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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor
| March 8, 2018
As a home seller, you don't want to let the small stuff sabotage your sale.
These 12 problems are among the biggest buyer turn-offs, according to industry studies and interviews with real estate agents and home-staging experts who deal with buyer preferences every day. Most of them are easy to fix without spending a ton of money. Take a look.
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If your yard looks like the Addams family owns it, you need to tidy up. Otherwise, buyers may drive by but never come back.
Besides mowing the lawn, your to-do list should include trimming scraggly trees and shrubs and removing anything that's dead or beyond resuscitation. Edge, weed and mulch garden beds. Plant annuals in a plot or pot for a splash of color (see Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal). While you're at it, be sure to sweep or hose down your front door and porch to get rid of cobwebs and bug detritus.
Cost to fix: Around $95 for a landscaper to prune and groom a small tree and a couple of shrubs, according to www.diyornot.com. If you'd rather be packing boxes than mowing the lawn, you'll probably pay a lawn service $30 to $80 per visit to mow, but you might get a neighbor's kid to do it for less. Of course, you can always spruce up the yard yourself.
Paint over colors that reflect your taste but may put off potential buyers, such as a scarlet-red accent wall, a lemon-yellow child's bedroom or a forest-green den. "Fun colors are for living, but neutral colors are for selling," explains home stager Chrissie Sutherland, of Ready Set Stage, in Greensboro, N.C.
Avoid using stark-white paint, though. Choose a warm neutral color -- beige, ivory, taupe or light gray -- that makes your rooms look inviting, larger and brighter. Redo painted trim in white.
Cost to fix: A pro can prep and paint a 10-foot-by-15-foot room with two coats of latex paint for anywhere from $400 to $830, according to www.homewyse.com.
Anyone who has lived with this outdated mode of room-top styling knows that it accumulates dirt, defies cleaning and is hard to paint. Worse, if your home was built prior to the mid-1980s, it may contain asbestos (it was banned in ceiling products in 1977, but existing supplies may have been used later).
If you have any concerns, have the ceiling sampled and tested for asbestos by a licensed inspector. For more information, check out the EPA's Asbestos: Protect Your Family fact sheets. If the test result is positive, hire an asbestos abatement contractor who is federally or state trained and accredited (not the same company that tested the ceiling) to seal it with spray paint if it's in good shape (not peeling or crumbling) and unlikely to be disturbed, or to remove the ceiling treatment and properly dispose of it -- an expensive proposition.
Removal is usually a messy and laborious process, with or without asbestos. The material must be wetted down and scraped and the underlying wallboard wiped clean. Once the popcorn is gone, the ceiling often must be repaired with joint compound and repainted. Even if there's no asbestos, you probably should hire a drywall or painting contractor for the job. (For a glimpse of the process, visit www.ronhazleton.com.)
Cost to fix: About $100 to $150 per sample to test for asbestos (multiple samples may be required). If you can get by with a painter, expect to pay about $1 to $3 per square foot for removal, repair and repainting, according to www.homeadvisor.com. If asbestos is present, you'll pay another $3 to $7 per square foot to remove it.
Buyers these days expect hardwood floors, even in starter homes. If carpet hides your home's original hardwood floors, remove it, even if the wood isn't in the best condition. Even if you don’t have hardwood, you may want to consider having it installed in a first-floor living area. If you must keep the carpeting, make sure it looks and smells its best by having it professionally cleaned, especially in high-traffic areas or if you have pets.
To find a cleaner certified by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, visit www.certifiedcleaners.org. Talk with your agent about the best strategy: whether to replace carpet or give buyers the option to choose what they want.
Cost to fix: A pro can clean 500 square feet of carpet for about $160 to $210, according to www.homewyse.com. The cost to refinish 500 square feet of hardwood flooring runs about $2,000 to $2,400, including labor, while the cost to install new hardwood runs from about $3,800 to $5,600. Pre-finished laminate flooring will cost somewhat less to install.
From switch plates to chandeliers, builder-grade, shiny yellow brass has been unpopular for a while, but in some cities, it's regaining popularity among young home buyers. Check with a real estate agent to see what's happening in your market and price range. If replacement is in order, choose chrome- or satin-nickel-finish fixtures for a contemporary look, or an oil-rubbed bronze or black finish to update a traditional room. This is a pretty straightforward do-it-yourself job.
For instructions, watch these YouTube videos: How to Replace and Install a Chandelier from Build.com and Buildipedia DIY's How to Replace a Light Fixture.
Cost to fix: You could buy two chandeliers (to put, say, over the kitchen and dining-room tables) and a few flush-mounted lights for $200 to $400 at a big-box store such as Lowe's or Home Depot. After that, it's DIY.
Acrylic knobs in the bathroom look cheap and can be hard to use by young, aged or soapy hands. Replace them with a faucet and handle set that matches the existing fixture's configuration (centerset or widespread) and meets the standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act with flipper- or lever-style handles. Polished-chrome finish will cost you the least and still be durable. Plus, the National Kitchen & Bath Association says that the finish is enjoying a surge in popularity over brushed or satin finishes.
