Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer, where I share my response to a client’s real estate queries. This month, I am helping a Seller prepare her home for sale. She is wondering about how to make her home most appealing to future buyers, but with an eye to staying on a modest budget.
I’m preparing to bring my home to market this spring. My home is older, but in decent shape, and I have made some upgrades over the past few years that I thought prudent, including replacing most of the windows, a new roof, fascia, and eaves, plus several exterior updates including hardscaping and landscaping.
I’m not really interested in investing more time and money in completing further renovations before selling, but I also recognize that I’ve put my money into replacing major building components rather than making my place pretty. I want to get the most I can for my home, so I recognize maybe I should make my house more stylish in order to appeal to Buyers. What should I do to improve my place without breaking the bank? Do you have any tips?
Set To Sell, Not To Spend
Here’s my reply:
Dear Set To Sell:
This is a great question – as bringing a property to market for sale requires a strategy in this day and age – regardless of whether you’re doing a cosmetic refresh or undertaking a full-to-the-studs renovation plus everything in between.
That strategy begins with understanding your target market. Who are your potential and likely Buyers? What is their range of expectations? In what ways can we meet those expectations with your dwelling? And how do these tasks align with your own budget, comfort level, and overall real estate goals?
Know Your Target Market
When you are selling a product, no matter what it is – including a house or condominium- the sale actually starts with considering who the Buyer will be. This will help to determine a list of tasks to get your home ready in the context of meeting your target market.
You can generally determine your target market by considering a number of factors: what is your neighbourhood like? What is the predominant housing stock? What is the approximate price point? Who has bought homes recently in the area?
Answering these criteria will help you figure out if your home will be most appealing to a young family, a young single professional, someone downsizing, or a developer seeking property to teardown or substantially renovate.
In your case, your target Buyer profile is a younger couple without or with 1 child, or a professional divorced now single individual who may or may not have a tween or adult child.
The first Buyer profile – a young couple (29 & 34 years old) tells their social world they’re looking for a Fixer-Upper – which is true by their definition but what they’re actually looking for is a dwelling that is structurally sound with all of the major building components (heating/cooling, windows, wiring, plumbing, and roof) in reasonable condition. Basically, they want to renovate a kitchen and everything else they describe is just making pretty. They want to allocate their limited capital to easy cosmetic renovations that garner a high return because, as you know, it’s all about a Reveal! Here’s my post called Behold The HGTV Effect On Toronto Real Estate.
This is in contrast to the second Buyer profile – the mature buyer who has had some experience on the property ladder, including buying, selling, and managing home maintenance and repair, which will shape their perception of a home. This is a buyer who likes to tinker in a workshop, garden, or read. I want to say an academic, health care worker, or maybe policy wonk. Whatever their occupation, they’re looking for a place that is comfortable, charming, and not overly precious.
As far as renovations go, the younger couple will have watched enough HGTV to think renovation is Fun! They are also likely to be confident they are purveyors of good taste. In contrast, the mature buyer is practical and has a very clear idea of what they want. What they desire is simpler and more unassuming than the way many people are renovating today, which they consider far too fancy.
In understanding what your prospective Buyers desire, you can most effectively direct your energy and investment toward meeting their expectations, even when the Buyer profiles may appear to be opposite.
Selling For Profit, Or Selling To Sell
In addition to determining who you are selling to, in preparing your property for sale you need to signal what your objectives are when selling. While every Seller wishes to get top dollar for their home, in this day and age they have to demonstrate to what lengths they are prepared to go to achieve this.
In an era where the media dictates fashion and trends, and HGTV has cultivated the quest for ‘the reveal’, the real estate industry has, by default, succumbed to delivering a similar experience when properties are brought to market for sale. The result is that those who have the time, and inclination and are selling strictly with an eye to profit go to great lengths to elevate their property to its max. And these people set the bar by which everything else is measured. Regardless of your reason for selling, whether you’re upsizing, downsizing, changing locations, getting married, or having another child – you can either put up the ‘For Sale’ Sign as-is or with some modicum of preparation or you can pull out all the stops. And I mean all the stops. Don’t shoot the messenger but we live in a time where it’s an all-or-nothing investment. I write about this in my post Dear Urbaneer: Why Is Home Staging Important When Selling Real Estate?
