Sid Davis got his broker's license in 1984. Since then, he's listed and sold around 1,800 houses. Yet he's always surprised when would-be sellers balk at doing even minor upgrades to make their property more saleable.
"They don't want the hassle of making any changes to their house. All they want is to show up at closing to pick up their check," Davis says.
As the author of several books on real estate, Davis says that most sellers fall into one of three categories. Roughly one-third are highly resistant to doing any work on their property and want to sell "as is." Another third will do the minimum necessary to make the sale possible. A final third are highly motivated. Davis prefers this last group.
He contends that sellers reluctant to make even the most essential improvements are acting against their own interest.
For instance, Davis tells the true story of one couple who'd painted the entire interior of their split-level property a glossy, fire-engine red. Despite Davis' pleas, the couple refused to replace their idiosyncratic choice with a more neutral color. Davis walked away, the house languished unsold and eventually went into foreclosure.
Simple inertia explains why some home sellers refuse to follow through on their listing agent's checklist. But Davis cites other reasons, as well.
"If several siblings have inherited a property from an elderly parent, there's often rivalry among the survivors and no one wants to get stuck with all the work on the house," he says.
Divorcing couples who must sell a jointly owned property also find it difficult to agree on what improvements should be done and which partner should undertake the work.
Another reason many sellers resist making much-needed pre-sale upgrades is more basic: lack of money. But for something as important as this, solutions must be found.
Here are a few pointers for home sellers:
-- Redo brightly colored rooms.
Debra Attman, a long-time real estate agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), says that she's met a number of sellers so devoted to their sports teams that they'd painted a room or two in the team's colors.
"I've seen deep purple, bright red and even orange and black stripes," Attman says.
Given their enthusiasm for their favorite teams, she says some sports fans vehemently resist the need to tone down their colors to make prospective buyers more comfortable.
Also, she says some female sellers cling to favorite decorator colors -- such as pink and lavender -- that make a property less marketable. Rooms painted in such colors should be neutralized, with a soft taupe, say, before visitors start trooping through.
"You don't want to risk offending someone with your paint colors. There are enough obstacles to selling real estate without doing that," Attman says.
-- Invest in a few minor bathroom upgrades.
Kitchen improvements typically give sellers the greatest payback. But bathroom improvements can also help sellers maximize their return for a small investment.
"It's amazing what you can accomplish in a bathroom for under $1,000. For a very reasonable price, you can get a new vanity, bathroom mirror and light fixtures," Attman says.
She also urges sellers to ensure they remove any mold that's accumulated in and around their bathroom tub or shower. Those who are unwilling to do this laborious job themselves should hire a professional tile service.
"Ask your agent for the name of a good cleaning company that's trustworthy but not too expensive," she says.
-- Increase the appeal of your laundry room.
Attman says that in preparing a property for market, many sellers overlook the potential of a laundry room that also serves as a "mudroom."
"It's too bad this room is neglected, especially if this is the way you enter the house through the garage," she says.
She encourages any client whose laundry room looks dingy to paint it in a light, neutral color and to hire a carpenter to install built-in shelving. Then, too, it's often worthwhile to replace worn flooring and upgrade the lighting.
"A cheery laundry room is a big plus for your sale," Attman says.
-- Complete all upgrades before putting your place up for sale.
Some would-be sellers make the mistake of letting buyers visit their property before their remodeling work is complete. But Davis says it's important to wait until all the work is done, including painting and carpet cleaning.
But, just as soon as the upgrades are complete, you and your agent should feel free to open your place to interested prospects.
"A few folks dislike the smell of fresh paint. But many more react to it as a positive than a negative," Davis says.
-- Don't rule out a short-term loan for minor improvements.
For many sellers, especially those who've had to put their property on the market due to a financial setback, a shortage of cash can be a major impediment to making their home look sharp.
But Davis says it can be folly to put a home up for sale without doing at least some basic improvements, such as polishing hardwood floors or resurfacing worn kitchen cabinets.
"Sure, you could give your buyers a cash allowance to cover the necessary fixes after they move in. But, chances are, they'll also demand you agree to a sacrificial price because the house doesn't look presentable," he says.
Though it's not always prudent for cash-short sellers, Davis recommends that those with a decent credit history and a fair amount of equity consider taking out a small second mortgage or home equity loan to cover basic upgrades.
"Borrowing a few thousand bucks for a short period of time, just until you get that house sold, could be a very wise investment. At the bottom line, that's a lot better than letting your place go to vultures who just want to lowball you," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)