I frequently am asked whether or not to upgrade/replace/fix something before putting a house of the market. It can be a difficult decision as it’s never certain what the seller will get in return for his money. My advice usually depends on the property, the neighborhood and the market for the type of house. But here are a few tried and true ideas that don’t take a lot of money:

  1. Clean and tidy—goes a long ways. A house that is uncluttered is easier for a buyer to see and assess. Clean looking and smelling is a must. If you do the cleaning up yourself, most of the outlay is your time , but if you just don’t have the time or energy, your agent is likely to have some contacts of people or companies that do the pre-sale clean up.
  2. Landscaping—first impressions count but the backyard needs to look nice too. Mowed, raked, trimmed, and cleaned up are all a must. It’s also important to keep the front walk and patios swept clear of dirt and leaves. I also think spending a few dollars for flowers can make your home look very inviting.
  3. Front door—more first impressions. Most of us rarely, if ever, use our front door to enter the house, so we may not notice that it’s gotten weathered or otherwise uninviting. Clean and sweep away any debris, wasp nests or bird’s nests. (Yes, I’ve seen more than a couple bird’s nests.) Make sure the doorknob works easily. Being able to easily get in the house is critical. I’ve seen homes languish on the market because the key wouldn’t work in the lock. It’s such a simple and easy fix that needs to be done before a house goes on the market. (Okay. I'm putting that soapbox away now.) In addition, a fresh coat of paint for the front door is a relatively inexpensive fix that can give your home a psychological edge.

What about the bigger items like carpet or roof? Here is where the money spent could not only add up quickly but with a return that's harder to quantify. The questions I think a seller needs to ask themselves are as follows:

  1. How bad is the carpet? Can a cleaning make the house presentable? What is the flooring under the carpet? Could the carpet simply be pulled up?
  2. If the carpet needs to be replaced, should it be? Is a carpet allowance the better option? How much would recarpeting cost? One needs the data to make the best decision. 
  3. Assuming the roof is in fairly good shape, ask these questions. Are there any shingles missing? If the roof is accessible, does any flashing need attention? Is there any caulking needed?
  4. If the roof needs replacement, ask these questions. How much will it cost to replace? If a cash outlay is out of the question, how much will you be willing to concede on price for a new roof? Can you set up with the title company to replace the roof out of seller's proceeds? With these questions, the seller needs to arm themselves with some reliable data. Get your agent to give you some references of roofing companies that have a record of being reliable and reputable.

What about painting? This is one area where the price you pay to repaint can make many non-monetary differences. One such non-monetary benefit is the time on the market can be reduced. In addition. Also, any price concessions for repainting could be more costly than pre-market repainting. Here are some questions that will help in making the decision.

  1. Realistically, how does the paint look? Is the exterior paint cracking and peeling in places? Do the walls look dirty or are they scuffed up? How long has it been since the house was painted and does that make you look twice at the current state of the walls and exterior?
  2. How neutral are the colors? Even if the décor is tastefully coordinated, is it possible the color or color scheme might be too much?
  3. Even if your pocketbook is already feeling the squeeze, fresh paint really helps a house look and smell so much more appealing. Can you find a way or the funds to repaint the interior? If there is peeling paint on the exterior, can you find the funds to repaint or at least limit the appearance of the peeling? (You can’t hide the fact that a repainting is needed, but you can do some things to make it less unsightly.)
  4. Do you know how much of a price allowance you might be facing?

When it comes to big remodeling plans, the seller needs to be aware that they are not likely to get their full cost back. Consider a smaller updating job. For more recently built homes, it can be a harder balancing act. If the property doesn’t have granite (in the kitchen and Corian® in the bath), that might be a worthwhile upgrade. The seller may not recoup the full outlay, but the non-monetary return of a quicker sell is big factor.

Keep in mind that, in the current San Antonio market, the peak offers will come when the property is new on the market. Likewise, if the house has been on the market for longer than is usual for that neighborhood, the seller can expect lower offers.  

For older homes, painting the cabinets or replacing the doors in the kitchen or bath, may be all that’s needed to give an updated feel. Tubs and shower floors can be refinished.  There are products that can be used to resurface and “update” countertops. Getting an estimate from a good make-ready tradesman (whether an older or a newer house) can help the seller decide.