look and value of your home. Because buyers are trying to picture themselves living in your home, Harrison recommends sticking with neutral colors throughout. There’s a reason why model homes use lots of white and beige, she says: “so that buyers can see a blank canvas.”

“It’s fine when there’s an accent wall or whatever, that’s different,” Harrison advises. “But when every room’s a different color… that’s cheap to fix with paint.”

While your children’s rooms might work in the bright greens and pinks they’re currently painted in, not every buyer has children. And for that matter, some buyers with children still might not want pink and green rooms.

Painting your interior is a fairly simple renovation to your house, and while buyers could do it once they move in, the project might seem much bigger to them. So hire a painter or get some tarps and do it yourself.

And this advice is consistent throughout all markets. In our Top Agent Insights Report, 57.83% of surveyed real estate agents advise sellers to paint their interior before listing. Wondering what color to grab at your local hardware store? Try agent-recommended “Agreeable Gray” by Sherwin-Williams, or “Revere Pewter” by Benjamin Moore. (In other words, embrace the greige.)

Average project cost: $954 – $2,893, depending on location, type of paint, and labor.

2. Rip up old carpet and keep flooring consistent

One of the more heavy-duty home renovation projects you can undertake before selling is replacing your flooring. This might not be necessary for your entire house: mainly, Harrison advises this renovation if you have several different kinds of flooring throughout your home.

“I walked into another listing and within my eyesight, there were four different types of flooring. That’s too much,” Harrison says. “So I think consistency is the goal here; let’s get a uniform look.”

Many buyers expect hardwood floors or premium vinyl nowadays, but just because you have carpet doesn’t mean you need to shell out a lot of money. The most important thing to do is get rid of any carpeting that is obviously dated. This includes shag carpeting, carpeting in odd colors, or very stained and worn carpeting. You can replace the carpeting with another, more neutral option.

But try to fix the most problematic areas that you can, or at the least hire a professional carpet cleaner.

Average project cost:
To install carpet: $789 – $2,794
To install hardwood floors: ​​$2,493 – $6,754
To install vinyl floors: $800 – $2,900

3. Add some simple greenery

When it comes to selling a house, curb appeal is very real. It’s not often you get the big picture of your house from an outsider’s perspective. So Harrison recommends going across the street and really taking a look at your home’s exterior. Ask yourself: ​​Is it inviting? Would you want to buy this house?

Harrison advises adding shrubs or other greenery before listing. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, you can also opt for foliage in potted plants.

“During winter, of course, everyone’s yard is dead, and I get that,” Harrison explains. “But especially in the spring and fall, put some color out there even if it’s just in pots, just to give me something inviting.”

Average project cost: As low as $20 for potted plants, as high as several hundred dollars for shrubs.

4. Perform a pre-inspection and fix any small issues

Typically, inspectors perform their routine inspections when a seller has accepted a buyer’s offer, but before the deal is finalized. This allows the buyers to learn about any major fixes that the property needs. They can also negotiate with the seller about the purchase price depending on how serious the fixes are.

To save yourself future negotiations and work, take a good look around the interior and exterior of your house and search for any imperfections, such as rotted wood, water damage, and electricity problems. Some of these problems might be easy to fix, while others might require a professional. You don’t have to fix every single thing, but being proactive certainly helps.

“So let’s try and get rid of some of that conversation before it even starts,” Harrison says. “I think people sometimes just don’t even walk around their house very often.”

Average project cost: $0 for a self-inspection, about $400 for a formal pre-inspection.

5. Make your kitchen bright and white with paint and new hardware

Harrison likes to look at model homes to see what’s currently selling. One of the things you’ll see a lot nowadays in model homes is sleek, white kitchens. They often have a wide open feel to them, with light-colored countertops and backsplashes. The cabinets are typically white, but can also be a matte color like forest green or cerulean.

Getting all new cabinetry is a huge hassle, but painting can be a quicker fix. Keep a monochromatic color scheme in mind and opt for a white paint if you have other colors throughout your kitchen. Take off the hardware before you paint, and consider replacing it with matte black fixtures or minimalistic hand-pulls.

“What the buyers are looking for today is white and clean, they just want clean,” Harrison advises. “It doesn’t all have to be stark white. But they just want a clean palette.”

