Readying a home for sale requires good judgment and creativity #737

#737 in a series of true experiences in real estate

It took a generous amount of time to get one big Berkeley house ready to go on the market – about 5 months. But that included quite awhile to sort and move to different locations all the possessions the house contained. When we were first in the house it was hard to see what it needed. Once it was empty and we’d had inspections, we made a long list of items that needed attention, perhaps by the seller, or to be passed on to the new owner.

The house was old, built in 1905. The wooden floors had never had anything done to them, not even waxing as far as we could tell. The sellers wanted very much for those floors to be refinished. But it was going to be expensive; repairs would be needed. There was a limited amount of money and we thought there were better places to spend it.

Such as good heat. This unusual house was built on 4 living levels, approximately 4000 square feet in all. The existing heat was a floor furnace on the main floor near the front door. It was summertime so we weren’t cold but we were quite sure that a buyer would be looking for better heat and that was made the first order of business.

There were many parts of the house to be carefully considered. The kitchen was only one but we thought it vital. It had been updated in the 1970s by a previous owner. Cupboard doors had been removed, white ceramic tile laid on the sink counter and tall backsplash and a cooktop installed in a counter cutout. The owners removed the cooktop and brought in a 1950s chrome-top stove. Flooring in the kitchen was the old fir subfloor and not in very good shape.

We spent hours looking at that kitchen and thinking what to do about it. The worst to us were the badly chipped edges of the tiled counter. They just had to go. Did we have to have new counters? Expensive. Also, what material? What could we do instead?

And the wood floor, dented, cracked, splintery in spots. Sanding and recoating wouldn’t work well in this case; a new floor would have to be laid. Here is what we ended up doing in the kitchen, spending about $7000 total (I don’t know cost for sure because painting and some repairs were included in other work in the house):

We hired Grout Wizard to regrout the tile changing the color from dark gray to white which matched the tile and we had the front bullnose edge removed. It was replaced with wood trim painted white. The spot where the cooktop had been was covered with a large piece of butcher block. A couple of small and peculiarly shaped cabinets were removed altogether. All cabinet pulls were made to match with fine old brass hardware.

These changes pulled a lot of disparate elements together so your eye did not get caught in a dozen spots. The trim in the kitchen around the windows and in the breakfast nook was unpainted fir, a nice golden color, while the fir floor had darkened to a more chestnut hue.

We painted the ceiling and cabinets Benjamin Moore Linen White and the walls Sherwood Green. Holes in the floor were filled and the floor was washed and waxed. Conveniently, the dishwasher broke down while we were working at the house so we had it replaced with a very good dishwasher, a Bosch. While it is possible to buy a dishwasher for about $800 installed, we thought spending about half again as much was worthwhile in this case. It showed buyers that the owner cared.

The difference in the kitchen was dramatic. Everyone loved it. My daughter and friends came to an open house and declared it the kitchen they would most like to have forever. This surprised me coming from women in their twenties. I would have expected them to wish for granite and stainless steel.

We do have before and after photos but somehow it’s hard to see the differences; far better is to have been there before and then when it was done. Our stager added perfection: half a dozen small clay Japanese teapots, a large, gorgeous squash in a little alcove, clear glass domes on the shelves, Oriental rugs on the floor. At our request the owner left her large fish bowl and 4 fish in the kitchen during marketing. We told her they would bring good luck.

Something brought good luck. Exactly the right buyers appeared to buy the house.

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