Want to Boost Your Home’s Appeal? What You Should and Shouldn’t Spend Money on

With our ongoing seller’s market in which right-priced homes sell quickly and often for more than the listing price, do you really need to beautify your home to help it sell better?

The short answer is “Yes.” But don’t get carried away. The agents at Golden Real Estate like to tell sellers that they should only address certain cosmetic issues and what we call “eyesores.” Investing in popular big-dollar improvements or updates isn’t likely to return you more than they cost to implement.

Let’s talk cosmetic fixes first. For sure, you’ll want to wash the windows and clean your window wells. In the process, you’ll be removing the window screens.  Clean and label those screens and store them in your basement or garage. Don’t reinstall them until you are under contract. They detract from the views out your windows even if the screens themselves are clean.

 Curb appeal (aka first impression) is, of course, highly important. If you have a lawn, you can make it greener pretty quickly with one or two Lawn Doctor visits. If your bushes or trees are overgrown, consider having them trimmed. How does your front porch look? If it’s looking worn, an investment in fresh paint or stain will pay dividends. Ditto for that wooden deck in the back.

Speaking of the wooden porch and deck, let’s move on to a discussion of eyesores. An “eyesore” is anything that draws negative attention by the prospective buyer. Rotted and/or broken boards on your porch or deck definitely fit our definition of an eyesore!

Inside your home, there are several potential eyesores that I advise sellers to address. Let’s look at walls, floors, windows and countertops.

If there is damage to the walls, fix it. Our handyman (available only to clients) is an expert at drywall repair, including matching texture. Touch-up and repainting may be called for. Our free staging consultant may advise you specifically about your walls. My current seller in Golden thought their red kitchen should be repainted to a neutral color. I said no, and we still had a bidding war and went under contract in 5 days for $136,000 over asking price.

Plush and berber carpeting in good condition does not need to be replaced, but if there are ripples in it, it should be stretched, which is an easy and affordable fix. Older shag carpets should, in most cases, be replaced. Wall-to-wall carpeting is one of the more affordable improvements.

If the carpeting is covering hardwood floors in good condition, I’d suggest removing the carpet and refinishing the hardwood if it needs it. Hardwood floors that are already exposed but noticeably worn should also be refinished.

Is there hardwood under that old wall-to-wall carpeting? One way to find out is to pull up the far corner of the carpet in a closet. You can push the carpet back down onto the tack strip and no one will be able to tell you had pulled it up. If you have forced air heating vents in the carpet, lift up the vent grate and you’ll be able to see whether there’s hardwood underneath.

If you have old single-pane windows, it’s tempting to replace them, and that might be a good strategy in a buyer’s market, but not in our current seller’s market. In this market, people will buy a home with old windows if it is priced right. I’d want to see them in person before making a final suggestion.

What about countertops?  Replacing an old Formica countertops with slab granite, Corian, Silestone, concrete or other popular materials would be very expensive, and I don’t recommend it unless the Formica is chipped or scarred and therefore an “eyesore.” There’s a company Granite Transformations (www.GraniteTransformations.com) that does a remarkable job of covering an existing countertop in place with a granite-based slurry that makes it look like slab granite. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve seen homes with their work and was quite impressed.

Window coverings are another cheap fix that can make a big difference. I recently installed cellular blinds I purchased at Home Depot which have no strings — just push up or pull down. You have probably seen them and love them as Rita and I do.  They are cut to width (I suggest 1/2 inch narrower than the opening) and come in different lengths. Prices are quite reasonable, and I installed eight of them in my house in just an hour or so with nothing more than an electric screw driver.

Bathrooms offer some potential dressing up. First of all, clean the grout in your tub/shower. Consider a new shower curtain. Other suggestions might arise from a personal visit.

