This is a great time to be selling a house—or buying one. With housing prices at recent highs , it’s no wonder about 5.3 million homes are expected to change hands in 2015, up about 30 percent from the bottom of the crash, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Buyers as well as sellers can benefit. That’s because purchasing a home is comparatively cheap right now, thanks to still-low interest rates.
So how do you make the most money, no matter which end of the transaction you’re on? For answers, the Consumer Reports National Research Center turned to the people most in the know for answers—the real estate professionals who broker almost 90 percent of residential sales.
The answers may surprise you and both buyers and sellers can come out ahead with this guide so let’s get started because June is a prime house selling season!
CLEAN UP AND THROW OUT!
Cost range: $0 (DIY) to $2,500 (pro)
Potential return: 3 to 5%
Nothing drives away would-be buyers faster than clutter, grime, and the weird smells that accompany a messy home. Vital to the process is de-cluttering and depersonalizing the space as much as possible. Buyers will have a hard time imagining themselves in your home if it’s filled with family photos and other personal effects.
For severely cluttered residences, or if you’re downsizing and need help winnowing your possessions, consider hiring a professional organizer. In addition to making your current home more sellable, a pro can help you get off to an organized start in your new residence.
Depending on the level of clutter, an organizer may need one to three months to get your home ready for sale, at a cost of $600 to $2,500—money well spent if it helps your property move more quickly. The service might even be worth it if you plan to stay put for the time being because living in a cluttered home takes a psychological toll.
Before hosting the open house, remember to open the curtains and blinds because natural light is just as important as order to making a home feel bigger. And give the entire interior a thorough cleaning, including vacuuming, dusting, and wiping down every surface. Your boss might not be coming over, but someone in the position to write you a very big cheque hopefully is.
MAKE THE KITCHEN ROCK!
Cost range: $300 to $5,000
Potential return: 3 to 7%
It’s a real estate adage that the kitchen, more than any other room, sells the home. In fact, 53 percent of real estate agents agreed in a study that the kitchen is among the most important rooms of the home to have in good shape before selling.
But that doesn’t mean you should drop tens of thousands of dollars on a new one before putting your house on the block. Given all the volatility in the real estate market, you can’t spend megabucks on any project, even a kitchen, and expect to get that money back so do minor repairs that can lead to serious second thoughts for buyers—the leaky faucet, the loose light fixture, the burn mark on the countertop.
Once you’ve made the kitchen fully functional, think about a gentle spruce-up. For a few hundred dollars, you can probably paint the walls, update the cabinet hardware, and add new curtains, which will give the space a clean, fresh look.
If the kitchen is badly outdated, increasing your budget to $5,000 might make sense, especially if you could be in the home for a few more years. A couple thousand dollars will get you a top-performing refrigerator, range, and dishwasher, all with popular stainless-steel finish. New countertops and floors will cost about the same, especially if you go for DIY-friendly laminate and vinyl, both of which proved very hard-wearing. That will leave about $1,000 for odds and ends, such as light fixtures and a new faucet, as well as any necessary labor costs.
Cost range: $300 to $1,000
Potential return: 2 to 3%
Buyers want to see that a home is clean and well-maintained, especially in the bathrooms. Simple improvements like caulking the tub or re-grouting the tile floor will go a long way in the mind of a buyer. And consider this: 42 percent of real estate professionals survyed said the bathroom is one of the most important rooms of the home to have in good shape.
Installing new bathroom fixtures will make the space look brighter and more appealing.
If you’re not looking to sell right away, there are several larger upgrades that shouldn’t cost a fortune, given the small dimensions of many bathrooms. For example, you might be able to add a new floor and vanity countertop for less than $1,000, especially if you use inexpensive vinyl and laminate.
Adding new toilets is also a smart upgrade because it can improve the look of a home while also making it more water-efficient.
Cost range: $100 (DIY) to $1,000 (pro)
Potential return: 1 to 3%
A fresh coat of paint is the quickest way to transform a room. But it probably doesn’t make sense to have your entire house repainted prior to putting it on the market.
Kitchens and bathrooms are two candidates for a complete paint job given the high traffic they see. You should also paint any brightly colored rooms. Most people do not have the vision of what a room could look like, so keep it neutral.
Whites and off-whites tend to attract the most buyers; the neutral palette allows them to focus on a home’s attributes. Grays and beiges are both very reliable.
As for the paint itself, if you’re getting your home ready to sell, choose a paint that does a good job of hiding old paint and leaves a fairly smooth surface. Invest in a top-quality product if you’re planning to be in the home for a while. You can paint the walls yourself or pay a pro about $300 per room, paint included, with added rooms costing about $200.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Cost range: $150 to $7,500
Potential return: 2 to 5%
You wouldn’t go to a job interview without brushing your hair and putting on a crisp, clean outfit. Nor should you try to sell your home without sprucing up its exterior. Start with basic maintenance: mowing the lawn, trimming overgrown shrubs, applying a fresh layer of mulch to garden beds.
As with your home’s interior, it’s also important to make minor repairs, such as replacing cracked siding boards or repointing brick walls. Any house could probably also stand a good power washing as well. Follow with any necessary paint touch-ups, especially to the front of the building, which will get the most scrutiny. It might be worth completely repainting the entry door, provided that won’t make the rest of the facade seem tired and outdated.
The roof is another area to pay close attention to because prospective buyers are sure to do the same. Indeed, 31 percent of real estate professionals said the roof is one of the more important parts of the home to have in good shape.
BOTTOM LINE: The way you live in your home and the way you market your home for sale are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! Good Luck!
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