Don’t do this to your house

I showed a house yesterday.  Nice place.  It was all original except the kitchen.

It wasn’t that old of a house, so it wasn’t what I would call outdated.  Since it wasn’t that old, nothing was worn out either.  I would call it neutrally nice-not bad and not great at the same time.

But that kitchen was super nice, and that was the problem with this house.

Yeah, you read that right.  The remodeled kitchen was a negative.

Why?

Because the people who are attracted to the house due to that super nice kitchen will be disappointed that the rest of the house isn’t as nice.  They leave thinking they would have to “Finish” the rest of the remodeling.

The people who won’t mind the rest of the house don’t care about that super nice kitchen and won’t want to pay for it through the higher list price.  They leave thinking the house is overpriced.

It would have been better for this seller to have spent less on the kitchen and updated all of the house evenly.

That has always been my advice after observing how buyers react to houses.  All of your house should be consistently nice if you want your updates to add value.  If they aren’t, then you are usually giving away that one space where you spent the most money.

Do this if you never want your house to sell

I showed a pretty nice house last night that is going to be very hard for the listing agent to sell.

It was one of the lower prices for a huge house on a gorgeous lot in a very desirable neighborhood.

You’d think that would be enough in any market, yet alone one starved for listings.

This is what it was like seeing the house.  You walk up to a freshly painted facade with recently mowed grass and fresh mulch.  You are feeling good about it.  You go inside.  The foyer is nice.  It is a little strange that you can’t see any rooms from the foyer, but not the end of the world.

You go towards the left and see the dining room.  Wall paper from the 90s.  You go into the kitchen next.  Red wall paper from the 90s.  You go into a really nice sunroom.  What do you see?  Murals painted on the walls.  You go back through all those rooms and then you enter the great room, which was super nice.  Then you see a bedroom.  Ok.  Then you see a bathroom that not only has wall paper, but wall paper boarders on the ceilings and top of the walls, as if they were making crown molding.  The shower curtain is heavy, like the dress Scarlett made in Gone with the Wind.  Then you enter the living room which is set up as an office and has way too much furniture in it.

Heading upstairs, you notice that all the bedrooms are painted a different color.  The basement is pretty normal.

The sellers furniture was nice, but they probably bought all of it when the house was new in the early 90s.  I am not bashing anybody’s stuff because my own house is probably the most boringly decorated house in the whole world, but I am not trying to sell it.  I would need to stage my own house if I were selling because my stuff would make my house feel as dated as this one did.  All of my furniture is stuff my parents gave me and that my wife and I put together from a box.  I’m just not into decorating……maybe that is why I can always see the house past the decor.

It sort of made me sad because I could picture the house vacant and with a coat of fresh paint.  It was nice.  Sure, the house would have still been a little outdated since it was about 25 years old, but it wasn’t terrible at all and typical for the neighborhood.

There was a stack of realtor cards on the table in the foyer.  That means all those people in addition to my buyers said “No” to this house.

What sellers never realize is that a buyer will walk through their entire house in about 20 minutes.  Having too much furniture in a room may suit the sellers needs, but it makes the rooms feel smaller to the buyer.  It is also hard to see the room past the furniture.  I always say that when you live in a house, the room exists to show off your decor.  When you are selling, the decor should show off the room.  Also, colors make a big difference.  A seller may be in one room of their house for a while and then go to another.  The buyer, when walking through the entire house, gets sensory overload if every room is drastically different.  A uniform color can also help when the house has a choppy floor plan too.

I am sure all the feedback on this listing has been that it needs too much work.  If this were my house, I would remove as much furniture as I could stand.  I would put a fresh coat of neutral paint everywhere.  People ask me all the time what is the biggest bang for the buck.  I always say fresh paint.  Nothing makes as big of an impact as fresh paint.

With all the wall paper gone, most of the dated furniture out, and a coat of fresh paint, the house would feel so much better.  The 25 year old finishes were neutral enough that buyers would find them acceptable in the absence of the 25 year old furniture and wall paper.

When I go to sell my current house, I am taking my own advice since my place is very similar to this one.

My Miata teaches sellers a lesson about color

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Ok, what is the first thing you notice about my Miata?  It’s the red top on a blue car, right?

I thought this picture may help on future discussions I have with sellers regarding their paint colors.

FYI, the top won’t always be red.  Plan is to paint it a metallic silver.  These original hardtops are hard to get, so you buy the first one you find.  This one happened to have come off of a red car.

So, this is my car.  I’ve gotten use to the red.  So much so that I don’t even really notice it, which is why I haven’t painted it in the 8 months I’ve had it.  Same happens with sellers with bold colors…..it is their normal and they don’t really see their house in the same eyes as a buyer.

But buyers notice bold colors just as the first thing you noticed about my car were the colors.

Do you care that the car only has 67k miles since 1990?  That all the suspension is new?  That it is all original?  No, you’re just giggling about the Wonder Woman/Superman/Papa Smurf color scheme.

Let’s say I wanted to sell it.  I might say that I don’t know what color the buyer would want it to be, so it is best to let them decide.  That is what a lot of sellers say when you tell them they need to paint.  The problem with leaving a boldly painted house alone is that you either need a buyer who can see past it or has your exact same taste, both are maybe 5% of the whole pool of buyers.  The most popular car colors are white, black and 50 shades of silver.  For houses, gray, beige or greige are the crowd pleasers.

I guess if I were selling it, I could offer an allowance for painting it.  Maybe $2000.  Then I still need a buyer who wants to paint a car as their first act as the new owners.  My experience is that people never know what painting will cost.  They are usually way high on what they think it will be.  So if you offered a $2000 allowance on your house for painting, most buyers will want twice that.

What happens if I were to do nothing about the paint and try to sell it like it is?  If selling a car with a bold color scheme is like selling a house with a bold color scheme, what will happen is that it would sit on the market for a long time and then finally get a low offer because the buyer wants a bargain price if he is going to have to do the work.

It’s a good thing I have no intentions of ever selling my Miata.  I’ve owned it twice.  I sold it to a friend and bought it back.  Unless you feel the same way about your house, you are wise to get rid of the bold colors.

 

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.

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.