One of my favorite affordable improvements in my current home and the one before was to install sun tunnels in dark areas such as a windowless garage or laundry room, or that dark corridor in the middle of your house. A brand name you’ve probably heard of is Solatube, but we purchased Velux sun tunnels for our houses. They come in 10, 14 and 22-inch diameters because the joists in your ceiling and roof are either 12, 16 or 24 inches on center. The cost fully installed for ours was well under $1,000 each — so much better and less prone to leakage or hail damage than a rectangular skylight. Look into installing sun tunnels for your own pleasure, not just to brighten up your home for selling. The more light you can bring into your home the more appealing it will be.

My broker associates and I are happy to walk through your house with you, even if you aren’t immediately ready to sell your home, to make suggestions regarding things to fix or leave alone. Call 303-302-3636 to be connected with any of us. Call me or one of them for a free consultation.

Buyers Benefit From Having an Agent Who Knows Home Systems and Sustainability

One of the reasons I enjoy showing homes to buyers is that I get to educate them about home systems and how they work, as well as identify the sustainable and not-so-sustainable features of each home.

The agents at Golden Real Estate have a thorough understanding of home systems as a result of our combined decades of experience and hundreds of transactions. In addition, we have taken classes on energy efficiency, insulation, solar power and home construction which allow us to serve buyers better when we show them homes.

Together, for example, we toured the model homes at Richards Farms when they were under construction, where we learned, among other things, about that builder’s foam insulation process.

There are so many aspects of energy efficiency and sustainability. Everyone by now knows about solar photovoltaics — creating electricity from the sun. Our office has 20 kW of solar panels, but having solar power is only the beginning. It’s how efficiently you use that power that makes the difference.

Heating and cooling is the biggest user of energy in any home, and the number and variety of HVAC systems have become more extensive and more complicated, and we understand and can explain them. They include: gas forced air heating and compressor-based air conditioning (most common in Colorado and much of the country), hot water baseboard heat, hot water radiant floor heating, wall-mounted heating panels or strips, heat pump mini-splits for both heating and cooling, hybrid heat-pump with gas forced air (which Rita and I have in our home), ground-source heat pump for both heating and cooling (the “gold standard” of efficient heating and cooling) — and let’s not forget heating with wood or wood pellets!

Windows can vary greatly. Double-pane windows may be standard now, but a Colorado company, Alpen, has made a name for itself with triple-pane windows and now quadruple-pane windows.  Recently I wrote about John Avenson’s Westminster home, in which some of his south-facing Alpen windows have micro-etching to divert sunlight toward the ceiling of his kitchen, a high-tech alternative to reflective window shelving, which we saw when we toured a newer building at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Skylights are so 20th Century. Today’s modern replacement are sun tunnels (Solatube is a leading brand), which are great for illuminating interior rooms. Just last week I showed a home with five Solatubes in it, lighting up the living room and an interior bathroom amazingly well from the mid-day sun. My buyer didn’t realize they weren’t ceiling light fixtures until I pointed them out. (We have two sun tunnels in our home illuminating our windowless garage and laundry room, and we have four sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. We don’t have to turn on any lights on sunny days!)

A knowledgeable agent can also point out passive solar features of a home, which others might not recognize. These include proper window configuration, wide overhangs above south-facing windows, thermal masses in south-facing sunrooms, and deciduous trees providing strategically positioned shade in the summer but allowing more sunlight in the winter. I like to see (and point out) cellular shades, especially vertical ones covering patio doors for cold-weather insulation.

Often I notice that the listing agent didn’t mention the features (such as the Solatubes) that my buyers and I recognize as selling points. Of course, when doing the narrated video tours of our own listings, my broker associates and I don’t miss the opportunity to point out those features. And, of course, we are sure to mention those features in the MLS listing.

Many agents miss the opportunity to write a separate description on the MLS for each individual room. It’s not a mandatory field, but it’s the best place to mention a room’s Solatube, heated floor, porcelain tile, hardwood or other feature.