Selling For Profit
Right now, when properties come to market for sale in Toronto that are intentionally prepared and packaged to align with its target Buyer profiles – and by this I mean they’re a curated sparkling on-trend nest of fresh domestic bliss akin to a ‘Reveal ‘on HGTV – they garner far higher sums than they’re worth.
First, this happens because they’re essentially the jewels in a crown of thorns – they photograph well, the real estate copy is polished yet approachable, and they’re listed low with a set offer date.
Second, these are the listings where the Sellers have taken the risk to go that extra distance in time, energy, and capital crossing their fingers that it translates into a payout. Under the tutelage of their realtor, they’re placing a bet by elevating the property as a top-to-bottom stylized cohesive package (even when it still needs work, because most houses do, in fact, need work) that speaks to lifestyle as much as shelter. It’s a clever but calculated risk, but it’s also a feel-good for the Sellers because they’re completing a chapter of their lives intentionally, and they’re committed to trying to get the highest return on their biggest investment purposefully, and they’re putting a bow on all of it aesthetically.
The result? Buyers love it. And they love the Sellers because, in their eyes, it demonstrates how house proud they are because they did something unexpected – like had the whole house freshly painted and new broadloom installed before the ‘For Sale’ sign went up – or they purchased the 16-bottle wine fridge that was always intended for that spot in the wet bar so it’s there and ready for the new Buyers. And guess what happens when Sellers do this? The Buyers are willing to pay their Top Dollar because they know the Sellers just spent all that money for the Buyers’ benefit. It’s like a reciprocal arrangement.
It’s a well-known fact that home improvements generate ROI, but they vary widely. Kitchens & baths that are updated will automatically raise the value of a home but also require a substantial investment of capital and time to complete. These and other home projects may be in the plan if you are selling for profit.
Click here to read my past posts Dear Urbaneer: How Do I Boost The Value Of My Condominium? and Eight Ways To Increase The Value of Your Home.
What’s At Stake If You Don’t Stage To Impress
For those who don’t ‘pull out all the stops’, the unfortunate by-product of this is that the majority of ‘regular resale houses’ coming to market for sale – which are tidy, a mix of new and old, and presented to the best of their uncreative risk-averse budget-minded Owner’s abilities – fail to impress the Buyers who are, in fact, extremely disappointed.
And sadly, the moment the Buyers realize they’ve stepped into ho-hum, the Sellers are penalized for not giving the buyers the ‘Reveal’ they so desperately want, like on TV!
This is an example of how extensive the shelter industry – and everyone who buys or sells a place to live – has been co-opted by the media and consumer culture. Because in order for Sellers to garner Top Dollar at the time of their exit, they must invest in preparing and presenting their home for their Buyers’ future. In return, if they successfully incite the desire of Buyers who seek that new insouciant approach to the comforts of domesticity, it compels the Buyers to pay every cent they can afford.
But if you don’t, the Debbie Downer of the situation is that your house may sell for less than what it’s really worth.
However, this has to circle back to your main motivation for selling, and what your ultimate goal is. Not every Seller must undergo a full-home transformation before going to market.
And there are many ways to make your home most appealing, therefore enticing Buyers, within the framework of expectations.
When You Are Selling To Sell
As you have indicated, you are likely in the selling-to-sell category, which directs your tasks toward smaller jobs that have a big impact in order to present your home in its best light, in a more budget-friendly fashion.
At the end of the day, if your strategy aligns with your goals, then you are most likely to get the deal that makes you happiest – before, during, and after the sale.
The very first step to preparing to sell is to clean and declutter. Decluttering is useful because not only will it make moving day easier because there is less to pack, but it will make your home seem more spacious and functional. Rooms packed with furniture and “stuff” scream small and cramped, which is going to work against you.
A deep clean of your home, along with a fresh coat of paint and tending to any minor home repairs and improvements (i.e. fixing loose handles, leaky faucets, etc.) will communicate that this home has been well-loved and attended to, which will communicate value to future Buyers.
When it comes to staging the home, strategy is key. As a listing realtor and a housing consultant, I identify and analyze how to increase the value of any unique property by elevating its features, minimizing its constraints, and infusing a cohesive design and furnishing palette that complements the architecture, the space plan, and the buyer profiles, as efficiently and economically as possible.
