Preparing a house to sell #661

Preparing a house to sell

#661 in a series of true experiences in real estate

What will it cost to make your house ready to sell? About $24,000 was the number for one of our sellers who lived in the Berkeley hills. We met the seller before she moved to a nearby retirement home and liked her immediately. She trusted us that we would take care of everything for her, from getting the house ready to getting it sold.

The seller took the belongings she wanted from the house, we arranged for an “estate” sale for most of the rest, and we scheduled various inspections. We learned good news: the roof, furnace, foundation and electricity were modern and working well. However, the house looked dated and tired.

As we spent time in the house thinking and considering, we thought a lot about who the most likely buyer for this house would be. What would that buyer be looking for? How should we best present this property?

It was not a large house, just two smallish bedrooms and one bath. The open living area was decent sized with a kitchen at one end. Below the house, but without an inside stair, was finished space containing laundry, storage and room for projects.

Although located in the hills, there was no view of the Bay. But an asset to others, was plenty of outdoor living space. The size, style, condition and location suggested a comparatively modest price for Berkeley. We thought that a single person, or possibly a couple without children, would be interested in living there. Someone who valued walking in the hills and maybe also gardening but didn’t feel the need for a Bay view.

We didn’t see how it would make sense to change much. Replacing the awkward steps to the front door would be expensive and would not, we felt, add substantially to value. Replacing the original pink ceramic tile counters in the kitchen didn’t seem warranted either. They were still in good condition and looked right with this house built in the 1950s.

The clothes washer however was located in the kitchen with the dryer in the lower level. Wet clothes had to be carried outside and around the corner in the rain and we thought having both appliances together would be a worthy improvement.

The interior could use fresh paint and one side of the exterior had been skipped the last time the house was painted. Curtains and light fixtures were old and spotted. The wood floors were worn in places but not stained or splintered.

We set the budget for renewal at $24,000 and here is what we got:

Walls in most rooms were painted (trim and doors and some ceilings remained unpainted wood) and also painted was the exterior back side of the house. Cost was $8,000.

Large quantities of scrap lumber, a ramshackle shed and worn out fencing, tree trimmings etc. were hauled. Cost $1100. Tree pruning and cleanup $800.

Our handyman charged $2500 for doing many tasks including exterior lights for safety on the front stairs, relocating the washing machine and installing in its place a dishwasher with butcher block counter, hanging light fixtures, etc.

We decided to have the wood floors recoated rather than sanded and refinished, possible because they looked good and had never been waxed. Cost $1200. Cleaning and window washing $500.

For this house, light staging cost $3500.

The sewer lateral had to be brought into compliance by current rules and this cost $4,000. A new dishwasher, light fixtures, doormats, curtains and rods, plus an unexpected plumbing repair made up the difference.

Because we had a generous amount of time to work on this house and it was unoccupied while the work was being performed, the costs were lower than they might have been. Also, it is a small house. Bigger houses, even well maintained ones,  always cost more in both time and money.

These were not our seller’s only costs for selling. She also paid before transfer of title was final real estate commissions, transfer taxes, and title company document and recording costs.

This house looked very inviting when work was done, attractive and tidy both inside and out. We enjoyed being there, had lots of people come to see it, and it sold immediately at a good price and to a happy buyer.

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