A Pennsylvania woman of 68 recently lost her husband to colon cancer. The experience was so upsetting she’s vowing to soon sell the stone colonial where the couple lived for more than three decades.
But the widow’s real estate agent had strong words of advice: Either undertake some updates to modernize the property or prepare to accept a steep discount.
Dorcas Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor), doesn’t know the woman in this true story. But she agrees it will be essential to upgrade her property to make the most of her sale.
“The baby boomers of the world need to wake up to the current market. With inflation and higher mortgage rates, there are now fewer buyers out there than last year. Sellers can’t afford to be complacent,” says Helfant, the broker-owner of several Coldwell Banker realty offices.
The big picture for U.S. real estate is brought into focus by Gary Engelhardt, an economist at Syracuse University who just completed a major study of housing demographics titled “Who Will Buy the Baby Boomers’ Homes When They Leave Them?”
Engelhardt’s study helps explain why the widow will likely end up selling her stone house to purchasers who are much younger.
“America is growing older, with baby boomer homeowners totaling 32 million as of 2019 and increasingly becoming a larger source of existing homes for sale,” he says. Meanwhile, many in the rising millennial cohort are in desperate need of housing.
“There is enough homebuyer demand to meet most of the existing inventory that will come onto the market over the next decade and beyond,” says Engelhardt, whose study was commissioned by the Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org).
Sellers who adapt to contemporary decor preferences are rewarded, says Amanda Pendleton, a home trends specialist for Zillow (zillow.com), the national real estate company that surveys buyer preferences.
“Research shows how seemingly minor home improvements can make a big difference in the way a potential buyer views and values a home,” she says. For instance, a home with a front door painted slate blue will obtain an estimated $1,537 premium over a place with a pale pink door.
The good news is that many key updates are relatively inexpensive.
“Don’t be intimidated by the changes you need because most are quite easy and cosmetically based,” says Ashley Richardson, an agent affiliated with the Long & Foster realty firm.
Having an updated kitchen is one key to attracting young buyers. It’s rarely necessary to do a major kitchen remodel to sell well. Still, it could pay to have any dark wood cabinets repainted in white to brighten this space.
Many older homes have wall-to-wall carpet, another turnoff for young buyers. Yet if you don’t want to spend what it costs for new hardwood, replace dark-colored carpeting with a lighter, neutral shade.
Before sellers decide where to invest in pre-sale home improvement, Richardson suggests they ask their agent for a checklist of cost-effective projects. Often some of the least costly improvements can have the biggest impact.
Here are a few other pointers for sellers:
-- Remove traditional furniture.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll sell your furnishings along with the house, it’s important to adapt your interior decor to the tastes of younger people -- most of whom favor contemporary furnishings.
“They’re not revolting against tradition. But they don’t want to be reliant on tradition, either,” says Jeffrey Levine, an architect who works with both residential and commercial clients and heads his own Washington-based firm (levinedesignstudio.com).
To get a feel for the sort of room layouts that typical young buyers like, Levine suggests you visit the website of IKEA (ikea.com), the Swedish home furniture retailer with a customer base heavily weighted toward young singles and families with school-age children.
At a minimum, you’ll want to remove bulky, old-fashioned pieces, such as large recliners, before your place goes up for sale.
-- Uncover your windows.
If you’re an older owner who’s lived in your domain for a long while, you may still have the window coverings you acquired years ago.
But Levine recommends that sellers trying to appeal to young buyers -- who like light, bright rooms -- remove all their heavy draperies.
Another key step to bright rooms is to thoroughly clean your windows, says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Selling a Home.”
“A dirty house -- including one with dirty windows -- is the kiss of death for anyone trying to sell,” Davis says.
-- Redo your bathroom lighting.
In their bathrooms, many older homes still feature Hollywood-style lighting with globes set on a chrome bar. But Davis says such fixtures seem dated to many young buyers.
“Look for bathroom lighting with a fresher, more current look. It shouldn’t cost too much to replace bathroom lights. Often you can replace any bathroom fixture for under $100,” he says.
As to the look of bathrooms, Richardson advocates replacing the kind of pink tiling in many homes built in the 1950s. Though the retro look appeals to some, it’s unlikely your young buyers will share this devotion.
-- Remove personal photos and other memorabilia.
There’s nothing that will date your place faster in the eyes of young buyers than personal photos taken decades ago.
Davis says any personal photos can make it psychologically difficult for young buyers to picture themselves living in your property.
“A fresh start is what people of any age want when they buy a house. They lose the concept of a blank canvas when they see all your memorabilia,” Davis says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)