The hardest houses to sell

I’ve been at this for a long time.  I’ve sold a lot of houses.  In a good market.  In a bad market.  In Lexington.  Outside of Lexington.  In neighborhoods.  In the country.

Want to know the houses that are the absolute hardest to sell?

The ones that are partially updated.


You would think that a buyer would view a house that has some parts really nice to be a big bonus.  They don’t.  The nice part of the house just makes the rest of the house look worse to a buyer.  Too much contrast between the nice and the average bits of the house.

Who comes to see these houses?

  1.  The buyer who sees the nice new stuff in the pictures.  They get excited but almost always say that the rest of the house needs too much work.
  2. The buyer who see the part of the house that needs updated.  They get excited because they want to renovate the rest of the house, but not give any credit for the work that has been done……meaning they want it for free.
  3.  All the other buyers who come mainly because it meets some or all of their search criteria.  They don’t buy it because they say it needs too much work.

What you have to do with a house like this is try to make the non-updated bits look as good as possible.  You want to minimize that contrast.  You don’t want the buyer to walk in one room and be unhappy, then walk in the next and fall in love, then walk in the next and be unhappy.  The goal is to make them at least feel neutral, then love, then neutral as they walk through the house.  Less contrast is good.

You also have to really emphasis the other features of the house, hoping that the right buyer will see all the other pluses and feel like they can live with the house like it is or take on the updating.  If the house is the best bargain in the neighborhood, walking distance to trendy places, has a park nearby, a desirable school district, is the most square footage for the money…..whatever the house excels at, and all houses have something unique, that is what you want to emphasize.  Anybody looking for one or more of those unique features is usually the one who buys the house.  Why?  Because they don’t have as many choices

The 3rd real estate word I created

One of the toughest things about being a realtor is when you make friends with somebody who buys a house from you, then they move out of town.

Phil and his wife were referred to me from their agent when they moved to Lexington.  He had taken a job here and commuting from out of state was not an option.

I had a really good time looking at houses with them.  They were a lot of fun.  We laughed.  It didn’t even feel like work to me.  It was like hanging out with old friends.

Several times a year, Phil and I try to find the best Chinese buffet in town.  We haven’t really found an amazing buffet, but we sure can tell you where not to go for lunch.

Well, Phil is just too good at what he does and now it is time to move on to bigger and better things that are not in Lexington.  Time to sell their house.

I went over to check it out earlier this week.  It was good to see what all they have done to the place.  I had forgotten a lot of details about the house, but I quickly saw why they picked it.  Back then, he had a choice of many houses in that price range.  Today, there might be 20 houses on that side of town in this price range.  I always like to make sure my people get a house that will be a buyer’s top choice even in a bad market.  We won’t have any trouble selling it.

Anyway, as I was looking at their hall bathroom, I said that the tile floor was “Decade Neutral.”  He got a good laugh, said that would make a good blog post, and here we are.

Decade Neutral I guess is my new term for those finishes that are hard to tell when they were done.  His house had 12 by 12 beige tile with a light but not white grout.  Who knows when it was installed.  It could have been the 70s.  Could have been the 80s.  Could have been last week?  It is decade……neutral!

When people ask me about updating their house, I usually suggest things like this.  It is no fun to rip out trendy tile once there is a new trend.  His tile is like a pair of jeans or khaki pants.  It goes with everything and is timeless.

Some other things that are Decade Neutral are:

  1. Hardwood floors.  Not the prefinished kind.  The kind that gets stained and polyed on site.  The Goldilocks kind because it is not too wide and not too narrow. It is just right.  The kind you see in houses from every decade since houses have been built.
  2.  Crown molding.  I’ve never had anybody tell me that they would have to update crown molding.
  3. Recessed lighting.  The beauty of recessed lighting is, well, that you DON’T SEE IT.  (Ok, I guess they did make some a long time ago that had a mirrored gold ring around it…but you can buy covers for THAT kind now.)
  4. Chrome faucets.  While they are more minivan than “Sexy Black Dress”, they get the job done and nobody is appalled to see them in a house.
  5.  Tall ceilings.  Sure, the 2 story foyer isn’t as popular any more, but nobody has ever said they wished the ceiling in the family room was shorter.

That is all I have for now.  I’m gonna miss Phil, but I sure wish him all the success he in due in his new job.  He’ll do great!

Oh, and the other real estate terms I created are “Move out ready” and “Reach-in closet.”  Move out ready is when a vacant house looks like the seller left in a hurry.  It has crumbs in the fridge, you can see the impression on the carpet where the couch was, and there are nail holes in every wall.  A “Reach-in closet” is any closet that isn’t a walk-in.

New roof add value to your house?

