RYE, N.Y. -- No more scuffed wood paneling and worn carpets. This season educated buyers are spurning the fixer-upper for turn-key houses where they can simply drop their bags and start their new lives.
For years, houses that needed a little TLC were in demand for buyers who didn’t mind taking on do-it-yourself projects in the hope of flipping the house and turning a nice profit.
But now, buyers want their homes in move-in condition, says Fiona Dogan, a Licensed Realtor in the Rye office of Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It used to be location, location, location,” Dogan says. “Now if the house is not in near-perfect condition, it could be on the best street but nobody wants to touch it.”
She’s noticed the trend just in the past year or so. Millennials – the largest group of buyers these days – are working overtime on their careers and families and are spoiled by reality TV shows in which homes are spiffed and sparkling in a half-hour. They prefer their “gem” of a home already polished, not in the rough.
“It need not be an expensive undertaking,” says Dogan. Sometimes the sprucing-up can cost between a few hundred dollars for light staging to a few thousand for heavier repairs. But that investment will almost certainly translate to a much higher sale price. Using classic fixtures and furnishings from mid-range sources such as Home Depot generally makes more sense than buying at high-end stores, where most items are custom-made and would appeal to more specific tastes anyway, Dogan says.
Doing the work up front can add hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sale price and can save months, or even years on the market, says Dogan. Pay $50-100,000 to replace the bathrooms or kitchen – the two key areas that will help sway a buyer – and the successful sale price might go up $300,00 or $400,000, she says.
Abbie and John Morrison spent $18,000 on home improvements on their Soundview Avenue property in Rye before selling it to move to northern California. That extra effort – repainting, refreshing bathroom tile, replacing carpeting and fixtures and some other work – enabled them to boost the asking price to $1,399,000, about $200,000 beyond what they otherwise might have listed their house. It sold for an even $1.4 million within a week.
“I honestly feel that we would’ve gotten a lot less money for the house had we not done this and it would have taken a lot longer to sell,” Abbie Morrison says.
The Morrisons’ house was in good shape, but the work, organized by Dogan, gave it an updated look, covering dark paneling and colored tile with white paint.
“Everything was brightened up,” Morrison says. “It’s about making your house look like a model home so someone can imagine living there. Once we did all this, the house looked so great, I almost didn’t want to move.”
Dogan said careful cosmetic improvements send a signal to buyers that the home is well maintained down to its foundation. If the house looks shabby or a little dated, the buyer often fears that there are deeper problems waiting to surprise them.
She hires a consultant at her own cost to discuss the process with sellers, then manages the entire preparation process from start to finish. Dark wood is out. So are brass knobs and colored bathroom tile. A clean, white look is in, with chrome or polished nickel fixtures. Dogan maintains a list of trusted home repair experts, including a painter who specializes in painting bathroom tile.
After she takes two to four weeks working on a home, it can often sell in 10 days, or even less. A fixer-upper, or one that looks like it needs a lot of work might linger on the market a year or two, she says. Maybe one in a hundred buyers is looking for a home that needs work, “and then it really has to be at a bargain price,” Dogan says.
And even those who think it’s a good idea to take on the projects themselves generally do it only once.
“After that, they say, ‘I’m never doing that again,’” she says.