Many home sellers are taking down the “For Sale” signs as they take a break from hosting open houses and celebrate the holidays with family. But the off-market reprieve also offers an opportunity for sellers to upgrade their homes and better compete when the traditional spring-selling season begins.
“The extent of improvements varies on the condition of the property and on a seller’s budget and willingness to invest in a home that they will soon be vacating,” says Svetlana Javakhyan, managing broker at Century 21 Commonwealth in Watertown, Mass. “However, one has to keep in mind that even in the market with a low inventory, many buyers are looking for a move-in ready home.”
Here are 7 ways homeowners who want to sell can improve their chances when the ground thaws.
While putting away holiday decorations, pack up other items in the house to create an airier, less cluttered interior. Grattan Donahoe, broker-owner of ERA Donahoe Realty in Temecula, Calif., recommends giving away or storing 80 percent of the items in a home. His advice is to streamline décor on shelves, clear countertops and put away seasonal clothes. “You’re moving,” he says, “so you should get packing.”
2. Repair seasonal issues
Donahoe also recommends paying attention to any issues that come up as the season changes. For example, if it rains a lot in your region during the winter, watch for roof leaks or areas of your yard with poor drainage. “You’ll want to fix these issues now so the home is show-ready in the spring,” he says.
3. Improve first impressions
“It takes, on average, 8 seconds for a potential buyer to make judgements about your home,” says Scott Wilkinson, broker-owner of Wilkinson ERA Real Estate in Charlotte, N.C. That means addressing areas that buyers encounter first such as a cracked driveway, peeling paint on shutters or trim and an unappealing front door. Easy fixes include trimming the bushes, freshening the mulch and painting the front door for added curb appeal.
4. Address the floors
Focus on where the buyer steps. “Floors wow many buyers,” says Venus Howard, a real estate agent with Re/Max Alliance in Westminster, Colo. Deep-clean carpets to get rid of unwanted pet odors and unsightly food stains. If it’s in the budget, re-sand and re-stain hardwood floors. A cheaper improvement is replacing any worn-out linoleum.
5. Update the look
Aim for a more modern look, says John Mangas, broker and co-owner of Re/Max Preferred Associates in Toledo, Ohio. Replace brass light fixtures, faucets, towel bars and door hinges with oiled bronze or brushed nickel ones. Strip off wallpaper and paint walls a neutral color. Pull up carpet in the bathroom and put down ceramic or a quality vinyl tiles, he says. Greg Smith, a real estate agent at Re/Max Alliance of Boulder in Colorado, recommends buying stainless steel appliances for the kitchen for a quick update that “can net thousands more for a home.”
6. Take care of the fundamentals
Make sure the basics mechanics of the home — heating and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and the roof — are in tip-top shape, says Jim Zarkadas, a real estate agent at Century 21 Commonwealth in Watertown, Mass. “These are hot buttons that make buyers feel comfortable that everything in the home is working and, in most cases, will last for 20 to 30 years,” he says.
7. Get inspected
If you’re not sure where to concentrate your efforts, get an expert’s opinion. Wilkinson recommends having an inspection to find out which areas need to be addressed before they have a chance to unravel a sale.