Cost to fix: You'll pay at least $26 for a centerset faucet, plus $75 to $150 for a plumber's minimum service charge (or twice that much or more if there's corrosion or some other difficulty), according to www.costhelper.com. You can replace a tub-and-shower faucet set for about the same amount.
Nothing says 1970s like a Hollywood-style strip of bare, round lights over your bathroom mirror. Replace it with a fixture that includes a shade for each bulb or a bath bar in a style and finish that complements your faucet set.
If you have a one-person mirror, you could replace the vanity strip with a wall sconce on either side of the mirror to achieve better lighting for shaving or applying make-up.
Cost to fix: Best-selling three-light fixtures with shades run $58 to $300 at www.lightingdirect.com. You should be able to handle this job yourself.
Ugh. You want buyers to imagine living in your home, not to wonder "How can these people live like this?" when they come through the front door.
It's not too soon to sort through your stuff. Donate, sell, recycle or trash whatever you don't want or need in your next home. Pack up your tchotchkes and other non-essential stuff that you do want to keep (store the boxes neatly in your garage or other storage area). Tidy and organize drawers, cabinets or closets that buyers will be sure to check out. Then thoroughly clean your house, top to bottom, and be prepared to keep it that way until you move out.
Cost to fix: You may be able to get boxes for free from the grocery or liquor store, or visit a local storage-rental place, which often sell various sizes of moving boxes for a reasonable price. Cleaning costs you little--just the cost of supplies--if you supply the elbow grease. For professional deep cleaning, you can expect to pay from $300 to $380 for a 2,000-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, or $480 to $600 for a 3,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to www.homewyse.com.
While some home buyers may appreciate having carpet underfoot in the bedrooms, it's a total turn-off in the bathroom, where it will absorb moisture and more. (Yes, some new-home builders in the 1990s outfitted bathrooms with carpet, says real estate agent Anthony Rael, in Denver). Eliminate the yuck factor by replacing the carpet with high-quality, but economical vinyl flooring that looks like tile.
Cost to fix: Expect to pay about $260 to $380 for 50 square feet of vinyl flooring, according to homewyse.com. For some added wow factor, opt for ceramic tile. A 12 x 12 inch glazed ceramic tile costs around $640 to $980 for 50 square feet.
You may have grown nose-blind to the odors in your home, but buyers will notice it as soon as they step through the door. Pet odors and cigarette smoke are especially troublesome. At a minimum, until you move out you need to smoke outside and clean the litter pan, wash the dog and empty the trash more frequently. Forego cooking strong-smelling foods. Lastly, open the windows occasionally to let in some fresh air.
If you have pets, use a blacklight flashlight (about $10 on Amazon.com) to help you find urine residue that you otherwise can't see on rugs, floors, walls or furniture. Spot clean with a vinegar solution or enzymatic cleaners designed for that purpose.
To eliminate cigarette odor and prepare for painting, wash walls and ceilings with a detergent (non-soapy) or a Tri-Sodium Phosphate (TSP) substitute, such as Savogran ($6 at Home Depot), that will remove smoke residue, grease and grime. Then apply a primer, such as Kilz (from $17 to $35 a gallon), that's designed to seal in odor and stains, and repaint.
Have carpets steam-cleaned and drapes dry-cleaned. Wash curtains and blinds (add some vinegar to the wash water). Have upholstered pieces professionally cleaned by a company that's IICRC-certified for the job, which will run you from $180 to $240 for a standard sized chair and couch, according to www.homewyse.com. If the furniture is all-but-ruined, remove it from the home.
Buyers may be frightened, allergic or distracted by them, even if your animal is well-behaved.
It's best if you can remove your dog from your home during a showing. Take him for a walk or a ride. If you can't be available, perhaps your regular dog walker or a neighbor could be on call to help out or you could drop him off at doggy daycare. At Rover.com, you can search for dog walkers, daycare and places for drop-in visits in your area.
Cats are trickier. If your cats strictly live indoors, you could put them in their cat carriers, take them outside or put them in your car and go get a drive-through coffee. Or, perhaps you could corral them in one room or in the garage. Place a pet gate in front of the doorway, so the animal can’t escape when the agent and buyer open the door.
To keep up with pet fur and dander and reduce the time you spend vacuuming floors, buy a robotic vacuum cleaner, such as the iRobot Roomba 614 ($300 MSRP).
Although wallpaper may be making a bit of a comeback (in contemporary patterns, not chintz or cabbage roses), buyers generally don't love it and see only the work required to remove it. You can save money by doing it yourself. Removing a decorative border may be manageable, but stripping a roomful of wallpaper will be a major chore. If you hire a professional to strip wallpaper and paint, you'll pay from $850 to $1,920 for 350 square feet of wall, according to www.homewyse.com.
Buyers aren't enamored of brown, wood paneling either. In that case, it may be easier to just paint it at a cost of about $420 to $950 for 350 square feet. Be sure to degloss the surface with a liquid sandpaper (like Krud-Kutter Gloss-Off, $8 for a quart at Home Depot) and prime it so paint will adhere. (To see how, watch HGTV's video How to Paint Paneling.)
If you have knotty-pine paneling in a den or rec room, check with a local decorator or agent before you do anything to it. Younger buyers may like its vintage vibe.
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