How important is perfect hardwood to selling a house?
January 11, 2008 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Do we really need to refinish our hardwood floors before we list our condo?

We are preparing to list our house, which is a nice 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo in Wrigleyville in Chicago. As part of the process, our Realtor brought in a "stager" this week to tell us all the things we should do to make it ready. One of the first suggestions was to refinish our hardwood floors, which run throughout the house. Our Realtor agreed, and opined that even if we offered a credit to redo the floors, leaving them as they are now would likely lead to lowball offers. Plus, she said that our condo is a vintage rehab but the comparable places for sale are new construction, so people will be used to seeing pretty, sparkling, new floors (and therefore ours should be pretty too).

The floors aren't stained or damaged, they are just worn from 4 years of living in them (2 years with one kid and another 2 with two kids, and with dogs). The worn spots do look pretty worn down.

We were inclined to redo the floors, but after talking to flooring people we learned that we would need to move all the furniture out of our house, stay out for at least 3-5 days, then move it all back in. This includes some heavy stuff like a giant dining room table and a piano and big solid bookshelves, so we would need professional movers and a storage space. Total cost for everything would likely be about $5,000.

One flooring guy, to his credit, said "if you are just doing this to list your house I think you're crazy. You'll have to move all your furniture three times (out, back in, and out when we sell). And you'll have to live somewhere else for a week which will be a big hassle. If the floors aren't damaged, just offer a credit. Buyers are more worried about structural issues; they'll be able to see past worn floors."

After all that, here's my question: should we pay the expense and endure the hassle to refinish the floors before we list? Realtors or home lookers: does it really make that much of a difference? Would a credit of $3,000-$5,000 make you change your mind if it does? I think we would prefer to do nothing and offer some money if we could feel reasonably sure that it would not alienate potential buyers.
posted by AgentRocket to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My personal take is that I would NOT do it, unless everything else in the house was perfect and fully updated (bath, kitchen, etc). You won't compete with new construction for the people who want a new place if those aren't done so don't bother with the floor. There are plenty of people who don't want new construction in Chicago, so I'd play up the things that cater to them if you have any - original details, woodwork, things like that.
posted by true at 11:59 AM on January 11, 2008

What about offering to have the floors finished after you move out but before a buyer moves in? You could put it in the contract. That way the buyer doesn't have to bother with finding a good person, making arrangements, etc., and you only have to move your stuff once.

Alternately, can you find a refinisher that will (a) use water-based polyurethane so you don't have to stay away for 5 days, and (b) will do your place in two stages so you can slide the furniture from one side of the condo to another?
posted by boomchicka at 12:01 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You haven't said too much about how good/bad they really look. As someone who bought his first condo about a year and a half ago now, I can tell you that unless there were obvious scratches or water damage or something, I didn't know jack about how close a hardwood floor was to needing to be redone.

Now, if it's obviously really old wood flooring with loads of nicks and wear/tear, that's one thing.

With the housing marketing being as poor as it is right now, though, I'd personally be reluctant to put lots of money into a place just to try and sell it. Contractors prices for doing the work don't seem to be coming down a ton (though my knowledge is admittedly limited), but I do know that housing prices are either stagnant or dropping... so investing money for an upgrade isn't going to do much for you.

Honestly, if your floors look pretty nice but it's your realtor/whoever telling you to redo it, I'd say don't do it. If you think they have legitimate concerns about some scratches, warping, water damage etc - only then would I start getting estimates to see what it'll cost, and consider doing it.
posted by twiggy at 12:06 PM on January 11, 2008

I am currently looking at houses to buy. Floor quality does play a part in the attractiveness of the house but only so far. I have seen houses in terrible locations with brilliantly perfect and obviously newly redone floors. These houses make me say, "Beautiful floors! Shitty location. Next." I have also seen houses in great locations with terrible floors and said, "Great location! We can redo the floors before we move in!"

I think not redoing them and offering a credit for the floor condition would be the best option.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:11 PM on January 11, 2008

I wouldn't bother with it unless you find your place isn't selling at all, or you are being consistently low-balled. I think serious condo buyers aren't going to care too much about floors, which they can fix, but things like issues with the building, etc. Your flooring guy sounds spot on.
posted by chunking express at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

As much as it pains me to say this, you could always put carpet over it, and let the buyer know there is hardwood underneath that could be refinished. It would be a lot cheaper and easier for you, and the floors would look nice.

I don't know what the change in value is between a carpeted condo and a condo with hardwood floors that needs to be refinished.
posted by Quonab at 12:14 PM on January 11, 2008

And I don't know how Chicago compare to Toronto, but in Toronto you almost never find 3 bedroom condos. More so, new building usually have tiny floor plans compared to old buildings. You'll see 700 sq. foot 2 bedrooms and ridiculous stuff like that. If Chicago is similar your "old" condo will look like a mansion compared to new units.
posted by chunking express at 12:15 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

As much as it pains me to say this, you could always put carpet over it, and let the buyer know there is hardwood underneath that could be refinished

Exposed floors that needed a refinish wouldn't make me skip over a place, but having to take up carpet just to get to the floors probably would. Plus, what a waste of materials it would be to lay down carpet that will most likely be immediately discarded. No offense to Quonab, but I strongly suggest you not go that route.
posted by boomchicka at 12:19 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think offering a credit is fine. People that shop for older buildings are more about quality details than glossy finishes.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2008

*shrug* Some people prefer carpet.
posted by Quonab at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2008

No. Not at all necessary.