This may include a style enhancement, which is one of Urbaneer’s specialties. In a style enhancement, we blend together the homeowner’s furniture and décor with a selection from our stylish cache to elevate- and enhance – what the home offers in an authentic fashion.
Tips & Tricks For Getting Your Home Ready On A Budget
After you’ve done the cleaning, repairs, and decluttering, along with any small, cosmetic upgrades deemed necessary/desirable do a room-by-room inventory of how your home can be best displayed.
A couple of general suggestions that apply to all rooms would be to do everything possible to enhance sightlines, which is a key communicator of space. Remove all ceiling fans that look dated – as they tend to add to visual clutter. Similarly, wash all windows inside and out, so that your home sparkles, light floods in, and sightlines are uninterrupted. Remove window coverings/blinds that have seen better days. Better to spend $6 buying the paper blinds from Ikea, cutting them to size, and installing them to provide your Buyer with temporary window coverings. Make sure that they are minimal and that they are consistent in all the rooms in the home.
Given people pay attention to where they’re walking, flooring is effectively a fifth wall in a home and is often overlooked. Just like painting the walls and ceilings of a home is money well spent, so is updating the flooring which can completely change the vibe in a space. In kitchens and washrooms, we often recommend painting dated linoleum using Tremclad or porch paint or installing a peel-and-stick retro vinyl tile when we’re upping the style quotient. In a character vintage dwelling living areas or bedrooms with damaged hardwood floors, we sometimes recommend painting them out too, and in newer dwellings covering them in broadloom in a neutral colour with some texture. The key is the ease of application and visual cohesion, so wall-to-wall, low-maintenance flooring is ideal.
A few more specialized suggestions:
• Space Plan & Room Identification
Consider if your current use of rooms is appropriate for what your Buyer profile might want. Let’s say you have a three-bedroom home, but one has sliding doors to a garden and is being used as an exercise room. Its current use and the sliding doors could invite confusion and leave the Buyers uncertain as to whether it really is a bedroom. But if you present it as a bedroom, the Buyer is more likely to see it as such (and even see the benefits of a bedroom with sliding doors to a garden) and tick their boxes off of their Dwell Hunt wish list.
Similarly, you also don’t need to keep rooms designated for their original use. For example, vintage houses in the city tend to have smaller living rooms at the front than dining rooms in the middle of these dwellings, so realtors often reverse the room uses because they read as a more logical space plan, which is often the best plan when selling.
• The Kitchen
In the kitchen, the easiest way to bring a fresh update is to switch out the hardware. It’s a quick and easy DIY and very budget-friendly. Older cabinets, in good repair, could benefit possibly from a coat of paint to make them more modern.
Here is a kitchen that was updated in advance of our bringing it to market:
This is a 1990s Ikea kitchen painted out (it used to be those orangey-maple colour shaker doors). We recommended the duo-tone colour because it’s very on-trend. We chose the new faucet and this faux marble laminate countertop because it was one 9-foot long piece which is hard to find but what was needed.
The cabinet handles and pulls are the original ones spray-painted silver. The stainless-steel appliances were new (consider looking for ‘scratch and dent’ if yours need replacing). The runner on the floor matches the new carpeting installed on the staircase. It both covers this high-traffic area and thematically and visually tied it together.
Unless the Buyer is looking for a fresh modern turn-key dwelling with a budget to match, I think a lot of Buyers are open to doing a kitchen and other renovations. It will not be an obstacle to the purchase providing the expense to undertake the necessary renovations are accounted for in the list price. Of course, the challenge here is how much a new kitchen will cost, and that will depend on what the Buyer wants to install in terms of the calibre of the execution, the quality of the materials, the extent of customization, and how realistic their cost estimates are.
Our recommended solution is to invest just enough in the kitchen to extend its lifespan from having to be replaced ‘right now’ into a kitchen that’s ‘okay for now’. Check out this 3-minute video on Budget Kitchen Ideas & Vintage Styling On A Shoestring that speaks to a modest budget and a vintage house.
Incidentally, our Sellers who spent $3283 on their kitchen refresh did rely on our pricing strategy. Offered for $999,000, their property sold for $1,390,000. And can I just say the Buyers who came in second were emotionally devastated because their offer was only $4000 less! If you’re interested, here’s my post featuring this house in How The Toronto Real Estate Bidding War Process Works.
