Monday, March 29, 1999

Home sale season's here

Realtors' fix-up tips help sellers to get top dollar

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        People buy what they see.

        That's a credo for many Cincinnati-area real estate agents who say home sellers can lose thousands of dollars in profits if they don't get their homes in tip-top condition before they stake a “For Sale” sign in their yards.

        If potential buyers see a cluttered yard, peeling paint or a home with a generally shoddy appearance, chances are that “For Sale” will stay stuck in the ground for a while, they said.

  Five steps for improving the sales appeal of your home before putting it on the market:
  • Walk through your house as if you were a buyer, identifying those items that are easy to repair.
  • Seek the advice of a Realtor, who can tell you what improvements will matter most to prospective buyers.
  • Remove any extraneous decorative items from around the house that might distract a potential buyer.
  • Paint key rooms with a neutral color to appeal to a broader range of buyers.
  • Have your home professionally inspected to identify problem areas that might not be readily apparent.
  Source: AmeriSpec Home Inspection Service
        Appearance can also affect the selling price of a home because potential buyers will often try to “low-ball” the seller with a very low offer if the home isn't in near-perfect condition, said Joy Amann, vice president and branch manager for Jim Huff Realty in Fort Mitchell.

        Painting, cleaning, landscaping, carpeting and repairing are all part of “setting the stage” to raise a home's market value and increase its “sal ability,” Ms. Amann said.

        She said sellers should start by fixing up the outside because most prospective buyers develop their short list of homes to consider by driving around neighborhoods and looking at houses.

        “In the spring and summer, you want to make sure that the lawn is freshly attended, and the bushes and plantings are all very nice, neat and tidy,” she said. “It just gives a very appealing look.”

        Judy Schlotman, Cincinnati-based Sibcy Cline Realtors' top Realtor, calls it “curb appeal.”

        “If there's anything you can do to make your home more appealing from the street, such as planting flowers or painting the front door, do it,” Ms. Schlotman said. “First appearance is absolutely the most important thing” in selling a home.

        If you're thinking about selling your home, now is a good time to start preparing to put it on the market because spring is historically the most active season for home sales, both women said.

        Ms. Schlotman recommends that home sellers first seek the advice of a Realtor who handles properties in their neighborhood.

        “I can tell you what improvements need to be made in the home based on what other people have done in the marketplace,” she said. “I can tell you how the pricing of your home should be based upon what other houses sold for in the area that were in similar condition after the improvements.”

        A Realtor also can help you determine which improvements will give the highest return on investment.

        Tidying up around the yard often doesn't require much more than a commitment of time and labor. Other home improvements can mean a greater cash investment.

        But a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars spent on such cosmetic improvements as painting should produce at least a $2 increase for every $1 spent, Ms. Amann said.

        Painting is by far the most profitable improvement because it's one of the least expensive and has a big impact on potential home buyers, she said.

        “We tell people selling their homes that a fresh coat of paint will be one of the best investments that they can make,” Ms. Amann said.

        Other improvements, such as installing a pool, generally deliver less of a return on investment, she said.

        “You could spend $10,000 to $20,000 on a pool, and it will be very difficult to get that investment back dollar for dollar, much less make a profit on it,” she said.

        In addition to deciding which home improvements are most profitable, Ms. Amann said, homeowners must also make sure they are investing in improvements and not maintenance fix-ups if they hope to make a profit.

        “When you're looking at improvements to a house, you're looking at something that actually makes the home more than it is without it,” Ms. Amann said. “A roof, for example, is actually a maintenance item. If you have a home that needs a new roof, and you replace it, you still have the same home.

        Although they might not be as profitable as home improvements, maintenance fixes can also be useful sales tools.

        A new roof, for example, might not give much of a return on investment, but it can eliminate buyer fears and encourage purchase offers, Ms. Amann said.

        An increasing number of home sellers are turning to professional home inspectors for advice in that area, said Rich Spraggs, who owns the HouseMaster home-inspection business in Cincinnati.

        Mr. Spraggs said an inspector can identify problems not readily appar ent to a home seller that might cause problems at closing, and give the seller the chance to fix the problems before putting the house on the market.

        Having your home professionally inspected before it's put up for sale also can help sellers get closer to their asking price, he said.

        “Even if you decide not to make certain repairs, you have a written report that shows the buyer that you've been conscientious about finding out the true condition and value of your home,” Mr. Spraggs said. “That helps the seller be more firm with the price.”

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