Average project cost: $382 – $1,064, depending on equipment and labor, plus $2-$20 for each piece of hardware.

6. Replace dated countertops and appliances

The kitchen is one of the most important parts for a home, so here’s another renovation you might want to undertake. Dated appliances and countertops are two big red flags for buyers. Replacing countertops often seems like a hefty and expensive task, and can drastically change the look of your kitchen.

Similar to cabinets, buyers are looking for a bright, monochromatic look. Harrison advises against the brown and multi-colored granite that has been popular within the last 15 years or so. If you’re going to go new, she advises a gray or white countertop made of granite, marble, or quartz.

You can also opt for butcher block countertops for a contemporary feel. They often come at a cost-effective price, too.

However, if your entire kitchen is fairly dated, Harrison recommends holding off on the kitchen renovation. New countertops will stand out like a sore thumb against old cabinetry, flooring, and appliances. Ultimately, these upgrades won’t get you your money back.

“[A client] put the granite counter tops on … but they left the old, white appliances,” Harrison describes. “So now, it’s just glaring how old those appliances are, right? Because you’ve got an updated kitchen to a point.”

Average project cost: $40 – $100 per square foot for new countertops depending on material, and $1,360 – $19,050 for appliances depending on brand.

7. Hire a professional cleaner for your bathroom

Oftentimes, it’s things like dirt, grime, and mold that we grow desensitized to in our own house. But a buyer walking in won’t know what to expect, and will definitely see every inch of mildew in your bathroom. Because it’s one of the wettest areas of the house, it’s also one of the dirtiest.

Harrison recommends doing a very thorough cleaning of your bathroom(s), or hiring a professional cleaner to do so. It’ll make a difference to buyers during your tours. If you’re not sure you need it, ask yourself: do you know what color your grout originally was?

Average project cost: $0 for self-clean with already-owned supplies, or $70 – $85 for a professional.

8. Replace old tile and linoleum, or paint what you can’t replace

Bathrooms, like kitchens, can be sore spots for buyers. They quickly get dirty, have high use, and are easily outdated. Harrison says there’s nothing wrong with leaning into a true vintage bathroom, but to try to clean up some of the tile where you can.

Many older bathrooms have tiled baths and showers with small, individual tiles, often in funky colors like pinks, reds, blues, and purples. Retiling a shower can be a long, tedious job that often requires a professional. But painting over that tile is a very acceptable way to bring your bathroom into the 21st century.

“It’s not my favorite choice to repaint a bathroom tile, but I’ve had clients do it and it comes out really nice,” Harrison says. “They take that vintage tile that was purple or pink or whatever — they just paint it over white. And at least it deals with the problem.”

Average project cost: $15-50 per gallon of paint, or $1,000 – $3,000 for retiling.

9. Cut down on mess and unnecessary items

Home stagers can be expensive and time-consuming. Know that you don’t have to stage your home before you list, but there are some things that you can do before your photos and before any tours or open houses to keep your place looking its best.

Harrison recommends taking down some of your decorations so the house still looks lived in but not too personal. Remove any small appliances from the kitchen counters, or any extra furniture that makes it awkward to walk around. Find a place in your house like a basement or garage where you can keep all the extra stuff until it’s time to move, or until you need it again.

“The home may not be updated — and I’ve sold plenty of homes that needed everything — but they looked nice. When you walked in, it was clean, and it was open,” Harrison explains. “A buyer could start imagining what it would look like when they moved in.”

Average project cost: $0

Alternative: Do nothing

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is nothing at all. Taking on too many home projects can be incredibly time consuming and costly. Often, they don’t lead to the best return on investment, either. In a seller’s market, it’s much easier to sell your house in “as-is” condition. But even outside of a seller’s market, there are always buyers looking for fixer-uppers or more dated homes for them to put their unique stamp on.

“There are times when you can’t do enough, so therefore you don’t do anything,” Harrison says. “I just sold a house for people who had lived there for 46 years. I think maybe they replaced the carpet at some point, but that was it. But the house was clean, it was neat, and it sold with multiple offers in minutes.”

So if you have a few problem areas throughout your house or want to bolster a big return on investment, then undertaking some of these projects is up your alley. But if your home needs major upgrades, sometimes it’s best to pass.

Average project cost: $0

Selling a House As-Is: How to Skip Repairs and Move On!

