In most areas, a real estate recovery is underway, puncturing the fierce buyers' market that let purchasers dictate the terms and conditions of transactions. But, surprisingly, some sellers have yet to get the message.
That's according to Dorcas Helfant, a seasoned real estate broker who co-owns seven realty offices. She says some sellers, admittedly a minority, are still so nervous about their prospects that they overspend on pre-sale upgrades.
To illustrate, she tells the story of a client who fretted so much about selling his upscale property that he planned to spend $80,000 on a kitchen overhaul.
"Not only was he spending way too much, but he was planning changes that would make it harder, not easier, to market his home," Helfant says.
What the executive had in mind was to give his ordinary kitchen an Italian villa look with ornate cabinets of exotic wood and fanciful fixtures.
"It was a totally personalized vision. But buyers don't want your personal taste. They want a blank canvas where they can fill in their own vision," she says.
It took a while, but Helfant eventually dissuaded her client from his plan. Instead, he did a minor kitchen redo involving classic white cabinets with sleek, clean lines --the sort of interior most purchasers prefer. And after his modest investment, his house sold promptly for the full asking price.
Before doing any pre-sale upgrades, Helfant urges sellers to review their plans to make sure they're both appropriate and worthy of the cost. For advice on pre-sale upgrades, she recommends that sellers visit the Houselogic website: www.houselogic.com.
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Look to real estate specialists for guidance.
To find a happy medium for spending on pre-sale improvements, Helfant suggests that sellers ask one or more local real estate agents to drop by their place and provide a checklist of changes that would be cost-effective.
"Don't be timid about seeking advice from professionals -- even before you choose the person you want to take your listing," she says.
An increasing number of agents now recommend that sellers seek the help of a "home stager," someone skilled in the art of making a property look appealing to potential buyers. They review the home's current furnishings, remove excess pieces and rearrange the remaining ones. They may also lend the sellers additional furnishings to improve the look of the home while it's on the market.
Christian Salinas, a home stager in Washington, D.C. (www.stagingdesigndc.com), says it needn't cost a fortune to dramatically improve the appearance of a home through staging. And although the full services of a stager --including the use of inventory items -- can exceed $1,000, he says a less expensive alternative is to hire a stager for a brief consultation and then carry out the stager's suggestions.
-- Seriously question if a pre-sale addition is warranted.
If you have a small house to sell, would it be a good idea to add another bedroom or two to make it more inviting to buyers with children?
"The answer is an unequivocal 'no,' unless you're willing to throw money away that you'll never get back," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."
With rare exceptions, Davis says homeowners who attempt a pre-sale addition typically recoup no more than 50 percent of their expenses, due to the high cost of expanding an existing home.
Perhaps you believe you could save on an addition by avoiding the architect's fees. But Davis says this, too, would be a mistake.
"Without an architect for your design work, your new room could look funny and fail to blend with the rest of the place. That could torpedo your whole project and prove a costly error. It would be better to dump the addition plan altogether," Davis says.
-- Don't top neighborhood standards with your upgrades.
Real estate specialists agree that when it comes to pre-sale improvements, your kitchen should be a high priority. That's because a kitchen that looks uninviting is a major turnoff to buyers, who could reject your place on that basis alone.
But Helfant says that concentrating on the kitchen doesn't mean you must spend a sizeable sum there. And she stresses that no one needs to exceed neighborhood standards on kitchen improvements.
"For instance, if your countertops look worn and need replacing, you don't need granite -- assuming all your neighbors still have linoleum," she says.
How can you size up neighborhood standards? One way is to seek the counsel of a listing agent who's thoroughly familiar with your neighborhood and has toured many homes there.
"You can also stop by open houses to get a feel for the features of your neighbors' homes," Helfant says.
-- Never forget the street view of your property.
There are more reasons than ever for sellers to focus on the external appearance of their property. The major one is that virtually all buyers now screen properties online or through print publications before deciding which ones to visit. And the front view of your property is the most important image they'll see.
"The landscaping in your front yard must look absolutely amazing," Helfant says.
The good news is that you don't need an expensive landscaping company to make your yard look much better, assuming you're handy with yard gear or know someone who is.
"You can do wonders with ordinary trimming, edging, cutting and mulching, along with the addition of some blooming flowers. The key is to just get the work done, always remembering that your yard is the frame around your home," Helfant says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)