A doctor in his early 70s has relished the midcentury modern house he’s owned for decades. He loves the gourmet kitchen with its granite countertops, as well as the extensive great room where his art collection is on display. But his most treasured setting is the expansive patio surrounded by elaborate gardens and a koi pond.
Still, the doctor is surprising himself with the decision to relinquish the cherished property where he and his ex-wife raised their two sons.
Why now? The doctor cites two factors prompting him to sell. One is that he has a new relationship in another city that makes him happy. The other is that he believes the four-bedroom abode would be appreciated by younger owners. Hence his plan to downsize.
“Why should I hog all this space when I know full well my place could be put to better use by young owners? Also, I believe I’ll get a better price this year than I would in the future, especially if a recession occurs and prices drop,” the doctor says.
He lives in a coveted neighborhood with a top-rated elementary school. Available homes there are in short supply because many other boomer owners are clinging to the low-rate mortgages they obtained through refinancing during the pandemic. But the doctor is mortgage-free and hopes to put any extra proceeds from his sale into a college fund for his grandkids.
Peter Walsh, an expert on downsizing and the author of “Let It Go,” doesn’t know the doctor in this true story. But he credits him for facing squarely the highly emotional task of leaving a property so full of memories.
“Sorting through a lifetime’s worth of accumulated possessions can be a daunting and stressful process that millions of Americans confront each year,” Walsh says. But he notes that many downsizers experience a feeling of liberation after a shift in living space.
Ashley Richardson, a longtime real estate agent based in the doctor’s area, says it’s imperative that the doctor not only declutter the property but also update his place before it goes on sale. That’s because millennial buyers --born between 1981 and 1996 -- now make up the largest cohort of purchasers. And they’re very visual.
“These buyers are extremely tech-focused. I can’t imagine them taking the time to visit any house that doesn’t show well on the internet,” Richardson says.
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 Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).
Having an updated kitchen is one key to attracting young buyers. But it’s rarely necessary to do a major kitchen remodel to sell well. Still, it could pay you back to have dark wood cabinets repainted in white to brighten this space.
Before sellers decide on presale home improvements, Richardson suggests they ask their agent for a checklist of cost-effective projects. Often some of the least costly improvements, such as painting, can have the biggest impact.
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Seek to 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 over traditional ones.
“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, D.C.-based firm.
To get a feel for the sort of room layouts that typical young buyers like, Levine suggests you visit the website of IKEA, 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.
-- Think carefully about your window treatments.
If you’re an older homeowner who’s lived in your domain for a long while, you may still have the window coverings acquired years ago.
But Levine recommends that sellers trying to appeal to young buyers should remove all their heavy draperies. Often, the only rooms that need window coverings are bedrooms and bathrooms and even there, simple shades should suffice for privacy.
Another key step to bright, sparkling rooms is to thoroughly clean your windows, says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home.”
-- Refresh your bathroom lighting.
Many older homes still feature Hollywood-style bathroom 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,” he says.
As to the look of bathrooms, Richardson advocates replacing the kind of pink tiling still present in many homes built in the 1950s. (Though the retro look of pink bathrooms appeals to some who relish midcentury modern architecture, it’s unlikely your young buyers will share this devotion.)
-- Take away family 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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)