You may have read a recent blog of mine, which mentioned the fact we were selling our family home. With a growing young family, my wife and I decided we need more land for the kids to play on, so we committed to build a new house on what is currently a big pile of dirt.
While excited to build OUR house, this move put us in a position I hate being in: forced to sell. In any business deal, where you HAVE to close, time is your enemy – which can make you vulnerable to a low-ball offer. The ability to walk away from any deal is a valuable piece of leverage we would be without in this particular case. Unfortunately, when you build a house while currently living in another home, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of walking away from the deal table.
We’ll miss our current house, as it was the first my wife and I picked out together. When purchased, it was just her and me living there – newlyweds. Then we got a dog, had a baby boy, and then another – a very typical and natural progression…
The problem with selling our house this summer was that Calgary (the city we live in) is in the worst recession in 35 years given oil’s price collapse. The housing market has been weak, as you can imagine, with prices down roughly 5-10% year over year. What’s more, it was the middle of summer when we had to list our house… a time when, in a good market or bad, real estate activity is subdued. Long and short of it, the deck was stacked against us given that we wanted to get top dollar (like every homeowner) for the house…
So, we treated the whole process like a business deal – removed emotions. We knew that if the house was to sell quickly, and at a significant premium to what we bought it for, a number of things had to happen…
Work, personal effort and some hard cash were required. We would have to fix up the wear and tear damage any family will do to a home. The house would need to be staged perfectly. And some upgrades were needed to make it look modern and fresh…
We committed $9,000 to make the place ‘show ready’. On top of that, we priced it on the higher-end of any comparables that sold during the previous 30 days in the area. We also knew the MLS write-up had to perfectly articulate the features of the home so to properly portray a lifestyle, not simply an asset. Most people just let their realtor write the property description on MLS… that’s a huge mistake. The realtor has no connection to the property, doesn’t understand the lifestyle benefits it can bring, and may overlook some valuable upgrades.
Lastly, once all that was done, we had to find a top-notch photographer to beautifully capture the home. It had to stand out online against all the other properties it was competing against…
First, let me tell you how we used that $9,000 ($9,100 to be exact) renovation budget. I believe this $9,000 commitment got us an extra $20k on our sale price, and was the key reason the house sold in just a weekend.
1. Refinished hardwood floors on main level: It cost $3,500 and was worth every penny. Our house was ten years old, and the hardwoods were finished with a stain that clearly showed the house was from the mid-2000s; not to mention the fact that my dog left scratches throughout the hardwood flooring. Look at the contrast between our original, darker finish compared to the natural, bright look – the key is to make the space look bigger while keeping with the current trends:
2. Painted wear and tear spots and brightened up main floor: We spent $2,000 on painting the house where needed and brightening up the bedrooms. We also refinished the front porch with a new stain – first impressions matter. Make sure your entrance looks brand new!
3. Replaced light fixtures: $1,200 spent on light fixtures, and wow… hardware makes a huge difference in any home (handles on cabinets, faucets, etc.). And the light fixtures within are the jewelry for the house. We replaced the entrance boob light with a chandelier ($400), every light fixture in the bathrooms, and the staircase. This added elegance to the house.
4. Backyard: $700 spent on re-sodding damaged areas from my dog and planting new flowers and staging flower baskets. You want prospective buyers to feel like the backyard is an extension of the house. In order to do that, it needs to be high quality.
5. Staging: $1,000 spent on some random pieces of furniture – smaller dining table, end tables, etc. (all things we will use for our new house) and the place looked so much more modern and welcoming. Many buyers don’t have vision, and staging is critically important to showing them what the house is capable of.
6. Storage: $380 spent… When listing your house, you need to depersonalize and declutter. What I mean by that is take your family photos down. Take any personal stuff off the walls – no magnets on the fridge or ‘to-do’ lists. And most importantly, minimize the clutter by getting rid of bulky furniture. Open the place up and make it feel airy and spacious. We had a storage cube ordered prior to listing and filled it with as much of our furniture and belongings as possible. It’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the years. Nothing turns off a prospective buyer more, other than a bad smelling house, than a cramped and cluttered home.
7. Carpet clean: Cleanliness is critical for a prospective buyer. Your listed house should be spotless when shown. And nowhere is dirt more noticeable than on carpets and countertops. Moreover, clean carpets stand out – and they smell good. It cost us $320 to have the carpets professionally cleaned.
So, with the renovations complete (took about two weeks), I wrote up a description of the house for the MLS listing. Here it is:
“A unique opportunity to live in a stylishly updated home in the DESIRABLE southwest neighborhood of __________. Feel as though you’re stepping into a brand new home but with the luxury of a mature, professionally landscaped yard in a well-established community. Over 3100 sq. ft of beautifully crafted living space in this METICULOUS home. Open concept showcases bright, wide-plank, Canadian maple hardwood floors, large windows + 9-foot ceilings on main floor. Stylishly appointed chef’s kitchen boasting Italian GRANITE COUNTERS, tumbled limestone backsplash, Samsung stainless steel appliance suite and spacious breakfast bar. The open concept main floor is completed by an oversized eating area and cozy great room featuring a custom marble fireplace. The upper floor boasts distinctive features in its ceiling details, including an oversized skylight and cathedral ceiling in the spacious master retreat. Two additional oversized bedrooms, convenient upstairs laundry room, and generous main bath with double vanity and natural light complete the upper floor. Professionally developed, bright, flexible basement with a large 4th bedroom, spa-like bathroom and cozy media room with gorgeous french doors and custom built-ins – ample space to double as an office. Step out of your air conditioned home to your BACKYARD OASIS, featuring an underground irrigation system, stone patio, beautiful landscaping and custom outdoor lighting system.”
And here are some of the pictures for our MLS listing, which completed the project and brought in a ton of buyer traffic. Pictures are what bring in the buyers while the renovations and upgrades close the deal:
In the end, the house was listed on a Friday afternoon and had two offers by Sunday. It was conditionally sold in a weekend. Both offers came in within approximately 99% of the listing price. And, provided the conditions are lifted, we will have broken an eight-year record for the value of a home sold on our side of the street in our neighborhood.
The house was sold for top dollar, within 48 hours, because we put the effort in to showcase its advantages. A house is the most valuable asset most people will ever own; yet, for some reason, very few put in the effort we did when selling. And it shows. Comparable price point houses in Calgary are typically sitting on the market for more than a month these days, resulting in owners being forced to lower their price – which reeks of desperation to a prospective buyer. And sitting on the market longer than 30 days can create a viscous cycle of lower asking prices and lower offers.
You get out what you put in. There are so many inefficiencies in the home resale market because sellers can’t be bothered to lead with their best foot forward. If you’re listing your home, do your absolute best to make it move-in ready if you want to sell quickly and get top dollar for it. Spend a little money sprucing it up. If spent on the right things, you’ll make a profit on the renovations and sell your home faster. Home buyers often lack vision, remember that.
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