After tallying up the cost of updates and repairs, you’re thinking about selling a house as is. If you have to lower your price, so be it. An old electrical panel, stained carpeting, and kitchen straight out of the ‘90s mean buyers won’t consider the house move-in ready or necessarily pay top dollar. But you don’t have enough money or time to perform a bunch of work, and you’d rather just collect a decent sum and move on.

That’s fair!

Together with the help of real estate experts, including agents in the field and investors who regularly buy homes as is, we bring you the inside track on this type of sale, including multiple ways to sell quickly and how to find buyers willing to take on homes that might need a little TLC.

Follow along as we cover:

What “as is” means in real estate

When you put “as is” on your home listing, what exactly are you conveying to potential buyers? We asked Jena Bebleh, a top San Jose, California, real estate agent at Oldham Group for clarification:

“In an as-is sale, a buyer is purchasing a home in its current condition,” she says. “That may mean the seller won’t do any repairs, even if they come up on an inspection report. The buyer is willingly purchasing the home in its current state with full knowledge of its condition.”

That last bit of her comment is critical to grasp; by selling as is, you aren’t absolved of the duty to share what you know about the home to buyers — and an “as is” label, particularly on an open market sale, is not a fail-safe to avoid all negotiations. You’ll need to temper your expectations a bit.

That said, selling “as is” can still be a viable strategy if you go about it the right way.

“If you own a home that needs several repairs and don’t have the finances, or simply don’t have the time or desire to undergo the stress of home remodeling, selling as-is could be for you,” shares Jeff Shipwash of Shipwash Properties in Knoxville, Tennessee, who flips multiple houses per year and routinely buys properties as-is.

Must-dos when you sell a house as is

In a minute we’ll explore a couple of different ways you can sell your home as is. But before we get to them, we wanted to go over a few things you’ll need to do during any type of “as is” sale.

Provide disclosures

Selling as-is isn’t a loophole to avoid telling buyers your roof is leaking or the home needs all new plumbing. Most states have mandatory disclosures, and failing to disclose information potentially opens you up to legal liability.

“A lot of sellers say, ‘I’m selling it as-is — I don’t even want to talk about what I got going on here,’” says Edward Kaminsky, a top real estate agent in Los Angeles. “That can come back to bite the seller because if it’s proven that they did not disclose something they were fully aware of, they can be held liable after the close of escrow.”

Every state has its own legal requirements for disclosures, so check with your agent. They’ll be familiar with your state’s disclosure laws and can help to highlight your home’s positives, such as a large yard or great location, to attract your target buyer.

Label your listing “as is”

Unless a listing specifically has the language of being sold as is, buyers are going to assume it’s a regular sale.

“Including ‘as is’ helps your agent connect with the right buying agents in our networks to find the best prospective buyers,” Bebleh says. “The client knows right away the seller won’t be doing any repairs.”

Consider a pre-listing inspection

A pre-listing inspection offers transparency into your home’s condition and is often central to the process of selling as-is. “You’ll receive more non-contingent offers if it’s all disclosed from the start,” Bebleh adds. “Buyers will know exactly what’s wrong with the house and submit an offer based on that.

Your options to sell as is

You may assume that selling “as is” always works the same way. But you actually have two main avenues to explore: #1) Request a cash offer or #2) Sell as is with an agent. Let’s review both.

1. Request a cash offer

One option to consider is going immediately to a pool of buyers who aren’t as worried about your home’s condition and asking them: Would you buy my house? Seriously, that is a possibility! Here’s how it works.

Let’s say your house has some pretty major flaws such as a defective roof, leaky plumbing, or foundation cracks. You need a buyer with serious capital who can afford to make repairs and salvage the place.

Or perhaps you’re a seller who relocated for a job so time is of the essence; you can’t afford to risk a drawn-out closing. In that event, requesting a cash offer is going to be the quickest way to sell without all the fuss.

Cash buyers, which can be house-buying companies, rental investors, or house flippers, are well accustomed to buying homes as is — at least compared to traditional buyers. According to a 2020 survey of over 2,000 adults from Coldwell Banker, 80% of Americans say they would prefer to buy a move-in ready home over one that requires renovations.

Approach a cash buyer

Most cash buyers prefer to purchase homes off-market, so you’ll need to go to them rather than the other way around. We’d recommend our Simple Sale platform as a good starting point.

