Sellers Finishing Touches
The reality today is that sellers do not want to spend big to get their house in tip-top shape for buyers. The good news is that there is plenty they can do for free or at a very low cost.
Dark cabinets can make a kitchen look cave-like. But your seller does not need to spend the big bucks for new cabinetry.
As long as the cabinets are in good condition, you can update their look for under $250. New cabinet knobs or handles are an easy do-it-yourself project that can instantly upgrade a kitchen. You can get hardware for as little as $2 to $3 a piece. “It’s amazing how you can transform decent cabinets by just swapping out the hardware and bringing it up to date,” Millholland says. “Brushed nickel hardware looks high-end,” Fisher says. “Chrome is also a good option, while black and bronze are gaining popularity. Avoid dated brass knobs. For outdated cabinets get out the paintbrush. Painting cabinets a rich, neutral color or refinishing the cabinets with a clear coat can greatly enhance their appearance and brighten the kitchen. Popular color choices are warm earth tones, such as off-white cabinetry with butter scotch glaze (it really pops when combined with a tannish gold granite countertop) or cream colors,” Millholland says.
“Granite is still king when it comes to countertops (with quartz a close second). The price of granite has dropped considerably in recent years, even as low as $29 per square foot, which makes it not much more expensive than laminate”, says David Alderman, president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “But if granite still doesn’t fit sellers’ budget, they may be able to get the look for less with updated laminates that resemble granite, or by enhancing the look of the countertops they have. Some companies offer kits to help make countertops resemble granite styles.” In her listings, Fisher has used a $49.95 color kit from Giani Inc. (www.GianiGranite.com) that takes laminate, ceramic tile, or other countertops from plain to a marble-like appearance. For a modern look, liquid stainless steel finish is also available. Even those old tile countertops can be saved. Fisher suggests hiring a professional to clean or paint the grout. Fisher turned to The Grout Doctor, a grout cleaning company with nationwide franchises, to overhaul white tile countertops that had dark purple grout. The purple was off-putting in photos, she says. She had the grout refinished in a light cream color. It cost less than $220 and made a drastic improvement. (Tip: Cleaning and refinishing stained or dirty grout on floors and bathtubs can make a big difference, too. Just be sure to keep your grout color neutral for best results.)
“Instantly make a dated bathroom more modern with just a few enhancements to the fixtures. For example, removing that large plated glass mirror or old medicine cabinet and replacing it with a framed mirror in a rich finish like oil rubbed bronze, can make a big change at a small cost,” says Bill Millholland of Case Design/Remodeling Inc. “It’ll make the bathroom look much more sophisticated,” he notes. “Typically a bigger mirror is better than a smaller one, but consider its proportion to the room-it will look awkward if it’s too big. For an easy, elegant look, add sconces on each side of a framed mirror,” adds Alderman.
If your faucets have forever lost their shine, you might consider replacing those too, even for as low as $20. You’ll want to make sure your lighting and faucet finishes all match, Millholland recommends. The most popular bathroom faucet finishes are brushed nickel, followed by polished chrome and satin nickel, according to an NKBA trend report.
Terrylynn Fisher has seen multitude of colors in bathroom countertops, sinks, and tubs-from pink sinks to brown tubs to baby blue tiles. But it’s not easy to sell a pea-green tub, and it’s pricey to replace it. Fisher, a salesperson with Empire Realty in Walnut Creek, Calif., has covered up such bathroom color dilemmas by hiring pros to refinish the problem areas in a neutral white. Two national franchises, Miracle Method and Permaglaze, can refinish porcelain, fiberglass, and acrylic, among others, and repair cracks to make the material look new. Fisher has found that to be a cost-effective solution: She paid Miracle Method about $350 to refinish a pink bathtub and shower and about $200 or the counter and sinks, changing them to a neutral white. For $550, the change completely transformed the once-colorful bathroom into a more pleasing neutral one for resale that no longer had buyers grimacing.
