When you’ve decided to sell your home, the last thing you want to do is spend money to spruce the place up. After all, whoever buys it is going to replace those outdated kitchen cabinets and grungy bathroom tiles anyway, right?
“We’re often asked why any money should be spent freshening,” said Mickey Conlon, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “The answer has to do with the psychological effect of assessing a renovation on a prospective purchase. Buyers assign dollar values to repairs that typically exceed the actual cost of remediation.”
To get the best return on your investment — and avoid turning off potential buyers — you need to ensure your home looks its best when it hits the market. At the same time, you don’t want to waste effort or money on improvements that won’t pay off.
To find out what you absolutely must do before putting your home on the market, I reached out to several real estate professionals for their essential presale fix-ups. Here are their top suggestions for making sure your house or apartment is market-ready.
PAINT THE WALLS A fresh coat of paint is a cost-effective way to make a place feel new again. But stick with neutral tones like grays and whites, which let the best features of your home stand out, rather than going with bold colors that might not suit everyone’s taste. You can find painters starting at $60 an hour on a site like Handy, which offers on-demand handyman and cleaning services in New York and other major cities. “As an added bonus,” said Mr. Conlon of Douglas Elliman, “the faint whiff of paint can be as alluring to home buyers as new-car smell is to auto shoppers.”
SHINE THE FLOORS“Unless your floors are severely damaged, it doesn’t make sense to have them refinished,” said Pat Christodoulou, who stages homes for sale in Connecticut and New York. Instead, she hires a handyman with a floor buffer, paying anywhere from $300 to wax and polish the floor of a small living room to $1,500 for a Classic Six. “Many good buildings have a buffing machine,” she said, adding that if yours doesn’t, you could try asking for a handyman at another building down the block.
CLEAN UP THE BATHROOM Replacing missing tiles and re-caulking moldy areas are must-dos. Small upgrades, like swapping out an old faucet, can brighten up the space. If your tub is looking dingy, a professional refinisher can repair dents, rub out rust spots and recoat it with a new finish in a day or so, for about $500 for a standard-size bathtub, according to Homeadvisor.com, a home-improvement website. This technique, called reglazing, can be applied to those dated pink wall tiles as well, so long as they are in good shape. And if your bathroom is already in decent condition, a new bath mat, shower curtain and fresh towels may be all the sprucing up you need.
UPGRADE THE KITCHEN While remodeling an old kitchen is a sure way to help your home sell faster and at a higher price, it is possible to transform a dated space without a complete overhaul. A fresh coat of paint and new hardware will help refresh old cabinets. Peel-and-stick wall tiles, which can be found at home improvement stores for as little as $8 a square foot, make adding a backsplash easy on the budget.
And if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, an epoxy coating, sold at most home improvement stores for about $20, can give laminate countertops a new look and feel. Louise M. Devlin, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens who does a fair amount of business in 1960s co-ops, swears by this trick. “It’s a fantastic affordable option,” said Ms. Devlin, who hires a handyman to do the work, which involves sanding the countertop and mixing and applying several coatings of epoxy. The end result, which can be finished in a weekend, she said, “looks like a granite industrial finish.”
But what about those old appliances? While real estate professionals agree that replacing them can add value, it may not be worth the time involved or the cost of new high-end appliances. If your budget allows, consider buying steeply discounted appliances at stores that sell used kitchens, like BIG Reuse in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and Astoria, Queens, or Green Demolitions in Fairfield, N.J.
CLEAR THE CLUTTER “Sellers don’t realize how much stuff they have and how it deters most buyers,” said Kathleen Perkins, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman. “A good rule of thumb is to get rid of 50 percent of your stuff.” This includes books, furniture and the clothes hanging in your closets, and it has the added effect of making small spaces seem bigger. Coffee tables, kitchen counters, windowsills and other surfaces should be cleared of family photos, plants and tchotchkes. Also, be sure to put away any personal effects — razors, hair dryers, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes — before showings.
DO A DEEP CLEANING Wash the windows inside and out and vacuum all the dust that’s accumulated in those exhaust fans, said Heather McMaster, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group: “Deep cleaning is so important, because while an apartment can show very neatly, it’s the details that people pick up on.” According to Handy, the handyman and cleaning service, it usually takes about four or five hours to thoroughly scrub down a two-bedroom two-bath apartment — including inside the cabinets, oven and refrigerator — and costs $100 to $135.
LIGHT IT UP “Every room should have at least three points of light,” said Alison Draper, an agent with Halstead Property who writes for a company blog about design and staging. That means a table lamp, a floor lamp and a task light, for example, or an overhead fixture and a couple of table lamps. Her go-to resource for inexpensive lighting is Ikea.