With Simple Sale, you tell us a bit about your home, such as whether it’s a single family or condo and how much work it needs. From there we’ll provide you with a full cash offer within 48 hours.

Skip repairs entirely

No need to call the roof inspector or drain your savings to replace the HVAC. HomeLight will provide an offer for homes in almost any condition.

Sell when it’s convenient

Want to get out right away? Or need a little more time to pack? Either way, we’re flexible. Pick a move date that works for your schedule within 30 days of closing.

Close with certainty

Cash buyers don’t need a lender’s involvement to purchase a home, meaning they can move nimbly and quickly compared to someone who needs financing. In addition, financing issues account for 19% of closing delays as of summer 2021 while processing a loan takes nearly 50 days on average.

Curious to know more about the Simple Sale experience? Hear it first hand from one of our valued clients in the video below.

2. Sell as is on the open market

Perhaps your home isn’t a total teardown and you’re willing to see what kind of deal you could strike on the open market. In that event, you can list your home for sale — ideally with a pre-listing inspection and prepared disclosures — at a fair price and try to keep your work on the home to a minimum. In some cases you may want to determine if there are any projects worth tackling, even if it’s a pared-down version than what might be typical for a regular sale.

Hire an agent with ‘as is’ experience

To avoid a bad experience selling a house as is, it’s critical that you partner with an experienced real estate agent who can protect you from unscrupulous buyers and take a hard stance on negotiations.

“In these situations, agents need to do a lot of homework, checking out the buyers’ reputations, looking for ways buyers might try to renegotiate and squashing those efforts, and they need to help their sellers make the right decision,” shares Elizabeth Weintraub, a top real estate agent in Sacramento.

“‘As Is’ to many buyers means only until they squeeze for a bigger discount after a home inspection,” Weintraub warns. “I built my reputation for being tough and for being willing to sell a home a second or third time, if necessary, to weed out the unwanted buyers who were not ethical.”

Factor ‘as is’ into your pricing, but don’t get lowballed

When you market a home “as is,” you can’t expect to price it the same way you would if you’d planned to make targeted upgrades and repairs. However, this scenario also doesn’t require that you accept just any offer or sacrifice a huge portion of value that your house fairly commands.

“The problem is pricing it correctly to reflect the repairs required without leaving any money on the table to maximize seller profit,” Weintraub adds. “We also tend to look for buyers who want to live in the property as the value is typically higher for them, plus we have the feel-good-joy that we helped a buyer get into a home they otherwise could probably not afford.”

According to Weintraub, fixer buyers often try to take advantage of sellers, either through scare tactics like “nobody will buy your house in this condition but me” or pressure along the lines of “this is the best offer and only offer you will get and it expires in 6 hours.” But sellers should enjoy the voice of reason inherent in a good agent, she advises.

Consider high-ROI projects that aren’t much work

Robert Taylor is a real estate investor and rehabber in the greater Sacramento area with over 15 years of experience. He says that you should avoid repairs that will only marginally increase your home’s value.

“I look at repair costs and the home’s future value as a one-to-one relationship,” he explains. “If I spend ten dollars on repairs, I want to see the home’s value increase by the cost of repairs, plus ten dollars. If I spend $20,000 on repairs, I expect to be able to increase my home’s value by $40,000.:

Here are a few smaller projects that would meet Taylor’s benchmark as being worth the investment, even if you’re selling a house as is:

  • Spruce up your curb appeal: Top real estate agents estimate that investing $300 in lawn care can add $1,211 in resale value, while the simple act of installing fresh mulch adds an additional $800 in value. Plus, 76% of agents say the top project a homeowner can do to boost the marketability of their home is to improve curb appeal.
  • Deep clean and declutter: HomeLight research has shown that deep cleaning, hauling out old junk and furniture, and removing clutter can add over $4,000 in resale value for a few hundred dollar investment in a cleaning service and dumpster rental.
  • Add a fresh coat of neutral paint: Painting your home in beiges or grays depersonalizes your space to attract more offers, and the effort also increases your sale price by an estimated 1%-3%. For a home worth $500,000, that’s $5,000-$15,000 in added value. Remember that 98% of agents recommend you go with a neutral color, so pick a hue like “Agreeable Grey” by Sherwin Williams.

