I haven’t been working on many home improvements lately because I have some exciting news: we’re moving! After seven years of fixing up this old ranch house we’ve gotten to the point where we needed to begin doing the “big” things like remodel our kitchen, gut our main bathroom and maybe even add on a room or two for our growing family. But we were faced with a decision: continuing improving our current home or move to a new one.
Move or Improve
To make this decision we listed out all the things we wanted in a home and all the things we’d have to do to our current house to make it meet that criteria. Some things (remodeled bathroom) were easier than others (large kitchen, second story). Once he had a full list of items we wanted in a house for the next 20 years we sat down and did some general estimating of costs and feasibility. In the end we decided mortgage rates and home prices were low enough that we were better off selling our home and finding a newer house which had more of the structural features we were looking for.
Since January of this year my wife and I starting working with a real estate agent and we’ve been going to open houses, scouring the classified ads and checking Trulia.com every day for new homes which met our criteria. Eventually we found several homes which we liked so we talked to our agent and decided the best way to really put down a strong offer on a home was to have ours up for sale.
Sold In Four Days
Before we put our home up for sale we had our realtor walk through and give us some honest criticism about what would help sell our house quickly and what wouldn’t cost us a lot of cash. Sure, a new kitchen or bathroom would have made our house much more desirable but we weren’t about to spend $20,000 on a house we were hoping to move out of.
We took all of our realtor’s comments and balanced them with our own time and money constraints and made a list of things we thought we could accomplish around our house in just 7 days. Our realtor reviewed our home on Saturday and we had every intention of having all our home improvements done so that it could be listed the following weekend. The whole process was similar to one of those HGTV reality shows, except we didn’t have a camera crew or a dozen hunky handyman who were going to remodel our house for free. It was just me and my wife (and I later brought my father in for a few larger projects).
We made the deadline and put our house up for sale on Saturday, April 14th. In the first two days we had 15 different realtors walk through our home and of those, three came back with potential clients. By Tuesday, April 17th we had our first offer, but the next day we received a slightly higher offer. There was a brief bidding “war” and by the evening of April 18th we had accepted an offer from a buyer! There are other homes in our neighborhood that are the same model as our home that have been for sale for much longer (some have been for sale for months). Our home was not fully updated or modern, we didn’t sell our house thousands of dollars cheaper than anyone else and our yard is no larger than anyone else’s in our neighborhood. So how did we sell our house so quickly?
Quick Home Improvements To Sell A House
Our real estate agent spoke at length with the buyer’s agent and they commented on a number of things which helped them fall in love with our home out of the others they saw out there. Here are the five home improvements that seemed to make all the difference and helped us sell our house so quickly:
- Fresh Paint- Like all good homeowners we had painted a number of rooms to our liking when we first moved into this house seven years ago. But we had a few rooms (laundry room and kitchen area) that we simply never got around to. Those areas had old busy wallpaper that was still holding up well, but the colors had faded over time. We chose a bright and popular shade of yellow paint and brightened up the whole area in just a few hours. Yes, we painted right over the wallpaper. We patches the few areas that needed it, applied a solid coat of tinted primer and then a single coat of latex paint. That one change alone made our entire kitchen and laundry area ten times more inviting and “clean” feeling.But that was just the beginning. A lot of people paint over a room or two when they are getting ready to sell. We went one step further. Most of our rooms were painted with neutral but inviting colors already, but seven years of living (and two kids later) had scraped and dinged up the walls a good bit. Instead of repainting all those rooms (remember, I only had 7 days) we instead went through each room and “touched up” every ding, scratch and scrape we could find with the original paint colors. It only took about two hours to go through our 1,300 square foot house and it made all the rooms look brand new. Total Cost: $70 for primer, paint and supplies.
