Amy Burger of the Post Dispatch wrote an article that applies to almost every home seller these days - except for those who don't have a basement!
By Amy Burger
SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH
With a minimal budget and a little sweat equity, your home can go from a "so-so" to a "wow" in no time. Whether you want to update your existing living space or add value to a house you are trying to sell, investing in some basic home renovations can make a huge impact.
So what home improvements will provide the biggest bang for your buck and make the strongest impression on guests and potential buyers? We interviewed two local contractors and a local real estate agent as well as John DeSilvia, host of the DIY Network's series, "10 Grand in Your Hand." They recommended 10 projects for the new year.
"The key is to more refresh than remodel when you're working on a budget," says Andy Burgio, owner of Burgio Remodeling. "Plan ahead and know that it will take more time and money than you initially think. Be realistic about what you can complete."
Kitchen and bathroom renovations provide the most equity and top the list for buyers, according to Joe Naert, owner of St. Louis-based Naert Realty. You don't have to replace your entire kitchen though; basic improvements make a big difference. Try replacing dated laminate countertops with granite or slate.
"Although it can seem costly, making this one change can often be as effective as an entire kitchen remodel," says Bryan Sonderegger, owner of True Construction of St. Peters.
Consider refacing outdated or worn cabinets and adding new hardware rather than fully replacing them. Adding crown moldings and under-cabinet lighting are another inexpensive way to give basic cabinets a more custom look.
DeSilvia suggests saving money by installing, painting or staining cabinets on your own if you can. If you are using a contractor to remodel your kitchen, ask what tasks can be taken out of the contract to help save you dollars.
DeSilvia recommends checking prices and shopping online for cabinets, fixtures and other items. "You can often get the same quality cabinets as a specialty shop will offer online for up to 50 percent less, especially if you're willing to install them yourself," he says.
As long as the layout of your bathroom works, just replacing the vanity, faucets and fixtures can give it a whole new look without breaking the bank. Add a cool new above-the-counter sink for a modern look or paint a small powder room a bright color. Think outside the box. "I've been doing a lot of chandeliers in bathrooms lately, which gives more of a spa feeling," says Sonderegger.
There's nothing like a fresh coat of paint to instantly perk up a tired-looking house — inside and out. If you can afford to do nothing else, just repaint your walls, trim, doors and even the outside of your house, if needed. If you are trying to sell, stick with neutral colors (white, cream, beige); otherwise experiment with color. "Faux-finishing an accent wall with a suede finish or simple rag finish can be a dramatic way to get oohs and ahhs," says Sonderegger.
MOLDINGS AND TRIMS
Updating the baseboards and trim or adding crown moldings throughout your house is an inexpensive project that, like a fresh coat of paint, gives your home a clean, new look. Replace small, builder-grade base molding with taller custom-looking base trim. Add crown molding to any room for a more high-end look. You can do this for $100-$200 in most rooms.
"There are inexpensive molding products offered now that are actually made of Styrofoam and can easily be cut with a utility knife, making them simple to install yourself," suggests Andy Burgio, owner of Burgio Remodeling of West County.
Adding wainscoting or a chair rail with raised panel-style molding in a dining room, formal living room or foyer is another way to get a very high-end look easily and inexpensively. And home stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot often offer free clinics to teach you how to do these projects
Replace outdated brass fixtures and old ceiling fans with more modern ones. Add landscape up-lights and footpath lighting outside to show off your house and provide added security. Consider additional accent or puck lighting in bookshelves and other spaces for a custom look.
Aside from in bedrooms, carpet is outdated and difficult to keep clean, especially with kids or pets. Consider removing carpet in main living areas and installing hardwood floors or refinishing hardwood that may be under carpeted areas. Add area rugs for style and comfort. Replace dated linoleum in kitchens and baths with tile or hardwood as well. Doing tile (yourself) in a small space, such as a bathroom can cost as little as $200 and makes a huge impact. Consider a unique tile border or pattern.
