July 1, 2008

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Home Improvements

In a Touch Market, Sellers Spruce Up Smarter

Larry Warren

July 1, 2008

Let’s face it. As much as everyone hates admitting it, the booming Utah real estate market is changing. Although it may not be as extreme as our neighbors in states to the east or west, it is slowing down, and inventory and foreclosures are going up. And easy financing? The days of stated income loans, low teaser rates, and other shaky mortgage schemes are ending, narrowing the pool of buyers as the sub-prime meltdown continues. Despite the changes and rumors swirling in neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front, a sale can be made, it just might take a little more work, experts say. There are tried and true methods to get your house to rise to the top of a buyer’s list, and some new tricks, too. “The key now is to stage a home,” says Gordon Sloan, Group 1 Real Estate broker. “The emphasis is on marketing it to look the way the customer would have it, rather than how you use it.” That means if you use your formal dining room as a playroom and it’s full of brightly colored plastic toys, get rid of them and bring back the dining table and chairs. “Make each room look like it has a purpose,” adds real estate agent Trela Bird of McDonald Group GMAC Real Estate. Buyers want to see a room where they can visualize their furniture in the space, Bird says. If you have a home office in a spare bedroom with a bed in it, think about what use would sell the home best. In most cases that would mean removing the office equipment and dressing it up as a full time bedroom, while re-staging a little-used nook as an office area. The tricks behind staging all start with one basic premise – the removal of clutter. Family photos and memorabilia, overflowing book cases and tables covered with knick-knacks are distracting. Buyers don’t want to see how you live; rather they want a blank enough slate so they can picture how they would live in the house. Pay special attention to the kitchen. “That is the key room in the house,” Sloan says. Agents go so far as to suggest renting a storage unit, if necessary, to thin out personal items and miscellaneous furniture in a house. Just like a beauty queen preparing for a pageant, houses need “lipstick” before they take the stage. Decluttering may reveal dinged walls, faded curtains or stained carpets. Here is where a small investment can pay big returns in a higher sale price. “Start with the front door,” says veteran agent Leslie Thorup with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. “That’s your first impression. And sharpen your landscaping.” Thorup is also not shy to suggest a minor makeover. “New paint and carpet are always positive things,” she says. “You can never go wrong with those.” “I’m not afraid to recommend that people replace floor coverings,” Bird says. She also advocates repainting brightly colored rooms. “Neutralize the colors,” she suggests. While every room in a house needs to be de-cluttered and re-purposed back to its most logical use, the key rooms in any home are bathrooms and the kitchen. However, as a rule, agents are reluctant to urge home sellers to undertake major remodelings of those rooms on the theory that buyers will want these rooms to reflect their personal tastes. Even further, broker Gordon Sloan suggests pricing the house as if it were all fixed up and then offer the seller allowances so they can remodel themselves. “Make sure you use that as a selling point,” Sloan says, “…that you’ll set money aside. Then you’re selling the concept of a new kitchen.” Which is not to say that there aren’t ways to upgrade a kitchen on the cheap. Old cabinets can be painted. New cabinet doors and drawer pulls can upgrade the look at a minimal cost. New faucets can be placed on kitchen and bathroom sinks to turn a dated look into a more contemporary style. Still, it largely comes down to price in a softening market as the one we’re in now. All the best staging in the world can’t overcome an overpriced property. “People are looking for the best value for the price,” Trela Bird observes. “This market is very price sensitive.” Pay UP, Pay OFF The popular HGTV cable network show “Designed to Sell” demon-strates how house sellers can put $2,000, some elbow grease and a little creativity into home improvements that will return many times the investment when the “sold” sign goes up. With federal tax rebate checks in the mail, a typical married taxpayer with two children will be getting $1,800 back. Here are some ideas for getting some bang for those rebate bucks. The front door is the first impression, points out Coldwell Banker Residential sales agent Leslie Thorup. A new custom door with leaded glass insets or a woodcarving may do the trick. GMAC Real Estate agent Trela Bird suggests investing in kitchen countertops. Granite slabs are always popular, but carefully selected tile, crushed quartz, concrete and other surfaces may add the desired “wow” factor. Kitchen appliance upgrades help sell if your current models are stuck in the 80s. Stainless steel is the must-have look today, but you’d be hard pressed to stretch a rebate over a full complement of appliances. An alternative might be a sleek stainless steel coffee maker or panini grill for the countertop, plus you can take it with you when you go. Investing in landscaping, carpets, area rugs and curtains are other good ways to spend rebate money. Agents also suggest buying small accent pieces, candleholders, framed prints and other accessories to help cleanly decorate a staged room. If you lack the right furniture to help define a room, the purchase of a dining table or sofa is money well spent, again with the knowledge that you can take those purchases with you. Short of purchase, renting the right furniture can instantly spruce up a space. Besides bathrooms and the kitchen, the other key room on a buyer’s mind is the master bedroom. Money spent here on new bedspreads, pillows and luxurious towels can turn an under $2,000 rebate into an over $2,000 return on investment at closing. Surveys show most Americans say they’ll use their rebates to pay down debt. That runs counter to Congress’s intent that we all go on a buying spree to help stimulate the economy. So start spending. It’s almost a patriotic duty.
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