Create That Hotel Feeling
Luxurious bathrooms do more than help home owners unwind-they also help attract buyers. For a spa-like ambiance, bring in fluffy towels, attractive wall decor, dimmable lighting, soothing sounds, fragrant scents, and accessories in cool and calming colors.
Kitchen appliances that are mismatched or dated can be difficult for buyers to look past. As long as the appliances still work, an increasingly popular option is painting them. Several companies, such as Rust-Oleum and Krylon, make special paint to spray or brush over appliances in black, white, or other shades. Stainless steel paint, such as Thomas’ Liquid Stainless Steel, will give a refrigerator, dishwasher, or range a brushed-on look. Costs for the special paints start at $19.95; you can often find kits designed for specific appliances. Of course, you’ll want to disclose such updates to buyers and make them aware of any upkeep issues.
Box it up. Most people pack up after they sell the house, but why wait? Sellers should start packing as early as possible. Ideally, before they put the home on the market.
Show off the laundry space. Buyers will be impressed if the laundry room is fresh, inviting, and organized. Make
sure light bulbs are working, and hide soaps in a cupboard or line them neatly on a shelf.
Focus their attention. Pick a focal point for each room. For example, the focal point of a bedroom is usually the bed, and for a music room, it’s the piano. If a room is somewhat empty, you can help draw attention to a corner with a plant or mirror.
Hardwoods are on most buyers’ wish lists (red oak being the most popular, according to the National Floor Trends 2010 market study). Hardwood flooring averages about $5 to $15 per square foot, plus about $2 to $8 per square foot for installation, so it’ll be pricier than vinyl, carpet, or other options. But it can make a huge difference. You may find less expensive hardwoods by going directly to installers, who buy their inventory wholesale, Fisher notes. “If it’s a small area, the upgrade won’t be as expensive,” says remodeling industry expert Bill Millholland, an executive vice president with Case Design/Remodeling Inc. To imitate the look for less, try vinyl or Bamboo flooring, a sustainable resource that resembles wood but averages $4 to $6 per square foot.
Call the experts. Dirty, worn carpet may benefit from professional cleaning, ranging about $180 to $390 for approximately 1,300 square-foot.
Refinish it for cheap. Practically any beaten-up or worn hardwood can be salvaged with refinishing, about $340 to $900 for a 15×15 foot room, according to CostHelper.com. Call a professional tile company to freshen up ceramic tile grout-or, for do-it-yourselfers, hardware stores sell grout paint.
Add a layer on top or bottom. One other option for lackluster flooring: Use an area rug, even over carpets. It’ll add a splash of color, and bring definition to living areas. “If you are adding inexpensive carpeting, consider upgrading the carpet pad,” Fisher says. “It’s only about 50 cents more per square foot and it will make a budget carpet feel luxurious,” she says.
New lighting fixtures are a quick way to create ambiance. Just avoid brass lighting fixtures, which had their heyday in the 1980’s. More contemporary choices are brushed nickel and chrome finishes. Also, rust and oil-rubbed bronze are becoming more popular as more home owners set out to have lighting that doubles as an accent feature, says kitchen and bath designer David Alderman, 2011 National Kitchen and Bath Association president. Use lighting to highlight special features. Pendant lights can show off that kitchen island or sconces to illuminate a foyer. Under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen is affordable and makes countertops sparkle, Millholland says. Fluorescent light strips tend to be more affordable and easier to install than puck lights.
Go natural. Open those blinds and wipe down the windows. You would be surprised at how much a simple window cleaning can instantly improve natural light.
Save on energy costs. Compact fluorescent bulbs remain the go-to choice for energy efficiency. Early CFLs didn’t always deliver on light quality or convenience, but they now come in warm, neutral, and cool colors, and major manufacturers are now enclosing the spiral tube in a conventional bulb shape.
Don’t forge the basement. The biggest problem with basements is a lack of adequate lighting. While the natural lighting flow often can’t be altered, adding lights will create a sense of open airy space on a par with the rest of the house. Pain walls an opaque color so natural light will appear brighter.