"Curb appeal" is something every homeowner should strive to have. "Your house can be great inside, but it doesn't matter if they don't even make it to the front door," says Naert. Investing in landscaping, no matter how large- or small-scale, can provide significant return. Start from scratch or look for ways to improve existing landscaping. Consider using native plants, trees, shrubs and perennials that will flourish in our climate with little maintenance. If you have an old, weathered deck, DeSilvia suggests just replacing the decking itself to make it look brand new if the overall structure is intact, as that's where the majority of the labor lies.
Did you know that, in addition to saving money on utility bills and being environmentally conscious, you can get tax credits for making energy-saving improvements to your home? Through the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, tax credits are given for buying Energy Star products such as major appliances, water heaters, roofing, siding, HVAC products, doors and more. Visit Energystar.gov to learn more. Ameren UE's UEfficiency program promotes Energy Star qualified manufacturers and provides links to local retailers and contractors at UEfficiency.com.
Old, worn out doors can make a house look shabby, especially if you are trying to sell and competing with newly built homes. If your interior doors are no longer in pristine condition, consider replacing them with finished or unpainted six-panel doors. A new front door (or a fresh coat of paint and new hardware) can give a "facelift" to a house and add curb appeal — and don't forget the tax breaks for buying one with an Energy Star label.
Basements are big in the Midwest, and finishing one can, in some instances, nearly double your living space. "People and especially families need more space," says DeSilvia. "So rather than building additions, they are turning unused space in the basement to useful space such as a play room, office or family entertainment room." Full basement remodels may require the help of a contractor, unless you are more highly skilled. If you choose to do the major construction yourself, Burgio suggests leaving things like electric, plumbing and HVAC to the experts to ensure they are safe and installed correctly. Burgio also suggests saving money by renting larger tools. "If you spend half your budget on tools for the project, you are losing money. You can rent almost any tool you need inexpensively."
The battleground for getting more money for your home begins with decluttering, and it is generally the most painful task you have to go through. Paula Massey is the stager we have used for years, and decluttering is the number one item on her list of recommendations - she often calls it "prepacking".
When you declutter, you make your house look bigger and decluttering enables you to take possible next steps like re-arranging furniture to create the right focal points in each room. Peronally, my favorite staging TV show is Clean House. It is remarkable how different a home can look after it is cleaned up! You know the old saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees?" Buyers are like that. A cluttered house leads to fewer and lower offers, every time.
Not to leave you without resources, I found a blog with ideas for what to do with all your "stuff". I believe my son prefers the dumpster option over the mini-warehouse option, by the way. As we were moving items into multiple mini-warehouses, he told me that he had a solution for dealing with all the items we were storing: "It's called a match, Dad."
Seth Godin's post Lemonade Stand Marketing comparing the differences in sales approaches in lemonade stands draws interesting comparisons for the real estate market today.
What makes your property stand out? Why should people buy your home? Is it updated? In good condition? Priced right? All of these questions have to be yes in today's market.
However, are you addressing the real reason people buy: neighborhood! What's great about your neighborhood, subdivision, street? I never see things on virtual tours like, "this is the great little park around the corner where we walk our dogs every day, or the nearby playground where we take the kids."
Now, more than ever, is the time to zero in on the real reason people buy.
Great article by David Crook, on "How to Sell a House, When You Have to Sell It Now." This includes 7 Tips for Homeowners who can't wait until the market turns around.
Let's begin by saying that nobody can sell an overpriced home for sale. However, staging your home can help generate offers (generally for more $!) and lead to a quicker sale.
If you understand what you're up against in a tight market, you will know that if your home is the one that looks clean, neat and well-kept, provided you are competitively priced, your home will sell quicker than one that has ignored this attention to detail. We have a stager on staff and we utilize her skills on every listing we take. Why go to this trouble? Because we understand that how we live in our homes is vastly different than how we market our homes for sale. Discuss this with your agent. We don't even take pictures of our listings until the staging is completed. It's that important.
OBTW, everyone feels like they are a stager, even me. However, everyone should understand that a qualified third party stager is worth their weight in gold. The stager looks at your home through a buyers eyes, and that is invaluable. It's important to listen to them. We do.