- Fresh Doors - One thing that often gets overlooked in home general home maintenance is interior doors. Our house was built in 1955 and though there had been all sorts of flooring and wall changes done throughout the years, the doors were all still the original hollow laminate wood doors. Most of the door hardware (hinges and doorknobs) were also the same. Don’t get me wrong: everything was still perfectly serviceable and working, but most of the hardware looked dated and worn if not completely painted over multiple times. Instead of completely replacing all the doors (quite a task in a short period of time) we instead choose to paint them white (more modern and bright) and to replace all the doorknobs. We kept the hinges because they were a size and shape we couldn’t easily find in any of our big box home improvement stores, but new doorknobs only cost about $9 a piece. I had seven doorknobs to replace so the total cost wasn’t bad. The doors really popped and looked brand new once they were all fresh and had matching gleaming hardware. Total Cost: $80 for paint and doorknobs.
- Trim and Crown Molding – Over the years I had put up crown molding in all the bedrooms and that really helped pull the rooms together, but it was the baseboard molding that I paid the most attention to during the week before our house went up for sale. Like the walls my baseboard molding was dinged and dirty and just not looking its best. I replaced a few pieces that had been cracked in the past few years and then I went through the house freshening them up by wiping them down and applying little dabs of paint where needed. I also painted a few strips of shoe molding and installed it in the one room where it was missing and it really tied the walls and floors together, making everything look much more finished and cared for. Total Cost: $40 for shoe molding and a small can of paint.
- Clean Yard and House- I’m usually pretty good about keeping my front lawn looking good, but I went all out before putting my house up for sale. Not only did I mow the lawn but I also weeded the front bed, cleaned out the window wells and used my chipper vac to remove all the loose clippings, leaves and other debris that had collected during the spring. Keeping your lawn and sidewalks looking good is a great way to set a good first impression before people even walk into your home. It’s a subtle thing and it’s often overlooked, but I think it is important. When I was looking for houses to buy the condition of the front yard was always something that my wife and I noticed as we got out of the car.We also cleaned and scrubbed every surface we could think of in our house during the week before it went on the market. Floors, windows, walls, baseboard molding, trim and even ceiling fans were dusted, vacuumed and wiped down. Each day before leaving for work we would do a quick “wipe down” of the kitchen table, counter tops and even the kitchen floor sometimes just to make sure any potential realtors or buyers felt welcome and comfortable. Again, my wife and I saw a lot of homes when we were shopping and the dirtier houses always left us feeling a little uneasy. Total Cost: Free, but it takes some time and energy to clean things right.
- Organized and Clutter Free Rooms – I have two young kids, so this was definitely one of the more difficult tasks for my wife and I to accomplish and keep up with. We spent an hour or so each day going through rooms and just removing things that we didn’t need or use anymore. We went through closets, under beds and all throughout the cabinets and storage areas and tried make room for “other” things that were out. We also purchased some under bed bins and a fair number of toys which had been out on the dressers were put into bins and hidden under the bed. We removed a fair number of picture frames, macaroni art and piles of catalogs and kids’ books as well. The idea was to “open up” all of our spaces by having lots of empty surface area. We couldn’t hide our furniture, but we could make it look as though we had plenty of space to put things that we hadn’t used yet. We also followed most of the same principals we used when organizing our basement: we either save, trash or sell. By the end of the week all of our rooms had much more inviting and open feel to them. As an added bonus, we were just a little closer to being ready to move by purging and organizing a lot of toys and other things that had accumulated in the past few years. Total Cost: $20 for a few storage bins.
After all this work we called our realtor and she made a second pass through. At this point she took photos and the next day our house was up for sale and listed online! We hardly recognized some of our rooms with all the changes from only a few days before.
Don’t get me wrong: I think pricing our house correctly and working with a realtor both made a big difference, but the work and effort we put into our house made it show much better and really allowed our house to stand out among the other houses in our area which didn’t have as much energy put into them. In the end, we sold our house almost too quickly and it left my wife and having to scramble to make a definite decision about where we wanted to move to. It also means I won’t be performing any more home improvements on this house but I will have hundreds of new projects in our new house! I won’t be moving for another month or two, but I’ll keep you posted!