Real Talk: The “right time” for home improvement

Real Talk: The “right time” for home improvement
Renovating your home to be brighter and uncluttered can help pay off on the market. (File photo)

By Vici Boguess, Clay Burke and Sissy Zimmerman

Like most realtors, we are frequently asked some version of: “Is now a good time for me to sell my house/rental property/mother’s condo?” or “Will it be worth more when X happens?” More and more, however, we are asked about proposed improvements: “How much will it be worth if I make this upgrade?”

In recent years, our marketplace has seen outside influences weigh more than usual, between the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, a strong economy and a most unwelcome global pandemic.

We have found that it is always best when our clients make their decisions based on their overall priorities and personal goals. Even if the timing seems counter to the prevailing market trends, it can indeed be the “right time” and the transaction can still deliver excellent results.

Once the decision to sell is made, the next very important question is, “What do I need to do before it goes on the market?”

Despite any market conditions, it is critical to present the property at its best, to the widest pool of buyers. For that reason, we welcome any and all questions about design choices and improvements in the works. The beauty of some “improvements” is not shared by all prospective purchasers. A good agent and a smart seller can work together to see that the investment of time, energy and upgrade dollars pay off.

The value added can be measured in many ways. A high level of buyer interest and competition and shorter days on market almost always yield a higher sales price with fewer concessions. This is important, even in the newly robust, suburban neighbor- hoods, but it is essential in the previously hotter market of urban condos. Where sellers are currently competing with higher inventory numbers and a smaller pool of buyers, superior conditions and presentation can really pay off.

Sometimes the preparation “to do” list can be managed in a week or two. More often, it takes three to four weeks to be show ready. Even if selling is not immediate, it never hurts to get a head start on editing cabinets, closets, attics and basements. There is beauty in uncluttered and airy spaces. The ultimate goal of being market ready will guide and motivate the nature of a client’s improvement projects. Generally speaking, adding fresh, neutral paint throughout is the quickest and least expensive way to refresh the space, along with replacing worn carpets and refinishing floors.

Renovated kitchens and bathrooms continue to be key to attracting buyers. From first-hand experience, we know prospective purchasers gravitate to properties with updated kitchens and baths in the photos. Even purchasers with no culinary interests steer clear of the listings with outdated kitchens.

The same is true of bathrooms and dressing areas. Almost every homeowner can appreciate and long for a beautiful, functional bath to start or end the day. Whether it is a modest update of hardware and fixtures or a full renovation, our team recommends simple finishes and clean lines. Pre-market preparation is not the time to make a bold design statement.

Experience proves that smart buyers recognize and value quality improvements and well-maintained systems. Purchasers and their agents will swoon over the words “recently replaced roof and water heater.” If you are planning ahead and know that a system or appliance is below par, consider making the repair or replacement before there are additional consequences. Also consider another valuable lesson of 2020: Do not expect a quick delivery of new appliances.

Of course, even these er considers the options and widely effective pieces of advice do not serve every client. Circumstances do not always allow or warrant the significant financial investment to prepare the property. There are instances when a senior client or long-distance owner considers the options and elects to go the more direct route.

Occasionally, the likely use of the property has changed. A property with a large lot may be sold to the purchaser planning a full-scale renovation. There are times when the best plan is to market a clean, vacant property in as-is condition and price it to encourage competition from a different group of buyers seeking to make their own improvements.

“One size fits all” is not our approach to real estate. In the end, this year has confirmed our belief that almost any time can be the right time. With good communication, a shared understanding of goals and a well thought out plan, a seller and their resourceful agent can find success.

The writers operate The Burke Boguess Zimmerman Group of local real estate agency McEnearney Associates.