The services of real estate agents can be invaluable, but it seems that most sellers know how to sell their homes. And when it comes to home improvements before putting their houses on the market, agents and sellers mostly agree on what is the best course of action, according to a recent survey conducted by Realtor.com.
The real estate site asked 450 Realtors about what type of projects and investments they would recommend, and what they see as the mistakes that homebuyers make. Realtor.com also asked 1,660 homeowners about the types of improvements that they made or plan to make before selling their home and their budget for those renovations. Generally, the answers were aligned.
Recognizing the Value of Small Renovations
Among Realtors there is almost no doubt how small renovations can affect a sale. Nearly 90 percent believe such improvements would help the house sell faster, while 72 percent believe it would help sellers receive a higher offer. Nevertheless, 70 percent of Realtors think a common mistake of sellers is that they underestimate the power of simple home improvements.
"Home improvements do not have to be expensive, yet most sellers do not realize they will significantly reduce their (houses') time on the market," says Theresa Friend, a Realtor with RE/MAX in Melbourne, Fla.
Despite what Realtors believe, homeowners recognize the value of small improvement projects. Only 30 percent of respondents say they do not plan any improvements. The rest hope their home improvement projects would help sell their home faster or even achieve a higher selling price. Moreover, about 24percent of sellers plan to keep their home improvement budget between $2,000 and $5,000, some 22 percent plan to spend $5,000 to $10,000, and nearly 17percent plan to spend $10,000 to $20,000, according to the survey.
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The Right Home Improvements
Once again, most Realtors -- about 66 percent -- say another common mistake among sellers is not making the right home improvements. Yet the renovations they recommend and the ones sellers are doing are generally the same. The top three areas that house sellers focus the most of their time and budget on are the kitchen, bathrooms and the exterior of the home. These are same three areas of the house that Realtors recommend improving.
When it comes to low-cost projects, the top three areas agents recommend are decluttering, painting and landscaping projects that cost less than $500. "Keep it clean and organized. Paint it. One-hundred dollars of paint can add thousands to your net," emphasizes Roxy Van Bockel, a Realtor with Century 21 in Kona, Hawaii. "Think of it as makeup for your house."
Sellers, it seems, agree wholeheartedly. While painting is the top low-cost project sellers plan, decluttering is a close second and taking care of the exterior is third.
Agents and sellers also generally agree on what is definitely not important. Only about 8 percent of Realtors recommend spending time on the closets, and only about 5 percent recommend spending time on the garage. Similarly, less than 10 percent of sellers spend time on the closets, while less than 12 percent spend time on the garage. In addition, Realtors selected custom closets, hardscaping (landscaping for paved surfaces such as driveways) and installing new windows as the three least important projects, with all three of those projects in the bottom four of seller priorities.
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Sellers and Realtors Do Not Always Agree
Despite the similar thought processes, Realtors and sellers had a few disagreements. The agents generally agree that home improvements should be done close to selling time. About 25 percent of Realtors recommend making improvements less than a month before the house goes on the market, while about 56 percent say touch-ups should start one to three months before the house hits the market. However, nearly 30 percent of homeowners are planning to do the improvements more than a year before the house goes on the market.
There are some small low-cost projects that Realtors recommend doing that sellers are not prioritizing. About 72 percent of Realtors recommend steam cleaning the carpet, but only about 30 percent of soon-to-be sellers have it in the works. Same goes for a professional house clean -- only about 20 percent of sellers plan to have this done despite more than half (53 percent) of Realtors recommending it.
Finally, agents and sellers differ on whether the front yard or backyard is more important to spruce up. Far more Realtors recommend spending time on the front yard compared to the back (64 percent to 31 percent). However, more sellers are focusing on the backyard compared to the front (33 percent to 28 percent).
"Buyers get a good feeling within the first 30 seconds, that means from the curb," says Ron Bentley, principal broker for HOMEnet Real Estate in Salt Lake City. "Front yard is critical."
The heated debate over real estate agents' commissions and the industry as a whole will no doubt continue. While a good agent is certainly worth his or her fee, it seems that in many areas sellers already know what agents are going to advise. So among the most important things sellers can do, as agents themselves recommend, is choose an agent they are comfortable with and that they feel gives them that extra edge. In this market, every bit counts.
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