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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maintenance vs. updates…


When I go out on listing appointments I often get homeowners who are eager to tell me about all of the “updates” that they’ve put into the house, mainly as a defense for the high prices at which they hope to list the house. Quite often their list of “updates” turns out to be about half (or better) just normal maintenance items.

It isn’t an update if you replaced the roof three years ago, after waiting 20 years. It isn’t an update if you finally replaced the carpets that came with the house 15 years ago. It isn’t an update if you painted over the dark wood paneling in the family room (in fact that’s really not even maintenance – just a mistake). Replacing the furnace that finally conked out isn’t an update either, nor is replacing the hot water heater that failed last year. Those are all (or mostly) normal maintenance items that any homeowner should do and which don’t get you any extra credit with buyers. Taking down wall paper and painting , or just a new coat of paint on walls and ceilings are also considered more maintenance than updates; although, getting rid of the wallpaper definitely removes a distraction.

An update would be replacing the kitchen cabinets and counter tops, which could also be considered and upgrade if you go to higher end cabinet and granite tops. You get few, if any, points with buyers if you paint over your old dark oak cabinets and put new doors on them, especially if you leave the interiors of the cabinets the original color. You also get less kitchen update credit with buyers if you don’t do something similar (and at the same quality level) with the floor. Putting new cabinets and counter tops over a worn out linoleum floor is almost a waste, since the buyer will figure that he will have to take the cabinets back out to redo the floor.

Bathrooms are another area where trying to do the update job cheaply can end up backfiring. That one-piece vinyl tub inserts certainly sounds like a quick and easy way to do a bathroom update; however, they also generally look cheap and most buyers these days don’t give you much credit for having updated the baths by slapping one in place. Doing just that and leaving the old tired vanity in place or reusing old crusty fixtures would just make matters worse. If you’ve decided to finally get rid of the turquoise bathroom tub, toilet and sink, go all the way with the remodeling. In the bath, as in the kitchen, look at the floor, too. Baths with the old 4’ X 4’ floor tiles just scream out, “I’m dated.” The same is true of tub surround tiles. The modern look is the large 12’ X 12’ Italian tiles for floor and tub surround.

Updating your windows from the old original aluminum type to modern wood or vinyl thermal windows will still be noticed in a positive way by buyers. Updating to newer, more stylish appliances in the kitchen and laundry will also get you extra points with buyers (assuming that you’re leaving them). Updating your TV viewing area to a surround-sound system would also get you points; again, if you plan to leave it. Ripping out your sound system would be a negative. Replacing the old rusty garage door can go either way – if you just put in another cheap, builder’s quality door you’ll get some credit, but not a lot; however, put in a stylish, insulated door and that will be considered to be a real upgrade.

So, as you look at what to do to your house to keep it ready for the market bite the bullet and do the maintenance that you’ve been putting off and then look at the things that would make it an easier or faster sale if you updated them. I have consistently advised, here as elsewhere, that you not undertake major updates right before you sell – you just won’t get your money back and you’ll be too tempted to raise the price to try to recoup. You should look at updating/upgrading something in your house every year (after about year 5 if the house is a new-build), with major items (kitchen, baths, windows, etc.) about every 5-7 years. Even it they’re well maintained and still look fairly nice, having carpets and kitchen cabinets and appliances and other things in the house that are 15-20 years old will be noted (and not in a good way) by potential buyers. Sort of like your retirement nest-egg, your house won’t continue to grow in value if you don’t continue to invest in it.

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