What Should You Fix or Improve Before Putting Your Home on the Market?

One of the most common questions we are asked during our first meetings with prospective sellers is, “What should I fix or improve before I put my home on the market?” I’ve written about this topic before, but the subject is worth revisiting, given the current market.

My advice has always been that you should only fix the “eyesores” and not make many of the repairs or improvements that you might make in a more balanced market.

So, what’s an eyesore? Simply put, an eyesore is something that draws negative attention from a buyer. But some eyesores are more important than others — specifically ones which help form a buyer’s first impression of your home.

In other words, your front yard, the front façade, your porch, front door and the first few rooms a buyer sees are more important than the condition of inner rooms or the basement. By the time buyers are deep inside your house, they either love it or they don’t, and if they love it, they’ll be more forgiving about a stain on the carpet or a loose railing that they see later in their visit. So definitely work on cleaning up your front yard, staining or repairing your front porch and front door (if it needs it), and address any eyesores inside the front door. If the paint on your siding or trim visible from the street is aged, dirty, or peeling, you’ll want to take care of that, too.

Further inside the house, fixing eyesores is still important, just not as important. New wall-to-wall carpeting is more affordable than refinishing hardwood flooring, but a wood floor that is in dire need of refinishing is definitely an eyesore. If a hardwood floor could use refinishing, but isn’t in dire need of it, I don’t recommend it. Re-staining a wood deck is an affordable task that eliminates the eyesore of a deck which sorely needs it.

Should you replace a Formica kitchen counter with slab granite, quartz or Corian? Not if the Formica is in good shape and is not hot pink. If it has peeling edges or burn scars, yes, replace it.

One of the smartest things you should do before putting your home on the market is to wash the windows inside and out. Since that requires removing window screens, I recommend washing and labeling your window screens and putting them in your garage or store room. The window screens can be reinstalled after you’re under contract and prior to inspection, because missing screens will definitely be an inspection issue.

When you invite one of us to see your home, you’ll want to know what fixes or improvements we suggest, and we will usually come down on the side of not making any repairs or improvements which aren’t necessary to get your home under contract.

The reason you don’t want to make unnecessary repairs or improvements — for example, replacing a 20-year-old furnace that works fine, or mitigating radon if a home test reveals it is needed — is that you need to retain those as bargaining chips.

Let’s say, for example, that your buyer’s inspection objection lists a dozen items including replacing the furnace and mitigating radon. You could agree to doing those two repairs but not the other ten items, and that would probably satisfy the buyer. If you’ve already replaced your furnace and mitigated radon, you don’t have those as bargaining chips and would have to address those other items.

Interior painting is another common issue. Let’s say your son painted his bedroom ceiling black, or your daughter has a cute mural with giraffes and trees covering one or two walls in her bedroom. Should your repaint those rooms? Maybe the black ceiling, but leave the mural — assuming it’s well done, of course!

These are merely general guidelines, and every house is different. My broker associates (below) and I are happy, of course, to meet with you in your home to discuss what to fix or not fix.

The best thing you can do before putting your home on the market is neither a fix nor an improvement. It’s decluttering. We all have too much stuff, don’t we? Some of it should be taken to Goodwill or the Salvation Army (using our free truck, of course!). Other items should be put in storage, and we can usually get our clients the first month free at a local mini-storage facility.

Once we’ve agreed on what to do, you may be concerned about how to pay for it. Our clients have access to our handyman at the client-only rate of $25/hour. For bigger repairs, we can help you with obtaining financing that could be paid off from your proceeds at closing. Ask one of our broker associates or me for details.