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Ask Brian: How Do We Sell a House That Needs Updating?

By Mike Wheatley | May 10, 2022

Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].

Question from Betty in WV: Hi Brian, We are in our early 70s and have lived in our home for over 20 years. We are retired and need a one-floor house, hopefully in a warmer state. The house is in fairly good shape but is showing its age. We don’t have the energy, health, or money to make big upgrades before selling. What are our best options to sell a house that needs updating?

Answer: Hello Betty. You may not be in as bad of a position as you think. The National Association of Realtors® says that the typical home purchased in 2020 was built in 1993. You said you’ve lived in the house for 20 years, but you didn’t say when the house was built. My guess is that it still has plenty of years left in it if your house is in “fairly good shape.” Even if it’s not in great shape, you can expect to find plenty of interested buyers.

Selling a house is about attracting buyers, so being aware that your house isn’t as shiny new as some others indicates that you are in the right frame of mind. You may have a shabby lawn and the walls could use a new coat of paint, but your home might not be in as bad of shape as you think. You look at it every day and know where every nick and scratch are at. The place to begin is by having a fresh set of eyes look it over from a professional point of view. Do some research to find a real estate agent knowledgeable about your local neighborhood. Their perspective of what needs to be updated and what buyers are likely to accept probably won’t be the same as yours.

Getting an agent’s point of view doesn’t mean you have to list it for sale immediately. Just get some information for you and your husband to discuss and consider your options. They should be able to give you a “ballpark” estimate of what you can expect to sell it for both without updating and with some key improvements. You can’t take a rough estimate to the bank, but you can use it to guide your thinking.

What I suggest is that you move towards selling sooner rather than later if you’re reasonably sure this is what you want to do. You can expect to be better off selling a “fixer” while it is still a seller’s market. Also, before major repairs become inevitable and while you still have the energy to make your move and get resettled.

Betty, you used the word “updating,” so I’m assuming major repairs are not needed. If the house does need something major like foundation repairs or a whole new roof, you will probably be attracting investors as buyers. At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re not going to make major upgrades like a new kitchen or remodel the master bath, you won’t attract top-end buyers looking for a turnkey home full of modern conveniences. That leaves you somewhere in the middle with a house that needs a little TLC. Be assured that there is still a large and strong market for these houses. We just don’t know how long it will remain as strong as it has been for the past few years.

If you don’t have the time, energy, or money to fix it up before selling, then the answer is to price it so that it attracts buyers in the middle of the market. You will find plenty of buyers excited to buy a house needing some TLC with the opportunity to build some sweat equity.

On the other hand, a good real estate agent should give you some suggestions about minor improvements that you do think you can handle to improve the selling price. Here are some typical options you have if you decide to do nothing or make minor but not major changes.

Include “As-Is” in your listing. This lets the buyer know that what they see is what they get. It will reduce the number of people asking to see a house that they have no interest in buying. A buyer will probably still have a home inspection performed but your agent can set the expectation that you won’t be making repairs even if they want them done. You also want to set this expectation by disclosing everything wrong with the house that you know about. Your agent should use a marketing approach suitable for buyers looking for a terrific opportunity with a fixer-upper or investors expecting to do some work on the house.

Tackle only the highest priority items. After consulting with an agent, you might decide that you do want to take on a few cosmetic priority items that will improve the sale price with a little “sprucing up.” Even if you don’t do it yourself, the cost of a handyman might be worth it. Here are the most common cosmetic touch-ups:

  • A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color.
  • Caulking in bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Improving lighting with new fixtures or replacing with brighter bulbs.
  • Professionally cleaning the carpets.
  • Having a roof repair or roof replacement with the help of professional roofing contractors.

Betty, I hope these suggestions help and I wish you all the best in your future home.

What else do you suggest for selling a house that needs upgrades? Please leave your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].

Mike Wheatley is the senior editor at Realty Biz News. Got a real estate related news article you wish to share, contact Mike at [email protected].
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