- Instead of replacing outdated furnishings, consider paring down decorative distractions to show off the natural attributes of a well-structured space.
- Focus on flourishes in common, small hardware such as doorknobs and handles on kitchen cabinetry.
- If there are significant property defects, play up the home’s backstory to redirect attention to a positive talking point.
Despite the thought and preparation that goes into listing a home, the two biggest hurdles to the sale are property photos, which should motivate buyers to request an in-person tour, and the showing, which needs to justify the photos, says Kenny Dahill, CEO and co-founder of Burbz Co., an à la carte property manager platform. Your sellers could do expensive home improvements like a kitchen renovation or a room addition. But how can they complete a project of similar impact without spending thousands? And after the work is done, how do you promote your listing’s new look?
The National Association of REALTORS®’ Remodeling Impact report shows the following are the projects with the highest ROI:
- New roofing: 107%
- New hardwood floors: 106%
- Refinished hardwood floors: 100%
But there are even easier tricks to get houses looking snazzy without spending too much time or money.
Focus on Spaces and Fixtures
Sometimes less is more, says Tamika Todd, a Bermuda-based broker with Platinum Realty.
Todd had a rental listing laden with outdated finish work and furnishings, including 1960s wall tiles and heavy drapery. She suggested that her client open up the space by removing the furnishings so the room contained only a bed, a small desk, and a chair. This helped highlight the depth of the 17-by-17-foot room and the ceiling height of the 750-square-foot loft-style unit. Todd showed the space with sheer curtains, neutral-colored walls, and open windows.
“The transformation definitely made the owner say ‘wow,’ along with every person who viewed it thereafter. It allowed prospects to see the size of the unit and to visualize living in the space without being distracted by the owner’s personal preferences,” Todd says. The owner of the rental originally wanted $1,500 per month in rent, but Todd listed it for $1,700 after the refresh of the unit and received five lease requests.
If your listing has other apparent physical issues that can’t be staged and must be disclosed, amplify the story behind the property to redirect buyers’ attention, Todd suggests. Talk about the family whose children climbed the trees in the backyard, who witnessed a surprise proposal while hosting a family dinner by candlelight, or who welcomed aging parents to join the household. Ideally, you’ll capture these stories on video from the people who lived them and share with potential buyers ahead of their visit to the home, Todd says. “You will find that the people who view the property in person start to feel the story come alive and envision themselves in the space with their own dreams.”
One small, more tangible fix Todd often makes is replacing doorknobs, which are often overlooked. But when chosen correctly, they can attract the eye of a buyer. “Imagine an entry door with a new coat of paint that already catches the eye but stands out even more with a just-as-eye-catching doorknob feature,” she says. For these, she selects ornate, modern doorknobs, or those that are traditional with a hint of flair, to spark intrigue and beckon buyers to wonder what’s inside. Todd instructs her listing photographer to get detail shots of the doorknob so house hunters searching online can see the thoughtfulness put into the welcoming feature of the home.
Swapping out light fixtures and other hardware, such as cabinet handles, is the first step Erik Wright, owner of New Horizon Home Buyers, a real estate investment company in Chattanooga, Tenn., takes before flipping a home. The replacement fixtures and hardware you choose depends on trends in your market. Wright prefers simple, quality light fixtures throughout the home, with just one or two standouts, like a chandelier in an entryway or above the dining table. “Homes in my area usually do well with farmhouse chic or industrial-style fixtures,” Wright says. “Darker metal fixtures that use Edison-style bulbs are some of my favorites.”
If the floors need work, Wright selects an easy-to-install flooring option. His favorite is luxury vinyl plank. “It looks like beautiful hardwood floors while also being much more durable and resistant to water,” Wright says. Once the floor is replaced, Wright makes sure to add “brand-new flooring” to the listing description.
Upgrades and No-Nos
Christina McCaffrey, CRS, broker-owner of Triangle Trusted Realty in Willow Springs, N.C., suggests a surprising property upgrade to her clients: She encourages adding a fence. “It’s a major expense, even if you’re doing the work yourself, but it will be a great asset when you go to sell,” she says. “Homes that have fenced yards tend to sell quickly, and the look is appealing because it makes the yard look bigger.”
In the kitchen, painting the cabinets can do wonders. And if you have older appliances, it’s worth it to swap them out for stainless steel, McCaffrey says. White cabinetry is the preferred look in her area, so she aims for clean and sleek in her kitchens. Swapping out the faucets and adding in solid-surface countertops will also help if clients don’t have the latest look. “An older appliance will make a house look shabby,” McCaffrey says. “You only have one opportunity to ‘wow’ the buyer, so you should think about replacing the worn-out dishwasher with a new stainless one.”
In her market, she says, demand for these items is high, so most sellers recoup the cost of the replacements. However, some fixes shouldn’t be advertised, says Ricardo Mello, co-founder and managing partner at Manhattan Miami, a luxury residential real estate agency with offices in New York and Miami. The first thing buyers see when viewing a listing is the outside of the home, so curb appeal is a big deal. You don’t need to hire a landscaper to make your listing’s outdoor areas shine; small things, such as refreshing mulch, planting seasonal flowers, keeping on top of lawn maintenance, and adding a new doormat, can make an excellent first impression, Mello says.“I find that making sure these are taken care of definitely results in a better overall impression in photos, which translates to more people opting to view the home in person,” Mello says. “These small changes aren’t something I’d advertise in a listing. I want potential buyers to have the impression that this home has been well cared for versus quickly updated to be on the market.”