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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor
| April 25, 2019
As a home seller, you don't want to let the small stuff sabotage your sale.
These 15 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.
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.
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 a coat of latex paint and primer in one for anywhere from $400 to $850, according to 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Anyone who has lived with this outdated mode of room-top styling knows that it accumulates dirt, defies cleaning and is hard to paint.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 the test is negative, the cost for removal, repair and repainting will be about $2 to $4 per square foot, according to 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 or a luxury vinyl planking, a close facsimile, 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 with light stain removal for about $170 to $230, according to 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 $3,900 to $5,700. Luxury vinyl plank flooring will cost about the same 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, especially in a non-glossy finish, 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 nickel, chrome or stainless steel fixtures in your choice of finish (polished, satin, matte or brushed), which will work in most settings from traditional to contemporary, or an oil-rubbed bronze finish to update a traditional room.
Replacing a light fixture is a pretty straightforward do-it-yourself job.
For instructions, watch these YouTube videos: How to Install a Chandelier from Lamps Plus, 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.
Cost to fix: Chrome faucets start at about $25 to $50. The national average cost to hire a plumber to replace a faucet is about $300, according to www.diyornot.com. It could cost more if there’s corrosion or some other difficulty. 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.
Cost to fix: Many best-selling three-light fixtures with shades run $60 to $100 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 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 $270 to $340 for a 2,000-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, or $400 to $500 for a 3,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to 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 $240 to $540 for 50 square feet of sheet vinyl flooring (including removal and disposal of old flooring), according to Homewyse.com. For some added wow factor, opt for ceramic tile. A 12 x 12 inch glazed ceramic tile costs around $745 to $1,385 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 $9 to $25 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 $133 to $179 for full cleaning with light stain removal of a standard-sized chair and couch, according to 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 ($250 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, you'll pay from $611 to $1,230 for 350 square feet of wall, according to 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 $960 for 350 square feet. Be sure to degloss the surface with a liquid sandpaper (like Krud-Kutter Gloss-Off, $7 for a quart at Home Depot) and prime it so paint will adhere. (To see how, watch HGTV's video How to Paint Over 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.
If you’re startled by fleeing creatures when you turn on the lights in your home, just imagine how a prospective buyer will feel -- ewwww. Now’s the time to say bye-bye to ants, cave (camel) crickets, cockroaches, scorpions, termites, mice and more. On its blog, The Buzz, Terminix, the pest control company, offers good advice for preventing problems, recognizing signs that your home has unwelcome guests and taking steps to rid yourself of them. If doing it yourself isn’t doing it, you’ll need to hire a pro.
To evict furry, four-legged critters, consider hiring a wildlife control company that uses humane practices. The Humane Society of America provides a guide to hiring one.
Cost to fix: The typical one-time cost of pest control is about $300 to $500, according to HomeAdvisor.com. If you have an on-going problem, contract with an exterminator to visit periodically. After paying $180 to $185 for an initial visit, the average cost will be $40 to $45 monthly, $50 to $60 semi-monthly or $100 to $300 quarterly. The cost will vary with the size of your property and the level of infestation.
If you have ended a termite problem, but need to repair damage, you can hire a handyman who will charge about $320 to $700 for a day of labor, according to Homewyse.com.
A dark house is unwelcoming. Open the drapes and pull up the shades to let in natural light. If you can’t be home to turn on the lights, especially during shorter fall and winter days, put some lights on timers or install some smart lights. For example, The Philips Hue White Starter Kit ($100 for a kit with four bulbs and a bridge that acts as a translator between the bulbs and your Wi-Fi network) will allow you to turn lights on and off using your voice or a smart device. Extra bulbs usually run $15 to $40 each.
If your home will be vacant when shown, install a sharp-looking floor lamp in any room that lacks overhead lighting.
Buyers will scope out your neighbor’s property, and if their’s looks haunted, that could be a turn-off. Pay your neighbors a friendly visit to let them know you’re planning to sell, and ask if they can help you make the best impression and sell for top dollar -- which will increase their home’s value, too -- by “catching up” with their yard work or tidying. If they’re elderly or otherwise in need of help with the outdoor labor, offer to mow their lawn and prune their shrubs or pay for someone to do it for them.
If your neighbors are unreceptive and you believe they’re breaking the rules of your homeowners association or laws of your town, you could report them. It won’t foster friendly relations, but it could force them to step up.
Or, you could install a wood privacy fence. To install 25 feet of fencing will cost an average of $560 to $920, according to Homewyse.com.