• The Washrooms
Make sure that toilets flush appropriately, taps are not leaking, and your bathtub drain stopper isn’t failing. We often recommend replacing a standard shower head with a dual rain shower and shower wand which can be purchased for as little as $60. Ensure all surfaces are clear and that there is adequate storage in the bathroom. If not, it may be worth investing in a portable storage piece that you can include in the sale (Buyers love these kinds of ‘sweeteners’).
We often recommend installing a new mirror, painting the cabinet an on-trend colour with new hardware, and a waffle shower curtain with a pop of colour as a way to make a space feel more current.
For a primary en suite, go the extra step to create a sanctuary. That could mean paying extra attention to styling a tub, placing candles, and laying out extra fluffy towels and robes. Think upscale hotel vibe.
• The Bedrooms
The best way to update and refresh a bedroom is with new linens. Layer beds with neutrals that invite rest and respite. Textures take precedence over multi-colours.
Accentuate storage in the bedrooms, by having closets tidy and orderly. Better to see a closet where you could hang more items than ones that are over-stuffed.
Bedrooms are considered sanctuaries and should be calming.
Getting your home ready to sell is a great opportunity to re-purpose pieces you have or to upcycle. And it’s not about expensive furniture, but about effective furniture.
See that light blue credenza in the dining room above? It was a 1970s dark wood cabinet with heavy ornate Italianesque handles that belonged to our Sellers who were about to get rid of it. Instead, I sanded it down and painted it blue as part of our Style Enhancement. Each ornate handle comprised three pieces that looked gaudy. I tossed two and kept the ear drop portion and reattached it. The Buyers loved it, so it was included in the sale.
Dressers are great as hutches, or in a foyer for storage and for a stylish catch-all. Cast an eye around your home and consider if you have any pieces that could do double duty – or if some current pieces could easily be blinged up, like the credenza above.
• Light Fixtures
Lighting is key to any home, but even more important when staging for sale. Modern, statement-making light fixtures will add elegance. Making sure rooms are adequately lit with a combination of ambient and mood lighting will set the style tone. Dark, shadowy spaces will make rooms feel small and dingy.
When choosing new fixtures, make sure they match or complement each other, as cohesion is important, because fixtures are so visible.
The trend at the moment is for oversize fixtures that punctuate the space. Track lighting is also a good option, depending on the room and the ceiling height.
• Curb Appeal
You can focus a lot of energy on making your interior appealing to buyers, but if you neglect the exterior, it is counterproductive. Buyers will have made a decision one way or another – on a subconscious level – before they even enter the home whether they like it or not. What awaits inside will cement their decision and compel them to buy, but the curb appeal is the lure.
Make sure landscaping is tidy and well-kept. Ensure that there is sufficient lighting at the doorways. Remove screens so that the front door is visible. Here’s my post Hello, Front Door! I’d Like To Buy You!
Minor repairs, like touching up exterior paint, particularly on a front or rear porch in an eye-catching color will make the curb appeal pop.
With a holistic approach to housing, including a love for design, housing, and home and an eye for style, it is my pleasure to assist Sellers on their property journeys. I – and the Urbaneer Team – are here to help!
Looking for some further reading?
This blog, We Flip Burgers, Not Houses, features a vintage Abba video and rails about my disdain for recessed lighting overkill. Then We Flip Flapjacks, Not Houses reassert my frustration over many a Flipper’s inclinations to buy absolutely every interior finish at one Big Box Store (same old, same old), while in We Flip Quesadillas, Not Houses I weep for a costly yet poorly executed kitchen.
Want a giggle? You might also enjoy these past blogs called Stains On My Windows (about pressed steel front doors and faux stained glass film), Staging Nightmare (about the ever-present Tip Lamp) and Glass-Bowl Sinks Make Me Scream (a maintenance horror show).
Are you trying to avoid making critical flaws while garnering Top Dollar for your Home? At urbaneer.com, we can guide you from start to sale as part of our sterling listing service, including Style Enhancements! Want to know more? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-322-8000!
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Are you considering selling? We welcome providing you with a comprehensive assessment free of charge, including determining your Buyer profile, ways to optimize your return on investment, and tailoring the listing process to suit your circumstance. Check out How Urbaneer’s Custom Marketing Program Sold This Handsome Edwardian Residence In East York to learn more about what we do!
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Thanks for reading!
-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-800
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