Do keep in mind that the 'stager' could be making money from commissions for referrals to refinishers, and your realtor could, too.
posted by jamjam at 12:35 PM on January 11, 2008

We sold a house earlier in the year with scratched-up hardwood floors. We purchased a special kind of floor polish at Home Depot or Lowes that made them look incredibly shiny and new. As soon as we shined up the floors we got an offer. I would try this first.

Sorry, I don't remember the name of the product - just that it wasn't something that you could find at Target or Wal-Mart. I think it came in a grey bottle.
posted by Ostara at 12:44 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

My parents are master stagers having just staged and sold their house in the fall. Hardwood floors were very important to the people coming to look at the house, so, in places like the finished basement, they replaced the linoleum with a hardwood laminate.

But upstairs in the living room and the bedrooms, where there have been 15 years of dogs, they simply cleaned the floors with a high-shine, waxy hard wood cleaner the day before there was an open house. This helped keep up the visual appeal of the house, and no one tried to low ball them because of the scratches.
posted by anthropoid at 12:51 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ostara - you beat me to the punch.
posted by anthropoid at 12:52 PM on January 11, 2008

If the floors are finished with polyurethane, a fresh coat might improve them a bit. Not as much as sanding everything down and putting a new finish on, but just a bit. Test this in a closet first to see if it comes out well.

You could always lower the price instead of offering a credit.
posted by yohko at 12:58 PM on January 11, 2008

Just as another data point: We bought two years ago, and knew from the start that we'd be carpeting any house we moved into. I live with a recording engineer and footfall noise upstairs would be a bad idea for the downstairs studio. So we didn't give a damn that the hardwood floors were scratched up when we bought our house. And we liked that they weren't already carpeted, because it allowed us to get the extra-thick padding we want for soundproofing that your typical person wouldn't have used.

Which is to say that it's just going to vary wildly on the buyer. If you're not in a huge hurry to sell, why not try selling with the credit, and keep the expensive inconvenient refinishing project for later if you get desperate? At the very least, that buys you some time to start paring down any clutter in preparation for your eventual move, so you're not wasting time and money moving crap out and back into the house.
posted by Stacey at 1:06 PM on January 11, 2008

It's true that, all else being equal, most buyers want a place that needs no work. Also, a lot of people can't "see through" certain conditions and imagine the place at its best. Of two identical units, the one with brand-new paint can sell for many thousands more than the cost of the paint job.

But the answer to your question really depends on the real estate market in your town and in your price bracket. Are there other vintage units for sale? Are there buyers looking specifically for vintage? If so, find out what the other vintage condos look like inside and out. It's important to know how competing properties are showing.

What you're really wondering is how much faster your place will sell, or how much more it'll close for -- and whether it's worth the trouble. Logic has so little to do with which places are attractive to buyers; you really have to ignore what makes sense and see what kind of "first impression" competition you're up against.
posted by wryly at 1:07 PM on January 11, 2008

Rather than carpet, could you get a few throw rugs to cover some or most of the really worn spots?
posted by willnot at 2:37 PM on January 11, 2008

One of the first suggestions was to refinish our hardwood floors, which run throughout the house. Our Realtor agreed, and opined that even if we offered a credit to redo the floors, leaving them as they are now would likely lead to lowball offers. Plus, she said that our condo is a vintage rehab but the comparable places for sale are new construction, so people will be used to seeing pretty, sparkling, new floors (and therefore ours should be pretty too).

Does this mean that your condo is in an old building? If so, egads, don't bother refinishing the floors. Comparing the condition of hardwoods in vintage to new construction is silly, especially if we're talking old hardwoods vs new laminate.

At least wait and see if you get lowball offers. If your agent mostly works with new construction, this may be her preferences speaking, and may not reflect the sort of people who will be serious about buying your house. These folks do this for a living, I get that, but it's not $5000 of their money, either.
posted by desuetude at 3:34 PM on January 11, 2008

these folks = stager and realtor
posted by desuetude at 3:34 PM on January 11, 2008

We used to live in a house where the floors were in terrible shape in places (especially on the stairs, where we had taken up a smelly carpet to reveal that the floor had been, at various times, covered with runners of varying widths with the exposed edges painted assorted noxious shades--it was all stripey. We never fixed it because we were happy just to be able to walk on it.

We assumed we'd have to refinish the floors when we moved out; as it turned out, the buyers put into their purchase offer the stipulation that we NOT refinish the floors. I don't know why; maybe they meant to put down carpet.

We sold in a very different market than you're facing today, but we ended up paying some of the buyers' closing costs, which we were happy to do because they saved us so much by not asking us to do a whole bunch of assorted cosmetic things we thought we'd have to do. If I were in a situation like that again, I'd offer a credit toward refinishing or carpet, but only if I weren't getting offers without it.
posted by not that girl at 4:34 PM on January 11, 2008

I just did a floor for someone who could not afford the refinisher's price. We scrubbed it well with steel wool and TSP and put two new coats of poly over the old and it looked beautiful. Not all people have vision and a new shiny floor can make all the difference.
If you had some where you could stay for a few days you could pick a couple of rooms and do it yourself. I think the fumes are not good to be around and I would resist the temptation to stay in the house.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:50 PM on January 11, 2008

As a past and future homebuyer, I'd much, much rather have floors with a few scratches on them and a cheaper house price than having everything redone perfect and shiny.
posted by Melsky at 8:52 AM on January 12, 2008

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