A Guide to Preparing Your House for Sale – A Contractor’s Perspective

We have seen many homeowners agonize over the tall task of preparing their house for sale. Of course, the objective is to get the highest price in the shortest amount of time. There are an abundance of guides detailing what to do first … items such as cleaning windows, planting flowers and baking cookies. But,…

We have seen many homeowners agonize over the tall task of preparing their house for sale. Of course, the objective is to get the highest price in the shortest amount of time. There are an abundance of guides detailing what to do first … items such as cleaning windows, planting flowers and baking cookies. But, what if the property still looks tired, ragged around the edges or just simply neglected. What can you do? More importantly, what will it cost to get the property competitive in what is clearly a buyer's market? This guide is designed to help you decide what to do and what your budget will permit.

First and foremost, be critical and objective. Candidly we have heard many people say “the buyer will just fix it up their way anyway”. That is not going to work in this market. Buyers have their choice of a wide variety of homes in your neighborhood and in your price level. The one that offers the least resistance is the one that is going to be purchased first. Just because you like the faded red shutters does not mean the next buyer to look will like them. Your favorite colors of ryegrass and periwinkle are not likely to be their favorite color. The old foil wallpaper from the 70's is not going to excite even the most ardent retro fan. Changes must be made!

Where do we start? Let's deal with the inside first.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt all wallpaper must go! It is out of date and out of style. No buyer wants that fixer upper at the price you're asking. Every realtor we ever met suggests that this is true. Believe it! How much is this going to cost? As with everything it depends. How many layers of paper are on the wall? Is there paint in between layers? Be honest with the contractor when he comes to give you an estimate. It results in a significant difference in time and cost. Was the paper professionally installed? Were the walls covered with sizing before the paper was hung? If so, you have an easier task at hand.

Back to the cost … a contractor will request that you agree to a “time and materials” transaction to protect himself. If you can not answer the number of layers question. If the walls were sized and have just one layer of paper you are probably going to spend $ 350 to $ 450 per room. This should also cover the spackle and wall repair that may result from scrapping the paper and paste residue off the walls.

Now we come to painting. Most realtors will tell you to use a neutral non-controversial color. Light tans and off-whites will serve that purpose quite well. The one precaution to consider when selecting a color is to be sure to provide sufficient contrast to the trim. This is especially true if you have crown moldings, chair rails or shadow boxes. They are designed to be architecturally appealing therefore, let them stand out. As to the proper finish, once again, try to be objective. If you have a number of imperfections in the walls or ceilings an eggshell finish will exaggerate them. Flat or matte finish will mask those imperfections to a large degree. Save the eggshell finish for your bathroom and kitchen. Eggshell reflects light and there before makes the rooms look lighter and brighter. You can figure on spending about $ 300 to $ 500 per room to paint.

The variables involved include the amount of wall repair and the number of coats to be applied. Light tan or cream colors will not cover medium to dark colors in one coat. Any color or finish change will require two coats. Forget the primer and paint in the same can … it's a marketing ploy. You still will need two coats.

Take a hard look at your kitchen. It may very well need upgrading. Dark cabinetry absorbs light and makes for a smaller, darker room. That is not what sells today. There are options available to you. Cabinets can be painted. Hardware can be replaced. Of course if you do decide to paint the cabinets the “wood look” will be compromised. Painting cabinets is a four part process. First they must be de-greased. You will be amazed at how much grease accumulates on cabinets even across the room from the stove. Once prepared then they must be primed, then two finish coats should be applied. Be sure to match the appliances when selecting a color. The anticipated cost will be determined by the number of doors, drawers and side panels. Count them and figure about $ 50 each. The small ones will offset the large to get a fair number. For example 24 doors, drawer fronts and side panels will likely cost $ 1200. This does not include the ceiling, walls or other trim.

Another alternative to provide a completely new look to your kitchen is cabinet refacing. This involves replacing those doors, drawer fronts, side panels and the areas surrounding the doors and drawers. While certainly more expensive than painting this option offers a brand new kitchen entirely. The cost depends upon the style of door selected, the stain and finish and most importantly the type of wood that you select. Refacing is probably going to be in the range of $ 5000 to $ 7000.

A new counter top will create a new modern looking kitchen with a high cost of recovery at sale. The cost of granite countertops has dropped dramatically as many more vendors are offering this product. This should be shopped since it's certainly become very competitive.

The next item to discuss is the bathroom. Much of the same principals apply to baths as kitchens. Light, bright colors and an eggshell finish. Replacing that dated vanity is always a great idea. A new vanity with sinks and faucets can cost between $ 250 and $ 400 installed, once again, depending on the style selected. If mildew exists, an exhaust fan is appropriate. They can be vented right up to the ridge vent or out to the eaves if vented into the attic. The cost for this is about $ 150 plus the cost of the fan. New grouting on the tile is also always a good idea.

The remaining rooms deserve a hard look at the floors. If carpets are stretched, stained or just worn and out of date then several options are available. There are several reasonably priced mid-grade carpet alternatives. With a good pad and all the old carpet replaced a new carpet can be installed for around $ 400 for a 12×16 ft. room. Hardwood floors are also a major plus when offering a house for sale. Again, there are some quite reasonable options available. Bamboo is the wood currently in style. That same 12×16 room can be installed at an approximate cost of $ 1500. If you already have hardwood and need refinishing that can be done for $ 2 to $ 2.50 per square foot. $ 400 +/- would do that same sized room.

In the next article we'll look at the outside.