Should you fix up your house before you sell?

We had a lively discussion at last week’s downsizing seminar about whether you should do the repairs to your house that are needed before you sell it, or leave them for the buyers.

What about major repairs? the participants asked. Do we really need to do those if we’re going to sell anyway? Why bother? We’re not going to get much more anyway in terms of price, are we?

My answer was this: if you do the repairs yourself, it lets you market a well-maintained house instead of one where prospective buyers can see what’s wrong and start  to wonder what they can’t see.

If you don’t do the work, it’s probably going to take longer to sell.  And you could end up paying for those repairs one way or another. A buyer is going to discount the costs of major repairs from any offer. They may  even walk away after a house inspection if the cost of repairs seems too high or if they’re too much trouble. Most buyers want to buy a home that’s move-in ready.

If you aren’t going to do the work, I suggest you price accordingly. Make sure you have three estimates on hand so that the buyers have an idea what to expect, and so that you don’t find yourself negotiating a deeper discount than what’s fair.

If you have a foundation issue, it’s a good idea to get it fixed. Yes, it can be expensive, but there are alternatives, and some are less expensive than others. The bottom line is that buyers don’t want leaky basements – they’re all scared of mold. If you don’t do the fix, you may not be able to sell your house at all.

A leaky roof or a crack in the foundation or chimney are also things to attend to. To get my own house ready for sale, for example, I fixed the chimney. It was a major repair but it had to be done.

I picked out a Valour gas insert that was a showstopper. That fireplace is something everyone commented on during Open Houses: it’s gorgeous. I redid the tiles on the hearth myself. Less than $30 for the tiles and I did the grout myself. Here’s the before:

And here’s the after:

If you’re not sure what to do to get your house ready to list, talk to your realtor. Have him or her go through your home with you and make suggestions.

And be sure to prioritize. Not everything needs to be replaced. Sometimes home owners will go a little crazy at Home Depot, spending money they won’t get back.

I had clients, for example,  who purchased new towel racks and a new faucet for their powder room; I suggested they take them back. Those won’t add a dollar to your sale price. But new towels might brighten up the powder room, and you can take them with you.

A new coat of paint is a pretty cheap fix, too, provided you do it right. If you’re doing the painting yourself, be sure to tape, use drop cloths, and wipe up spills. You’d be surprised how many people don’t, and believe me, buyers notice.

Other repairs may be cosmetic: a new backsplash, an updated light fixture. I usually recommend that clients get rid of ceiling fans if they have more than one; they give the impression that the house isn’t air-conditioned properly.

Even when the issues run a little deeper, you’d be surprised at what can be achieved relatively inexpensively.

Last year, I worked with home owners who had a lovely home but the kitchen floor was in rough shape. The linoleum was cracked and worn and the flooring sagged in places. They had purchased ceramic tiles but hadn’t installed them because they were planning to sell. I persuaded them to have the work done, which included putting down plywood so the floor was level.

The kitchen was absolutely transformed.  In fact, we got multiple offers on that little house, which sold for $20,000 for asking in less than a week. My clients were thrilled to find out it was worth much more than they thought, just with those and few other small tweaks.

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