Selling in your future? Start paring down belongings now #724

#724 in a series of true experiences in real estate

We are often asked what owners can do to make their houses more saleable, long before they expect to sell. They may be contemplating remodeling and want to do the “right” thing, something that will add value to their house in the future.

Recently a caller explained that she and her husband are older and have been in their house quite a few years, a house with many steps, steps both to the front door and inside. They have agreed that when one of them can no longer easily climb the stairs, they’ll move. She’s hoping to get a head start on getting the house ready for a new owner.

What to tell her? It could be years before they sell. What will be in favor then? What work done now will still look up-to-date and fresh? Or, maybe a better question, what should be preserved as it was built?

Owners change their houses while they live in them. They change them because they want them to work better for their own lives. For example, they need the extra space that their attic would afford so they build a stairwell to the attic. I saw a house once with an open stair in the middle of the living room that allowed the attic to be used as bedrooms. This worked great for that family, but it did not add value to the house.

So, the first question to ask before changing your house is whether you are making the change for yourself or for a future owner? Are you expecting that what you are doing will make your house more valuable? Can you count on that?

Many kitchens have been satisfyingly remodeled over the years by eager cooks. The cooks and their families enjoyed the new look. After a few years, the look was not new any longer. Think Harvest Gold or avocado-color appliances and trash compactors.

We’ve visited many houses where nothing at all has been done to change the originals. Frequently, this is an advantage. The owners did not replace kitchen cabinets with wrong-era Home Depot cabinetry. They didn’t add wet-look vinyl to the kitchen and bath floors. The old wood paneling in living and dining rooms is still there. Even if worn, many buyers prefer houses that still have their original detailing.

Painting rooms too far ahead of selling with the idea that they will show the house to advantage doesn’t work well. Even if the paint is in good shape – not marked or chipped – it probably doesn’t look fresh and may also not be the preferred color for the time.

Pay special attention to original light fixtures. It is pretty much true that no matter what era your house was built in, the light fixtures go with the intended style. If they do not please you, by all means change them, but keep and store the old ones. Chances are excellent that a future owner will want them.

Maintenance, especially being vigilant about preventing water from penetrating any surface, is probably the most important ownership responsibility. Water does terrible damage. So, keeping gutters cleared, cutting tree branches away from your roof, and re-roofing when needed are all super important. Prevent water from going beneath your exterior siding or stucco. Keep water away from under your house by changing drainage or putting in a sump pump. These are all far more important as investments in your home than any cosmetic changes you might make.

It’s pretty much a slam dunk to spend money upgrading your electricity, plumbing and heating. Most cities require a sewer line inspection upon sale, and likely a replacement of the line running from your house to the street. Whether to spend money on these things depends in large part on how old they are and whether they work well for you.

To our caller who would like to start getting a handle on things while she still has the energy and plenty of time, our last words of advice are to pare down belongings. When the time comes to sell, this will be the most difficult task of all. It’s the one most people put off until the last minute because sorting and discarding involve decisions, lots of decisions, and feelings and memories.

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