When fixing up home for selling, don't be chintzy


March 21, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Year after year, Carolyn Janik planned to spend the $5,000 it will cost to replace the thoroughly matted garnet carpet in her ranch home. But, year after year, she decided to spend the money on a vacation instead.

Now that she intends to sell and knows she must replace the carpet, she's struck by the injustice of it all. Why should the next owner get the benefit of improvements she might have enjoyed?

"Oh, how I don't want to spend this money!" she exclaims.

Ms. Janik is a real estate specialist and author. Still, she's fallen into the same psychological trap as many other sellers. Rationally, she knows she must spend a total of $8,000 to ready her house for sale. But emotionally, she deeply resents the cash she'll have to put out for 11th-hour fix-ups.

"People are so hung up with the emotions of owning their home that they forget it's a business transaction," Ms. Janik observes.

Housing experts caution against letting your remorse about postponed home improvements keep you from making the changes so crucial to the successful sale.

"Do not let your personal ego get in the way of a quick sale. If you have already made up your mind that you want to move, why would you place obstacles in your path?" says Daryl Jesperson, a senior vice president with the RE/MAX International realty chain.

Why do so many homeowners defer home improvements until they're ready to move? One obvious reason is cost.

"Maybe you've had some financial reversals. Maybe you've got a kid who needs braces or another one who is going to college," Mr. Jesperson says.

Another factor is that some people respond only to deadlines. They don't get around to making changes in their homes until they're driven by an immediate desire or need to sell. "They figure they have deadlines at work. Why should they have deadlines at home?" Mr. Jesperson says.


Are you a homeowner who is restless to sell? Then you may find these pointers from the experts valuable:

* Don't look in the rearview mirror at home-sale time.

It's a waste of energy to let feelings of regret about past inaction keep you from gaining momentum toward your objective of buying another home -- especially when low mortgage rates could allow you to buy a larger or nicer house.

"Concentrate on the enjoyment you're going to have in your new home, rather than looking over your shoulder at the past. You can't get the past back, anyway," Mr. Jesperson advises.

If you're having trouble picturing the future, take a day or two to drive around the neighborhood of your choice, looking at a few for-sale properties, Ms. Janik counsels.

Realty specialists say it's inadvisable to buy a new property until you've liquidated the old one. You have more negotiating power on the next purchase when you've already sold your current home. Still, a superficial survey of the new neighborhood could serve as a prod to get your old place ready for sale.

"Leave your checkbook home," Ms. Janik says. "You're looking at houses, with a little 'h,' not 'The House.' "

* Don't make the mistake of being chintzy on your 11th-hour fix-ups.

Repair or replacement of your home's fundamental systems -- whether it be a malfunctioning dishwasher or a faulty air conditioning system -- will undoubtedly prove essential to the sale of your home. And cosmetic improvements -- including painting and replacement of worn carpet -- are also critical to the prompt sale of your property.

It's false economy to let feelings of regret keep you from doing what needs to be done now.

"It would be a sad thing for a potential buyer to get turned off because your floors aren't refinished or your walls aren't painted. That buyer will never come back a second time. And it might be two or three months before another good buyer comes through the door," Mr. Jesperson points out.

Remember that the longer your house sits on the market unsold, the more you pay in carrying costs.

* Distinguish between improvements that will pay you back at closing and those that won't.

Unless you live in a pricey community where such amenities are standard, forget about the elaborate in-ground pool you planned to install, or the upgraded kitchen appliances. And don't worry about hanging the expensive wallpaper you always intended to put into your master bedroom.

"The folks who are moving in will probably have different taste from you. If you put in new wallpaper, the first thing they'll do is strip it and cover it up," says Lou Occhionero, sales manager for Coldwell Banker's Charles Street office in Baltimore County.

Besides doing such essentials as repairing wobbly stair railings and leaky faucets, Mr. Occhionero recommends that you focus on relatively inexpensive cosmetic improvements that are so neutral they would satisfy any taste.

"When you're fixing up at the last minute, it really doesn't pay to go overboard," he stresses.

@4 (Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

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