I just don’t buy it.
I read an article put out by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.  It said putting on a new roof is the biggest single item a seller can do to get the highest return. They said it increased the value of a house by 105%. Get this, remodeling or updating your kitchen only brings back about 67% in added value.
I laughed so hard I snorted a little.
About 50% of my work is with buyers. I sell a lot of houses. I have been doing for over 10 years. My experience in and around Lexington Ky is that very few buyers even notice the age or condition of the roof. The HVAC too for that matter. Most buyers care more about the appearance of the house than anything…..assuming they were okay with the location to have even considered viewing the house.  Most don’t think about the roof (or windows or HVAC or water heater) until the home inspection. That is why I always try to think about these things for them. I am always telling people the age and condition of the roof and the rest of the house. In fact, I’m working with a buyer right now who fired their old realtor because they kept making offers on houses that were in terrible shape and the deals fell apart after the home inspection. The last thing I want is a client of mine to emotionally move in, tell their friends and family all about the house, and then it fall apart after the home inspection.
Several years ago I listed a house for some clients/friends have used me several times. Their house had new windows and literally a brand new roof. The house was a bit outdated. They found their dream home before doing much inside to this one. The seller knew a lot about houses and wanted to take care of those big items first. LOL, I guess I am the same way because I am sitting in my own home, that has a new water heater, sump pumps and I am about to put in new windows…..yet I have a master bathroom that dates back to when Dallas and Knots Landing were new shows.
I put their house on the market. I showed it several times. It took a while to sell because it was outdated. I would remind buyers that there was $15-20k in windows and the roof that they would not have to spend. I would tell them it is more fun to spend that much on flooring and granite than to buy another house that was updated inside but would need new windows and a roof. It finally sold, but my point is that most buyers make decisions on how updated a house LOOKS. That is just how it works. 99% of the time, I would rather have my sellers drop money on updates that can be seen verses maintenance items than cannot. Unless a roof is just ancient or really ugly, most buyers don’t care as long as it doesn’t leak.
So, I totally disagree with this report. It just isn’t happening in my area.
And ALWAYS consult with a knowledgeable real estate agent in your area before making big decisions. I spend a lot of time advising friends and clients about how to spend money on their houses. You need somebody who knows the market and even your neighborhood to help make decisions.
There are a lot of variables depending on your neighborhood and price range.
We had a hail storm several years ago in South Lexington. Almost everybody got a new roof. The norm in those neighborhoods was to have a new roof. Buyers expected a new roof. It was a negative in that situation to not have a new roof.
There are several neighborhoods that are about 15 years old right now. The norm is to have original HVAC and roof. Since buyers will be viewing houses that all have an older roof or HVAC, a seller would do better to spend money updating the interior if they are considering selling any time soon. If they plan to stay forever, it is okay to spend their money any way they want.

Kitchens/baths and how NOT to over-improve

Kitchens and master baths.  There is a lot of confusion about them.  Watch HGTV and you’d think that is all home buyers care about.  Since I don’t want you taking your advice from people who don’t sell houses, here are some things I tell people:

  1. While kitchens and master baths ARE very important, the whole house must be attractive.  All too often I see sellers who blew the budget on a kitchen renovation and left the hall baths and other rooms the same.  That is polarizing.  Plus, the new stuff just makes the old stuff look worse.  If you have $50k to drop on your house, spread the love all over the house.
  2. Watch out for over-improving.  It is soooo easy to get carried away.  You’re like “Everybody has granite.  I want marble.  Well the Carrera Marble is just a little more and I love the veining.”  You only have to be a little better than all the other houses in your price range.  If you’ve got a $150k house, no $150k buyer is expecting higher end updates.
  3. Some things just don’t give you a good return on your investment.  A massive deck that cost $10k to build might only get you an extra $3k compared to other houses with normal sized decks.  A $7k roof really isn’t worth any more than a roof that is less than 10 years old and doesn’t leak.  A new water heater has no value over an existing one unless the existing one is just super old.  Buyers don’t like to reimburse sellers for maintenance.  If it isn’t exciting, then it has no value.  It is easier to sell a house with bad windows and granite counter tops than it is to sell a house with argon filled, Low-E triple pane windows and a green laminate counter top.
  4. THE cheapest thing you can do to help your house sell is fresh paint and carpet/flooring.  Think about it, flooring and paint is all you see in most rooms.  Even an ugly kitchen or master bath can get a nice facelift with just new flooring and paint.

All this reminds me of several houses I have been in over the years.  The best (or worst) one was a house behind where I use to live.  A realtor was flipping it.  This is in a 1970s neighborhood where most houses still had everything original.  He came in and did an amazing kitchen and master bath.  He also left the paneling in the downstairs family room.  It was a polarizing house.  You loved some of it and hated some of it.  It didn’t sell.

My wife and I looked at a house in our current neighborhood.  It had an amazing deck and high end kitchen cabinets….the kind you see in a magazine.  We tried to like it, but the 99 cent laminate floors in the kitchen and the paneling downstairs turned us away.  Those sellers must have run out of money when renovating the kitchen.  I’ve never seen such cheap. rental grade laminate floors with such nice cabinets.

So when you are thinking about resale, look around and see what is the norm in your neighborhood and price range.  Definitely don’t cheap out, but also don’t go overboard.