Certain home features speak to homebuyers in different ways. These days, details like shaker cabinets, farmhouse sinks, subway tile and exposed brick practically scream “Buy me!” Buyers, in turn, waste no time making their offers—above asking price in many cases, according to a Zillow study.
On the other hand, real estate agents work with buyers every day who practically run away from homes with outdated kitchens or paneled walls without even a backward glance.
“I’d say 75% of buyers we work with who come across a home where the carpet is completely worn out, or some issue like that, pass and go on to the next one,” Bill Anderson, a real estate agent in Odessa, Texas, explained. “It’s really unfortunate because those things are so easy to fix.”
Not only are issues like worn carpet and cheap, 70s-style wood paneling easy to fix, many homes with these décor deficiencies are located in great neighborhoods and are priced lower than more up-to-date homes.
Our real estate pros suggested a couple of Do’s to help today’s homebuyers focus on a home’s potential plus one big Don’t to keep you from getting in over your head.
Do: Overlook Bad Photos
Seeing past a home’s current condition starts with the listing, Mary Watson, a real estate agent in Colorado Springs, explained. Mary and her husband, Chris, also a real estate agent, recently helped a couple who were struggling in their home search. After showing them 20 or so homes without success, the Watsons asked about a listing the couple had passed up without ever seeing in person.
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“The home was a good possibility for them, based on the kind of home and location they wanted,” Mary explained. “But the photos in the online listing made the home look dark and dingy. They couldn’t see past the terrible photos.”
Not only were the photos poor, the rooms were stuffed with dated furniture, making it even more difficult to see the home’s potential. “Chris told them to try and see past those photos, then he set up a showing for them to see the home in person,” Mary said.
“The home actually had a lot of upgrades, like expensive granite and updated bathrooms, but the photos didn’t show those off,” she added. The couple fell in love with the house as soon as they saw it, and thanks to the bad photos, they faced little competition when they made their offer—a huge bonus in today’s fast-paced real estate market.
It’s usually worth your time to take a look at a home if it has the overall features you’re looking for in terms of size and number of bedrooms and it’s located in a well maintained neighborhood, Mary said. The home may not turn out to be a perfect fit, but it would be a shame to miss out just because the listing agent settled for terrible online photos.
Do: Overlook the Easy-to-Fix
There are times, though, when there’s no mistaking the fact that a home is past its prime in the looks department. But that’s no reason for a homebuyer to bolt. Bill and Mary both say they’re not exaggerating when they say buyers commonly turn down homes simply because the carpet is worn or not in their taste.
When the issues go further than shabby carpet, however, all it takes a little imagination to see the home for what it can be.
“We listed this big house—4,000 square feet,” Bill said. “Three master bedroom suites, three huge living areas. It was a beautiful home with gorgeous landscaping, but we’d had probably 10 or 15 buyers look at it with no offers.”
That’s because inside the house was everyone’s least favorite find—dark wood paneling. But that’s not all. Two of the bathrooms and the formal dining room had cloth-covered, padded walls. Plus, the windows were covered in heavy, dramatic drapery that hadn’t been in style since leisure suits and gold medallions. “It was 1970s vintage stuff,” he added.
Finally, the right couple came along and snatched it up for a great price. “The first thing they did was yank out all that paneling and texture the sheet rock underneath,” he said. Down came the padded walls and haunted mansion drapes, then they added crown molding and re-stained the kitchen cabinets.
“The place looks like a million bucks now. They did it all for about $8,000 and they could probably turn around and make $50,000–60,000 on it,” he said.
Don’t let your first impression of a home be your only guide, Bill advised. Take the time to envision the home the way you’d want it to look. If it is priced well, in the right neighborhood and has “good bones”—real-estate speak for a home that’s in good condition and has a good basic floor plan—you could be just few weeks and a little drywall dust away from your dream home!
Do Not: Overlook Your Budget
What keeps a homebuyer from taking a chance on a home that isn’t quite move-in ready? “I think it comes down to money,” Mary said. “Buyers often fail to budget and save up for any improvements.”
For homebuyers who plan to find a good deal on a not-so-pretty home, it’s important to have cash reserves on hand to pay for those upgrades when you begin shopping for houses.
The other problem is that most homebuyers often overestimate the costs of the improvements they want to make, so they to walk away without ever finding out the real cost. Bill suggests buyers who aren’t experienced in home improvement projects bring in a contractor to price the project before they buy.
“A home seller will almost always be willing to allow that kind of access for a buyer’s contractor,” he said. “Anyone who’s taken the step of consulting a contractor about a specific home is a pretty serious buyer.”
And keep in mind that some less expensive upgrades like replacing carpet can be negotiated into the purchase contract, Mary added. She was able to do exactly that with a home she recently sold, after a buyer said the only problem with the home was—again—a ratty upstairs carpet.
Experienced real estate agents like Mary and Bill are a valuable resource if you’re looking to buy an older home that just needs a little TLC. An expert in your market, your own agent will help you identify the best neighborhoods to scout for homes and keep an eye out for bargains on homes that have gone under other buyers’ radar.