A few gallons of paint can go a long way in making a home more chic-and the cost can’t be beat. Covering a 12×12 foot room with two coats will cost you about $50 to $100, including supplies. “A home’s interior painted in a pale yellow or light green, or even beige, gives buyers an idea of what they can do with a space,” says Bill Fields, vice president of merchandising for the Lowe’s paint division. “Reserve darker or trendier colors for accent walls or to highlight details such as a fireplace or an arched doorway,” says Erika Woelfel, director of color marketing at BEHR Process Coop., a paint supply company based in Santa Ana, Calif. Common color picks for accent walls are dark red, green (not lime green, though), or a stone gray. Or instead of introducing a new color, use the paint in the rest of the room as a guide, choosing a color that’s three shades darker. To bring depth to a long hallway, Fields suggests painting the wall at the end of a long hallway a different shade than the others.
Shine with sheen. Flat or matte finish is difficult to clean and shows scuffs. Increasing the sheen can brighten rooms. Egg shell or satin bounces light off the walls to make spaces seem larger. Semi-gloss, higher on the sheen level, is a good option for kitchens and bathrooms since it’s easy to clean, Fields says. And gloss, the shiniest of all, is best for big “statement” areas, such as the front door, Woelfel says. But gloss accentuates flaws, so use it sparingly.
Create monochromatic harmony. Use different variations of the same color throughout the home. The Paint Quality lnstitute, a paint education resource, refers to this as “layering.” Choose a color card, which usually has about three or four similar hues, and use two or more colors from the single card. Use the lighter colors in the main living areas and darker shades for the rooms that branch out, such as the bedrooms, Woelfel suggests.
Paint the baseboards white. But don’t use stark white, which can take on gray tones against some wall colors, says Woelfel , who suggests antique white or Navajo white as better options. If the home has dated stained-wood trim, simply painting it off-white can bring it up-to-date. But don’t forget to use a primer first.
7 Ways to create a Cohesive Style
Small updates will have a more dramatic impact if home owners are careful to keep the styles consistent and find ways to draw out the home’s best features. Here are some tips from experts on how to make small improvements pay off.
1. Concentrate on big impact rooms. Be selective about what you do. Kitchens and bathrooms still usually offer the most bang for your buck, says remodeling industry expert Bill Millholland, executive vice president with Case Design/Remodeling Inc.
2. Go neutral. Don’t introduce too much color to the “bones” of the home. You don’t want buyers to see too much bold color on cabinets and walls and say, “‘I have nothing to go with red,'” says Terrylynn Fisher, a staging consultant at Empire Realty in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Buyers will have a tough time seeing past it.” Stay neutral with walls, cabinets, and fixtures. Bring in pops of colors through accessories.”
3. Consult an expert. A professional stager or remodeler can work within your budget and pinpoint where best to spend your dollars. For a list of contractors or interior decorators, ask colleagues or friends for recommendations or check the web sites of organizations such as the Real Estate Staging Association or the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
4. Know when inexpensive won’t work. Certain projects simply can’t be done cheaply, especially in a high-end home. “If it’s a luxury home, replacing the vanity with an off-the-shelf product from a big-box store isn’t going to cut it,” Millholland says. “Most consumers will be able to tell that you did something cheap. They won’t even see the value of it, so you’re better off cleaning what’s there and having it appear its best.”
5. Find inspiration. For design guidance, grab a catalog from Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, or Williams Sonoma. “Anything you see in there is fairly consistent with what the average consumer is looking for,” Millholland says.
6. Plan you budget. Even small projects can carry a premium if a contractor is needed for installation. For labor savings, bulk your work and grouping several projects in a full day’s work rather than hiring a handyman or contractor for separate hourly jobs.
7. Compliment the architecture. “If it’s a two-story colonial home, avoid overly contemporary updates, such as stainless steel countertops. Likewise, if the exterior is modern or contemporary, stay away from traditional styles, such as dark wood or classic lighting fixtures,” Millholland says.