Some Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home

Who doesn’t want to make some improvements on a home they have just purchased?  Here are some of my personal favorites.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we do is pay for an energy audit by someone like Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. This would likely include blowing more insulation into walls or ceilings and caulking around windows. It might also include installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home. This device warms cold outside air in the winter and cools hot outside air in the summer by means of a heat exchanger.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, not with traditional skylights but with sun tunnels. Most people are familiar with the Solatube brand, but I prefer the Velux brand. I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a 22-inch Velux sun tunnel in my windowless garage and a 14-inch sun tunnel in my windowless laundry room — and four large Velux sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. Ah, sunlight!

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb is our house with LEDs which are “daylight” color (like sunlight), not cool white or warm white. CFLs and incandescent bulbs are so 2010!

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer for us, especially now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. (That’s our situation.) Since you might be driving an electric car someday, install as much PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.  If you have just purchased an EV, Xcel will allow you to install more panels based on anticipated future use.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install those mountable curbs the entire length of the streets in new subdivisions, not knowing exactly where each driveway will be. One of the first things I would do (and have done) is to hire a concrete company to replace the mountable curb with a smooth entrance. It cost over $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but I love it every time I enter from the street! Caution: the sidewalk will now be sloped slightly and pedestrians could more easily slip on ice, so be prepared to salt your sidewalk to eliminate icing!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump furnace or mini-splits. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I suggest buying a heat-pump water heater. The cost is about the same, and, by converting to electricity for both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

Other improvements I’d consider include: Replacing carpeting with  tile in bathrooms; and replacing regular glass with Low-E glass on south-facing windows to reduce the harmful effects of sunlight on furniture, hardwood floors and artwork.

Golden Real Estate Launches Sustainability Series

As you may already know, Golden Real Estate is a leader in sustainability, as expressed in the value statement printed on all our yard signs: “Promoting and Modeling Environmental Responsibility.” And most of our agents, including myself, are Certified EcoBrokers, having taken extra training in all aspects of sustainability as it applies to real estate.

We’d like to share what we’ve learned with you, so we’re launching a Sustainability Series that will take place on the third Thursday of every month in our office.  We can accommodate 20 or more attendees in our office, but we will move it elsewhere if the demand exceeds our capacity, so please RSVP. You can do so now for all sessions.

Each meeting will focus on a single aspect of sustainability. Here’s the schedule for the first six meetings (subject to change):

Jan. 17th — Home Insulation — Walls, windows, foundations, crawl spaces, attics. (This is a bigger topic than you might think, but it’s also the cheapest and most effective path to reducing energy consumption.)

Feb. 21st — Home Heating Methods — Forced air, heat pumps, radiant floor, solar thermal, and other technologies.

Mar. 21st — Solar Power — Rooftop and ground-mounted photovoltaic, solar gardens, solar panels vs. solar roof tiles, and home battery storage/backup.

Apr. 18th — Electric Vehicles — What’s here now and what’s coming soon in cars, trucks, motorcycles and more.

May 16th — Sustainable Renovation — What are the more sustainable and popular materials and designs?

June 20th — Water Conservation — The latest concepts and products for conserving water use, both indoors and outdoors.

All sessions are 1 hour long and begin at 5 p.m. in our Golden office or nearby if a larger space is needed based on the number of reservations received. The sessions will be led by experts in the field, although you can count on me to add my own comments!

Go ahead and reserve your seat for any or all sustainability sessions now by sending an email to  Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com. We look forward to producing this informative series!

Golden Real Estate’s Sustainable Practices

1)   Our office produces more energy than it consumes. With our 20 kW of solar panels, we heat, cool and power our office and charge our six electric cars. We also provide free EV charging to the general public, yet our Xcel Energy bill is only $11.26/month.  At our request, Xcel removed our natural gas meter.

2)   We accept polystyrene from the public in our “Styrofoam Corral,” keeping over 200 cubic yards of the material out of the landfill every year.

3)   We use only LED light fixtures and have four “sun tunnels” (skylights) for naturally lighting our office.

Click here to read about our transition to “Net Zero” in our Jan. 4, 2018, column, “Promoting & Modeling Environmental Responsibility.”