10 Low Cost Fix-ups Part 1 – The Indoors
If you’re ready to put your home on the market, it’s time to look at the inside of your home with a critical eye. The good news is that there are many very simple, inexpensive projects you can do that will greatly improve a buyer’s opinion of your home.
Several popular TV shows now focus on improving the interior appearance of homes in order to increase their market value or appeal. Often, properties showcased on this program undergo amazing visual transformations through very small changes. We can use this attitude – more for less – to improve the appearance of your home as well.
Always remember our motto – more for less. We want to focus on small, inexpensive changes that impact the VISUAL appearance of your home. Wiring the home for high speed internet (things that will not be seen by visiting buyers or only used in situational circumstances) or spending big bucks for major improvements, like adding granite countertops, will surprisingly yield less than you think.
1. Look Down
This is an important factor for many buyers – what type of flooring you have and most importantly, what the condition is. I’ve literally seen buyers walk away from a home simply because the carpet was overly dirty. You can prevent negative appearance or outright rejection by making sure your floors look their best. If you have carpets, rent a steam cleaner for the weekend and put it to use. They are rather inexpensive and can really rejuvenate carpets, especially older carpets. If you have laminate or hardwood, use a floor cleaner and when it dries, a no-slip floor polish. Make sure you do this in advance of any showings or open houses – you don’t want the house to smell like the cleaning isle of your grocery store. Speaking of which…
2. Destroy Offensive Odors
This one’s tough to judge. Often, we get so used to the smell of our own homes, we can’t be objective anymore. Enlist the help of a friend (your REALTOR is a good choice) who you’re sure will give you an honest evaluation. Here are some common sources of home odors and ways to combat them:
Pets: keep the litter box/bird cage/pet areas spotlessly clean. If you have a room that pets frequent, it might be a good candidate for some potpourri or a non-offensive air freshener. Febreeze is a great odor masker – if you have pets (especially dogs) that climb on the couch, chairs or lay on rugs or carpets, give those pieces of furniture a quick spray in advance of your open house.
Food Odors: certain types of cooking can really add strong scents to your home. Make sure you keep your kitchen very clean – get rid of any grease that might have collected on your stove, hood, floors or cabinets (check up top too). Get an oven cleaner and wipe out the inside of your oven. Also, make sure any kitchen trash is disposed of promptly. Finally, if you know visitors are coming soon, refrain from cooking anything with powerful odors – take yourself out as a treat for working so hard to get your home ready for sale.
Musty Smells: Often the harbinger of water problems that should be checked out, a musty smell is a big turn-off for a buyer. Certain places tend to collect this odor – basements, lower bedrooms, rec. rooms off of walk-in basements, attics or sun rooms. You can try to reduce this by using a de-humidifier regularly (if you own one) in the problem location for a few weeks before any showing. Carpets often collect this odor – make sure you steam clean them (see above). Also, this might be a good candidate for a non-offensive air freshener. If you suspect there is a water problem, get it checked out by a professional.
Just a couple tips on air fresheners: less is more. Make sure you don’t overpower your buyers with air fresheners. This often raises their suspicion that something is being covered up even if there is no real reason for them to be suspicious. Try to use non-offensive odors – lavender, chamomile, light citrus – heavy scents like pine, rose or heavy citrus can be a real turn-off. There is also a good option that I’ll discuss in my last tip of this guide.
3. Fix and Touch Up Walls
Just a few minutes with some spackle, a bit of light sanding and a couple dabs of touch-up paint (read more here on touch-up painting) can repair that hole in the wall from when you bumped it moving furniture, those expansion cracks, nail pops or other wall blemishes, even if you have no repair skills. It just has to look decent, not perfect. Stick down any drywall tape that’s peeling with some spackle and touch up – it tends to be rather unsightly and is easy to notice. Oh, and….
4. Should I Paint Entire Rooms?
It depends. If you have the time to do it yourself or if things look really bad, painting can be a great enhancement. Plus, if you do it yourself, it can be done fairly cheaply. Try to rent a paint sprayer at your local rental store – you’ll be amazed at how easy it is. Strong colors are often an issue with many buyers. You may love pumpkin orange in the family room, but will they? Neutral colors are the best – remember you’re selling this house – you can paint your new one whatever colors you want, but you have to maximize your home’s appeal to as many buyers as possible. Trust me, stick with neutrals here. If there are sections of your home that you feel could really use a new coat, use your judgment. Just remember – more for less.
5. Remove Personal Touches
You want your buyers to identify with your home – to see themselves living there. One thing that distracts from this is seeing a picture of your family every time they turn around. I know it might be sad to see all the pictures come down, but it needs to happen. Just think of this as part of the packing process. It’s also a good time to take all of the homework, pictures and drawings that your children have done off of the fridge or walls.