“Small fixes mean a higher price tag for your home,” Bebleh says.

Skip pricey cosmetic updates

Anyone considering making repairs to their home should balance their cost and time requirements against their return on investment, Taylor says. He points out that time is an often underappreciated factor here.

“If a homeowner is already living in a different home, they need to consider the extra cost of insurance, possibly two mortgages, plus utilities,” Taylor adds. “Sellers often forget that these carrying costs reduce the return they’ll get on their home.”

On Taylor’s list of repairs to avoid are these three notoriously poor ROI projects:

  • A massive kitchen remodel will cost you approximately $65,000, according to the National Association of Realtors, and return only $40,000 at sale.
  • A complete bathroom renovation will cost around $30,000 and won’t bring a return of more than $15,000 when you sell.
  • Finishing the basement will cost about $40,0000 and return only $25,000 on average.

Address ‘deal killers’ if possible

While a buyer may be willing to overlook some cosmetic issues, many won’t be able to look past these big ticket repairs. If you have the funds, you may want to prioritize these items:

  • Structural issues: According to HomeAdvisor, a sinking or settling foundation will cost $2,022 – $7,107 to repair.  “It’s a huge can of worms,” Bebleh says. “It’ll really scare off some buyers.”
  • Pest infestation: The damaging effects of termite infestations cost an average of $3,000 to resolve. Because the extent of the damage can be hard to see and treating the infestation early is key to mitigating damage, buyers tend to be wary of pest infestations.
  • Ancient roof: Replacing a roof will cost $7,000 – $12,000. “While not always a deal killer, I’d say it’s a very large expense that really scares some people — especially first time buyers.” With a 94% ROI, according to HomeLight’s data, you’re often better off taking this on yourself.

Pros and cons of selling a house as is

Maybe you’ve sold a home in the past and vowed never to negotiate with a picky buyer again. Or maybe you need to move fast and don’t have time to renovate. Whatever your motivation, consider the positive and negative aspects of an as-is sale before you make a final decision.

Pros to selling your home as-is

  • Leave the big repairs to well-funded buyers. A fix and flip investor will have the time, expertise, and funds to knock down a kitchen wall and install marble counters in an attempt to resell your home for more, so you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Increase your chance of a quick sale. As-is buyers are often cash investors. Without the financing requirements of lenders or the hassle of last minute repairs pre-closing, you can shorten your closing timeline to as few as 10 days.
  • Reduce inspection haggling. On average, buyers negotiate $14,000 in savings based on inspection findings. With an as-is sale, you can try to set an appropriate price discount and communicate to the buyer that you’re not planning to offer further credits or repairs on the home, saving stress during closing.

Cons to selling your home as-is

  • Risk of turning off buyers. Some buyers see “as-is” and read “red flag.” According to Kaminsky, the top real estate agent in Los Angeles, buyers tend to feel more comfortable offering a higher price knowing they can ask for necessary repairs during the inspection phase (and you’re not saying upfront that you’re unwilling to work with them).

 

  • Repairs aren’t off the table. Just because you list as-is doesn’t necessarily mean a buyer won’t attempt to negotiate the costs of repairs. Of course, it’s at your discretion to determine whether accepting an offer with a request for repairs is advantageous to your bottom line. If a buyer makes a good offer and asks you to cover the cost of repairing a damaged window, for example, you might do the math and decide it’s a good deal.

 

  • Expect lower offers. This is a major con of selling as-is. “You may not always get the full value of your home,” Bebleh says. “If it’s a quick repair you’re neglecting to make, you could be leaving money on the table by allowing a buyer to devalue your home over minimal cost cosmetic defects.”

The final word on selling as-is

When you’re looking for an easy, low-hassle sale and don’t have a stash of funds in the bank to put toward repairs, you might choose to sell a house as is.

Remember these key takeaways for the sale:

  • You’ll likely receive a discounted price. To maximize value, work with an agent who can help you reject lowball offers.
  • Explicitly include “as is” in the listing; otherwise, buyers won’t get the memo.
  • Order a pre-listing inspection to help with accurately pricing the home.
  • Understand that even if you list “as is,” some buyers will try to negotiate on the inspection. Again, a great agent can help you navigate through it.
  • Avoid pricey cosmetic upgrades, but know that tidying up and improving curb appeal can go a long way.
  • When your house needs a lot of work, most regular buyers won’t be interested as they’re looking to move into the house and start living in it right away. To cut to the chase, you can always reach out to a house-buying company through a platform like Simple Sale and reach your target buyer faster.

