Deciding what to fix when selling house
May 14, 2021 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I want to sell my condo in the next year, and I'm not sure how much it's worth it to fix it up. I know the real answer to this question is "contact a real estate" agent, so assume I know that and will do that when I can let someone in my house, but for now, I want to hear thoughts of the hive mind while I'm making plans.

I've lived in my condo for over twenty years, and the only major thing I've done is replace the furnace/AC and water heater (about three years ago). I would guess that I should at least paint and replace the carpet. The kitchen and bathrooms are totally functional, but showing some wear. The deck needs either repair or replacement, but the price of lumber concerns me. (I didn't want to put money into the condo previously for complicated legal reasons I won't go into here.)

I'm hearing lots of different things. One is that if I don't fix it up, I'll probably end up selling it to someone who wants to flip it and will lowball me. Another is that if I'm not redoing the kitchen, anyone who buys it will want to do that and also choose carpet and paint. I don't want a huge amount of hassle (so I'm not redoing the kitchen).

Redfin calls the market I'm in "somewhat competitive," but I've also just gotten a flier from a realtor saying that my particular condo complex is very competitive and places sell in six days for asking price or above. I live in a college town, and I'm not sure how COVID and remote classes have affected the price of real estate here and whether that will change.

So I just want to hear thoughts on how to determine what's worth repairing and replacing when you sell a house.
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should just make sure everything works. Make sure your faucet doesn't leak, you toilet fills like normal, your floor isn't broken, your hot water turns on. All the plugs and light switches work, stuff like that.

If it were a single-family home it might be different, but condos sell at solid discounts, even in the current market, so spending lots to make it 100% brand new is way more market-dependent.

If your deck is unsafe, you should replace it. Unless it is crazy huge, the cost of labor will dwarf the materials prices.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Only paint the walls or replace the carpets if they’re manky. The buyers will want their own colour scheme anyway.
posted by rd45 at 7:46 AM on May 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Something that agents do for you that you can totally do yourself is "comps" - look at the prices and features of recent sales in your area of comparatively similar property, and look at who has new floors and paint, redone kitchens and bathrooms, etc. If two similar places to yours but with/without remodels only sold by a $10K difference, you're going to spend way more than that and it's not worth it. If a new kitchen consistently makes a 50K difference and you think you can get yours done for less than that, consider it.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:46 AM on May 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

There's no simple answer, it depends on your market.

A refreshed, move-in ready condo in a hot market can prompt a serious bidding war; that same condo that will need a month of work to get rid of its lived-in look will sit at the bottom of the market (and the buyer will probably fix it and flip it).

Do what Lyn Never says. Find a reputable local agent and ask some questions.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:30 AM on May 14, 2021

Yep, what Lyn Never said. Just to elaborate on the method a bit in case it's helpful: if you look on Zillow or or whatever, you can switch to "Sold Listings". This will show you sales that have already happened, as opposed to properties that are up for sale but haven't sold yet. You can plug in a price range and a set of features (number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, zip code, condo vs house, etc.). The level of specificity that you need to get good comps will depend on how many sales happen in your area: in major metropolitan areas, there will be tons of sales, so you'll probably need to be as specific as possible to get a not-overwhelming number of comps; in less populated areas, you might just put a few of the most important criteria (maybe condo and number of bedrooms). In terms of results, be careful about the sale date. Zillow in my area has sales going back to something like 2017 or 2018, and prices have changed significantly since then, so be sure to weigh that in your calculus. If you have enough sales from 2021 or 2021 and 2020, might be wisest to only use those.

If I were doing this, I probably would go for a spreadsheet with columns for year sold, address, condo vs house (if possible, maybe just use condo comps and not house comps), number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, price per square foot (which you can calculate), days on market, and then a spare column at the end for comments (e.g. I might write something like, for example: "recently-renovated high-end kitchen; unrenovated 1960s bathrooms; north-facing so generally dark"). Then, once you've gone through 20 or 30 listings or whatever, you should be able to get a sense of the general price per square foot in your area for different levels of upgrades, with some level of squish for subjective niceness (big windows, light, layout, etc.). It should become readily apparent whether or not particular upgrades are worth doing. As Lyn Never says, if places with renovated kitchens are selling for $50k more (or $X more per square foot, where in the aggregate that is $50k), you can then determine if it is feasible for you to do for under $47k (6% to realtor). Same with bathroom remodels. Of course, price isn't the only criterion: renovated places might also sell faster (days on market), which might also be a consideration for you.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:34 AM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

A refreshed, move-in ready condo in a hot market can prompt a serious bidding war; that same condo that will need a month of work to get rid of its lived-in look will sit at the bottom of the market (and the buyer will probably fix it and flip it).

And this is so area dependent I think. I'm in a really hot market and our real estate agent said if we are looking for a fixer upper we will be competing with developers who want to flip it. Even if there's a bidding war for something they can still flip it and make a big profit just based on how insanely high prices get around here. Move-in ready (with some small fixes) was the way we went. You are competing with actual people usually instead of companies.

The advice to look at the comps is great, you really get a feel for your local market.
posted by JenMarie at 8:52 AM on May 14, 2021

I agree with Lyn that you need to know what you're up against locally. I disagree with the blanket advice to not paint or replace carpet because buyers will want to choose their own. This really depends on the market. If you're up against mostly other houses of similar age and condition, it's probably a waste of money to replace the carpet or paint. But if most of the other homes near by have been better-maintained than yours, not doing it can put you at a real disadvantage. Also, my experience is that if you're in an area and price point where most of your buying pool will be first-time buyers, they are less likely to want to deal with painting and replacing carpet. Yes, logically a lower price (or a credit) for them to do it themselves is equivalent (or even better), but home buying isn't logical, and some people don't want to deal with the hassle and potentially unknown costs of these simple things immediately after buying.