6. De-clutter Your Way to a Sale
Keep your home neat and tidy for visitors. This is one of the toughest things about having your home on the market – the feeling that your home always needs to be at its best. Even a little can go a long way here. Make sure toys are picked up and put away, home office spaces are kept neat and tidy, storage is stacked in an orderly fashion, laundry is put away, workshop organized, the kitchen is in order and all of those hundred other things you do when company is coming over. A neat home inspires feelings of peace and order in buyers – both good things.
7. Open up the Home
There are a few easy things you can do and a few more difficult things – the good news is that all of them don’t cost much. One of the biggest transformations that happens on those TV home makeover shows occurs when furniture is rearranged to create the impression of more space. Take a critical look at each room in your house – if you have the time, move the furniture around a bit – see if one position is more spacious than another. If you have a digital camera, take pictures and compare them side-by-side. Another option is remove furniture altogether. This is a great idea because not only will it make the house feel more open, but it will give you a jump on packing. I would suggest moving the furniture completely out of the house – perhaps rent an offsite storage area or if this isn’t possible, store all removed items neatly on one side of the garage. Some buyers don’t even look in the garage and if they do, better to have one room full of stuff than the entire home. The final thing is to leave all of the curtains pulled back – this makes a room look more “breezy” and the additional natural light is always a plus.
8. Clean, Clean, Clean
This is a very useful selling tactic, so you really can’t get away with not doing it. Keep those carpets freshly vacuumed, counters wiped down, kitchen cleaned top to bottom (the kitchen is the most important room to many buyers), bathroom completely spic and span (bathroom is often the second most important room to many buyers) and everything dusted. A few other tips – clean the bugs out of the light fixtures – they are a big “YUCK!” Give any woodwork a once-over with some furniture polish and clean those window sills and panes. Make sure you keep all dishes washed and off the counter – dirty dishes are a big turn off. Also, make sure all your closets are organized and neat – buyers will be looking through them to get an idea of storage space – be prepared!
9. Windows and Doors
Surprisingly, this is fairly high on a buyer’s annoyance factor. A sticky or noisy door will make any buyer stop a second and go “hmmm”. The good news is that this is an easy fix – a can of WD-40 takes care of the creaks and for those sticky doors, buy a bar of paraffin wax (found in the canning area of your grocery store) and rub it a bit on the area of the door that looks worn. For windows, make sure they open easily – start by cleaning the tracks – often you will find lots of dirt and grime that prevent the window from opening cleanly. If this doesn’t do the trick, try some WD-40 or a little paraffin wax here too.
10. Prepare the Home for Showing
Our goal here is to make the home as bright and “homey” as possible. There are a few selling tricks that you can use that will really establish this environment.
– Bake something – cookies are a good option – toll house is fine – just don’t burn them. We’re going for the aromas here. Freshly baked cookie smell is like expensive perfume to home buyers.
– Offer cookies (works out well with the above), or in the summer, cold bottled water. Buyers like these personal touches and they will subconsciously raise their opinions of your home.
– Open all the curtains and turn on all the lights – you want your home to feel breezy, bright and open. Change any bulbs that are out. If it’s winter and you have one, light the fireplace.
– Set the table as if you were going to have a nice meal with company. You want to sell your dining room as an entertaining space and place settings help build this impression.
– Turn on some light music – nothing offensive – smooth jazz is a good option. Keep the volume low – in the background.
– This one is vital: remove any small valuables from sight. I’d like to think that all home buyers are always on their best behaviors, but sometimes this isn’t the case – better to be safe than sorry.
– The most important thing you can remove from your home to help it sell is yourselves. Take your family out for the day or out for a few hours during the open house/showing. Usually, when a homeowner is present for an open house, it never goes as well – the buyers always feel like they’re imposing, and that’s not what you want. You want them to spend time in your home.
In many cases, a buyer’s decision to make an offer on your home will not come down to any one factor. Think of it as two cups sitting on the counter – one is labeled “YEA!” and one is labeled “YUCK!” As the buyer tours your home, features will either do nothing (every house is supposed to have certain things – they are expected) or will add to one of these two cups. At the end of the showing, if your “YEA!” cup is full and the “YUCK!” is nearly empty, generally you will attract an offer. If it’s the other way around, the buyer moves on. Our goal here is to reduce the number of things that fill the “YUCK!” cup. I know many of these things seem like small details, but they add up in surprising ways. There will always be a few things that buyers don’t like about your home – these are unavoidable – there is no “perfect” house. But all we’re looking for is a majority of the buyer’s experiences to be “YEA!” If you can do this (and we think you can), you’re on your way to selling your home.