These are the Most Important Things to Fix When Selling a House

An onset of heartburn can creep up for homeowners who’ve decided to sell their house when they realize getting it into pristine condition could cost a fortune. While no potential buyer would balk at a perfectly fixed up home, it’s unlikely to be in your best interest as a seller to completely overhaul the house from eaves to foundation. In fact, the National Association of Realtors estimates that most renovation projects only yield a 52% cost recovery.

The reality is that some repairs won’t result in a worthwhile return on investment, so it’s imperative to have an experienced real estate agent to guide your approach toward the most important things to fix when selling a house.

Nevada agent Jason Mattson, who has 17 years of experience advising sellers on getting their homes ready for sale, explains that areas of the property that are outright broken and need fixing take precedence over what’s merely old and outdated. However, some items can wind up in a nebulous zone between broken and barely functional, and in those cases, Mattson advises prioritizing things that are the most visible to buyers.

The good news for sellers is that it’s often the simplest of fixes that can make the most difference in attracting buyers, sealing the deal and netting the biggest profit. Smaller ticket items like a fresh coat of paint, clearing yard debris and basic cleaning measures go a long way in keeping the bids coming versus your home being viewed as a fixer-upper. The following are repairs not to be missed.

Remediate water damage

Next to a burned down house, Mattson says that water damage tops the list of repair priorities.

“It’s probably the number one thing that would scare a buyer away from a property,” says Mattson. “It may be enough to cause a buyer to cancel for fear of the unknown even if it’s a relatively minor fix.”

Water is a powerful element that’s both life giving and destructive. While we like it flowing through pipes at the proper pressure, when there’s a minor or major leak, the damage can be considerable, from rot and mold growth to unsightly stains that don’t go away without extensive repairs. It’s also a common issue homeowners face with 37% having had to deal with loss from water damage and 98% of basements having water issues at some point.

Even if no damage has been done, be sure to fix any plumbing leaks that will certainly be a red flag in buyers’ minds.

Eliminate unpleasant odors

Pet parents may love their fur babies but prospective buyers touring your home won’t love the smell of wet dog or cat pee. Cleanliness is a must when putting a home up for sale, says Mattson, and foul odors are a fast way to send buyers running for the door. Odor problems can come from other sources like smoking, cooking fumes, mold and poor ventilation. Regardless of the source, making your house smell fresh before showings will put buyers in the right mood.

Put the kitchen in working order

The kitchen is another high priority area for making necessary fixes. While buyers won’t realize at first glance that the refrigerator and oven don’t work, leaving broken appliances to be revealed during the inspection period isn’t a good idea, Mattson says. He explains that the kitchen is a central area in the home where people spend considerable time, and so buyers want to see the area look ready for occupancy.

By fixing broken cabinets, replacing damaged countertops and making sure the dishwasher works, you’ll help interested buyers imagine themselves cooking a holiday meal or entertaining in their new kitchen.

Get HVAC and major appliances ready for move-in day

Trying to sell a home in the dead of winter with a broken furnace simply isn’t going to work out. Similarly, an out-of-order air conditioning unit in the summer communicates that the home isn’t move-in ready. While HVAC systems are big ticket items, Mattson advises getting them repaired before putting your house on the market.

On the other hand, if they still do the job of heating or cooling but are older systems, he recommends not footing the replacement bill, as you’re unlikely to recoup the costs in the sale price. The same advice applies to a broken water heater. Most people don’t relish cold showers, but as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix — or in this case — replace it, unless it’s nonfunctional.

“They may not notice on their first tour of the property or when they’re making an offer that the AC and water heater don’t function,” says Mattson. “But they’re going to find out quickly enough, so if it’s broken I would replace it or fix it.”

Don’t ignore peeling paint

There’s nothing quite like a fresh coat of paint, and in the business of home selling, it can do wonders for a home’s appeal without draining your maintenance fund account. Yet, painting is a top area that Mattson says sellers overlook when trying to get their home to sell. Whether it’s peeling paint, clashing colors in the bedrooms or a dingy looking top coat on the house’s exterior, spending just $1,500 to $2,500 can transform the overall look of the property.