In terms of repairs, my main goal is usually to fix anything that is a safety issue, or that would stand out to an inspector as a red flag that the house hasn't been maintained well. Basic things that are broken and appear to have been that way for a long time send the signal that the owner is not doing a good job on maintenance. My goal is to avoid giving an inspector even a hint of that. That doesn't mean I fix every single issue, but if it's a choice of spending 10 bucks replacing a faucet washer to keep it from dripping, or letting an inspector find it and tell the buyers that I'm not keeping things up, it's a no brainer.
posted by primethyme at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

There are two types of people who buy condos: People who hate maintenance and want to move in immediately (they'll paint and replace carpet but that's about it), and people who are happy to do work (and will probably flip it to the first group). Unlike with houses, there's not really the middle group of people who want to spend time molding it into their perfect home, those people buy houses.

When I sold my condo I just decided to sell to the flippers and accept the lower payment. It ended up taking way longer than I expected and I don't think it was a good decision. My market is ridiculously hot for houses, but lukewarm for condos right now so there were very few flippers interested in buying a condo as they were all working on houses
posted by JZig at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

A fresh coat of paint with a freshly cleaned carpet might work. Could you hire a company to come in and do a super thorough, deep cleaning? Seems like that would be the lowest effort and cost.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2021

I’d touch up the paint (including baseboards) and clean the carpets.
posted by synecdoche at 9:13 AM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

We have a similar dilemma and here's where we landed. Knowing that you can never be 100% sure what all buyers want and need, and taste will vary by person, focus changes on anything that is broken, or glaringly ugly/dated to the point where a large majority of buyers would question their ability to "live with it" for a stretch of time. When browsing, I find that there are very few houses that are perfectly suited to my likes, which is normal/ok, but the most disappointing ones are those priced high due to upgrades that I don't like aesthetically, because now if I buy it I'd be at the end of my budgeted and feel like I'm wasting money to rip out something perfectly new based simply on my tastes...but I also want to live in a house I like!! On the flip side, if there's a ton of work needed or really old glaring elements everywhere, I start calculating costs and feeling overwhelmed. The sweet spot is houses that match my taste, or houses that are perfectly clean and livable but not overly updated with high end finishes. That way, I could live in it comfortably and have guests, and improve them to match my style over time. So all that said, if your house isnt already heavily updated, I wouldn't overdo it on anything except the most necessary bits, and even then I wouldn't invest beyond making them serviceable/not an eye sore.
posted by amycup at 9:43 AM on May 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think there are basically two different kinds of real estate market.

First kind has basically two kinds of properties on the market. Those that are in fantastic condition and move-in ready (often, have been staged to meet the anticipated preferences of potential buyers). Those that need work and are flippable. Prices reflect which category you are in. There is usually no 'in between' or partially done option in these areas, so typically if you're close to 'fantastic' it's worth going the whole hog but if not then you're in the flip category and you might as well leave it. (Note that what 'fantastic' means is location specific but you can see from the pictures of comparable properties.)

Second kind has a number of places that people have lived in for a while, that are serviceable but might be in better or worse condition. The 'best' homes aren't always staged or super fashionable but they look like you could move in right away without hassles. In this kind of market improvements that get it as close as possible to 'no work required right away' are more likely to be worthwhile. That includes paint, flooring, freshening up fixtures cheaply, fix anything that's obviously broken.

Where I live is in the first category, mainly for demographic reasons (it's estate sales and older people downsizing, or it's just been improved by fashionable homeowners). Go about a mile down the road and it's regular family homes in a wide variety of conditions.

In the absence of real estate advice, you can work out which of the two categories your own location is in from what's on the market now and/or has sold in the last year or so. Then you just need to assess your own place as objectively as possible and work out where it fits in.
posted by plonkee at 10:11 AM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

You know that anything on a "flier from a realtor" not based on publicly recorded facts is at best a selective version of the truth, right? I have gotten fliers that were closer to outright lies. Choose an agent based on recommendations.

What's the actual sale-to-list and days on the market for your area? That will tell you if condition is likely to matter. In general, renovations have a negative return, with the exception being those that bring up one part of the house to the standard of the rest of it. Like, if you have hardwood and tile everywhere and the one bathroom with linoleum sticks out like a sore thumb. But if everything is showing the wear of 20 years of living, do not bother unless it's a real buyer's market and it truly will languish. The hotter the market, the more likely doing anything major is going to take time and cost money. A coat of paint? Sure. Builder-grade carpet because of stains and rips? Sure. Maybe some inexpensive plants or grass if the yard is noticeably worse than the neighbors.
posted by wnissen at 2:26 PM on May 14, 2021

I just sold a house (after a lot of work) in a bad area where prices are not insane like they are in most parts of the US and the thing that seemed to spark the most interest was the brand-new carpet and paint, which also meant the place was cleaned extremely well. I also replaced all the outlet covers (super easy, makes it pop). For bonus points, if you want, have an inspector come through and point out stuff that a buyer might use as leverage, and fix some of that. But unless you're in a crazy market you'll probably receive the buyer's inspection when they want you to fix stuff, so I didn't get my own inspection beyond the very minimum needed to get an occupancy permit.

Beyond that I think I'd ask your realtor what's worth doing, mine had some suggestions we took and others we didn't due to time/cost/too much stuff to do.
posted by possibilityleft at 5:36 PM on May 14, 2021

Typical advice for home selling is to de-personalize the space. Remove the tchotchkes, knick-knacks, personal photos, etc. so the space looks as large as possible AND the potential buyer can better imagine living in the space.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:23 AM on May 15, 2021

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