Hiring professional painters who can also patch minor holes or defects in the walls is a simple step to make your house look even more appealing. A coat of paint with the right colors covers a lot — and when it comes to shopping for a home, buyers do judge the book by the cover.

Fix the floors

Flooring can be a big ticket item, but it doesn’t have to be. Old, dirty carpet can be an immediate turn-off for buyers, so it’s advisable to either invest in professional carpet cleaning for minor dirt and wear or get the carpeting replaced if it’s in poor condition. For other types of flooring like hardwood, laminate or tile, making inexpensive repairs can help prevent an “ick” reaction from buyers without spending hefty amounts on full upgrades.

Spruce up the bathrooms

Scrupulously cleaned and fully functional bathrooms can help eliminate that lived-in look that you want to avoid as a seller. However, full bathroom remodels are pricey and should be avoided unless there are major issues. Be sure to fix faulty plumbing, toilets that don’t flush, sinks that don’t drain or shower fixtures that are loose or rusty.

Little investments like scrubbing grout, replacing a cracked toilet seat and bleaching mildew in the tub, especially in the primary bathroom, are well worth the effort.

Fine-tune those electrical fixtures

Major electrical problems that could cause a structure fire or risk electrocuting occupants warrant emergency repairs. However, common electrical fixes cost little but will help put potential buyers at ease. For example, Mattson says a sagging, dust-covered ceiling fan can be replaced within a half-hour and for as little as $125 and will make the property look up-to-date.

Similarly, making sure light fixtures are operational and sockets have covers are small details that can have an outsized effect on how buyers see your property.

Don’t skip the outdoors

The exterior of your home is the first thing that buyers will see when they visit. The overall curb appeal is very important and it’s relatively inexpensive to improve. Taking steps like clearing weeds, adding attractive greenery and clearing away junk can reap substantial benefits. Also,  it’s a sure bet that buyers will notice broken windows, ripped screens and a front door that looks like it’s been kicked in a few times, and make a beeline for the car.

Another first impression will come from your garage door. If it’s old and beat up with dents, or doesn’t function properly, it’s a good idea to consider replacing it. It’s estimated that a new garage door can grant an 85% ROI due to better security, curb appeal and energy efficiency.

Although Mattson advises against a major overhaul of the backyard because the new owners may have their own ideas of what they want to do with the space, he says to definitely get rid of trash, debris, weeds and clutter so that buyers can better visualize how they can transform the space.

Leave some items for the contingency period

A new roof is one of the most expensive items associated with homeownership and it’s not necessarily an expense you want to incur when you’re headed for the exit. Barring a roof that’s sprung a leak and can be patched relatively inexpensively, Mattson advises to hold off on a roof replacement even if it’s getting toward the end of its usable lifespan.

“When a buyer is looking at your home, they’re not jumping onto the roof before they make an offer,” Mattson says. “Those are things that come up after the fact, after the inspections, and renegotiations come from that point and sometimes come after that, but you’re probably not going to give as much as you would have to replace an entire roof. And if you replace that roof you’re probably not getting that value back out of the property.”

Similarly, other “invisible” items that are expensive fixes and won’t likely affect the offer you get, such as small foundation cracks, shouldn’t be on the repair schedule. Instead, if they come up as issues during the contingency period, you can save money by offering credits instead of fixing or replacing the items yourself.

Get a head start on addressing repairs required by law

There are some fixes you can’t avoid because they are required by law, but you can avoid extra fees by being ahead of the game. For example, Nevada requires water heaters to be equipped with earthquake straps, which Mattson says can be purchased at hardware stores for $15, versus the $125 it will cost to have your home reappraised after the straps are added if you didn’t have them the first time.

Meanwhile, California sellers are required to remediate extensive termite damage. Requirements for other repairs vary by state, but most states mandate the presence of operable smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, so it’s smart to get yours added or tested before inspection day.

Conclusion

Deciding what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t can be one of the most stressful aspects of the selling process and the best thing you can do is work with an experienced agent who can determine what are priorities and what’s superfluous. Mattson recommends tackling repairs on items that are the most visible to buyers as ways to aim for getting a top dollar sale.

When working with a seasoned agent, sellers can expect someone who will explain the difference between what the property would likely sell for as-is compared to what it would sell for after the recommended repairs are made. In instances where there are major, lengthy repairs needed, or tenants still occupy the property, Mattson says it’s wise to delay putting the property on the market to leave ample time to get the house show ready.

Don’t Just Hire Anyone: 5 Important Factors in Choosing a Real Estate Agent

When you’re ready to buy your next home, you’ll want to build a dream team of professionals who can make the process seamless. Helping captain that team is a savvy real estate agent who understands exactly what kind of home you’re looking for and is eager to help you find it.

Because purchasing a home is such a huge financial decision, it’s a good idea to spend a little time researching and vetting real estate agents before hiring one.

An agent may come strongly recommended to you by a friend or family member. But before going on recommendation alone, it’s worth assessing if they’ll be a good fit for your unique needs.

Ready to start your search? Here are five qualities to look for in a top-notch real estate agent:

1. They have a strong pulse on market trends.

You want an agent who’s well-versed in real estate trends. Your real estate agent should be able to confidently discuss what type of inventory is available in your price range and the average number of days properties are staying on the market in the neighborhoods you’re looking to buy.

In your initial discussions, ask prospective agents how many homeowners they’ve gotten to the closing table in the last year.

Another important point to bring up in initial discussions? Ask about the agent’s sale-to-list ratio. A sale-to-list ratio compares the selling price of a home (how much a buyer actually paid) versus how much it was last listed for (what the seller was hoping to get).

The ratio is calculated by dividing the sale price by the most recent listing price. For example, if a house is listed for $100,000 and the agent helps negotiate the seller down to $70,000, their sale-to-list ratio on the home is 70%.

A quality real estate agent will ensure that their clients get the best deal possible, often resulting in a lower ratio.

Note that ratios are highly dependent on your housing market. In some markets, it’s rare to pay below listing price for a home. So make sure you understand your market before using a sale-to-list ratio to choose your real estate agent.

2. They know the neighborhoods well.

Once you’ve narrowed down your housing search to a specific area, you’ll want to go with a real estate agent who knows your target neighborhoods inside and out.

Can your prospective agent answer questions about the surrounding school districts and whether there are any upcoming HOA assessments in various neighborhoods? Do they know at what percentage of listing price houses in the neighborhood usually sell?

If you’re new to an area, can your agent give you a feel for the community, including which parks are popular nearby, what restaurants are opening up soon, what your morning commute will look like or what kind of volunteer groups you could join?

These are important questions — make sure whoever you hire can adequately answer them!

3. They come with rave reviews.

If you were going to make a hire at your place of work, you’d expect candidates to have a resume and references, right? That’s a fair expectation to have of real estate agents, too, since they’re looking to work on your behalf.

Ask your prospective agent out for coffee or schedule a phone call. Find out if they’re a member of a local real estate agent association, how long they’ve worked in the area, and if they’ve ever received any awards or acknowledgments. And always ask for references.

Did you know that according to the National Association of Realtors®, almost three-quarters of buyers would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others?

When people have a good home-buying experience, they care about the continued success of their agent and are likely willing to serve as references.

You can ask references questions such as:

  • Did the agent listen to you and understand the type of home you wanted? Did they work to find homes that would fit your needs?
  • What’s the agent’s communication style? How quickly does he or she return your calls or text messages?
  • Did you ever feel rushed into making a decision? How many homes did you look at before making an offer?
  • Were there any challenges that came up in the home buying process and how did the agent navigate them?
  • Would you hire this real estate agent again?

4. They have the right credentials for your needs.

Beyond a license, some real estate agents earn credentials or affiliations that help them carve out a niche.

For example, a Senior Real Estate Specialist® has completed training that helps them better serve those who are 50 years and older. An Accredited Buyer’s Representative® has gone through extra training in representing buyers in real estate transactions. Agents who have a Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist™ are well versed in the luxury market.

Consider choosing a real estate agent with special training that can serve your individual home buying needs.

5. They have time for you.

One final question: Go ahead and ask how many other buyers your prospective real estate agent is working with presently.

Do they have enough time to invest in your property search? Are they available on the weekends to show you open houses?

You deserve to have an agent who takes your housing search seriously and is ready to act swiftly when you’re ready to buy.

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