Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Pointers On Selling Your Baby Boom Era House

It's not only the U.S. population that's aging, it's also their houses. More than 40 percent of American homes are more than four decades old.

"A large portion of our housing stock was constructed during the '60s and '70s," says James W. Hughes, a professor and housing expert at Rutgers University.

Despite the current surge in renovation and reconstruction, many of the country's more than 100 million properties have a distinctly dated feel -- both on the exterior and the interior.

The problem for the sellers of these older homes is that facades and floor plans that once appealed to buyers are no longer in favor, particularly with the millennial generation.

"Flow is what it's all about for people in their 20s and 30s," says Tom Early, a veteran real estate broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. "They like high ceilings and expansive floor plans. They hate the boxed-in feel that comes with low ceilings and a lot of small rooms."

For example, typical young buyers crave a large kitchen that opens onto an expansive "great room." They also look for a spacious master bedroom that connects to a well-appointed 'ensuite' bathroom.

Of course, when it comes to the tastes of millennial buyers, there are exceptions to the rule, says Sharon L. Ellsworth, a real estate broker and co-owner of a Re/Max Realty office.

"Some purchasers really appreciate the clean lines of mid-century contemporary houses," Ellsworth says.

But if you're seeking to sell a very ordinary and not-very-attractive house built decades ago, you'll need to factor its age into your decision on pricing, says Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies."

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Get a grasp on how your place looks to others.

Those seeking a candid assessment of their home's exterior appearance may wish to poll relatives, Ellsworth suggests.

"More than your friends, your relatives will give you their honest opinion. This can be helpful when you decide what price to ask," she says.

-- Highlight the positive in your marketing materials.

"Rarely does a house sell on advertising alone," Ellsworth says.

Even so, creating effective marketing materials can help draw people into a property they might otherwise be unwilling to visit due to its lack of street appeal.

"Pick out the two or three strengths of the house and be sure your agent highlights these in your marketing," says Tyson, the real estate author. "Maybe you have wonderful natural light, or a beautifully wooded backyard. Think back to the factors that drew you to the house when you first saw it," Tyson says.

If your house is located close to a highly rated public school or is set in a walkable urban area, those are also strong selling points.

-- Consider hiring a photographer.

More than ever, buyers are previewing properties online. It's not unusual for a listing agent to post between four and 10 photos of a house on the Internet.

Your agent may be skillful at taking photos with a cell phone. But if your home shows poorly from the street, Tyson says you could still do better with a professional photographer.

Your listing agent may ask you to cover the photographer's fees. Yet Tyson says the money could be well spent if it brings in prospects who might otherwise fail to visit the place.

-- Request that your listing agent conduct one or more "broker's opens."

Most people are familiar with public open houses, where anyone can show up. But Tyson says a more effective sales tool is a "broker's open," limited to real estate agents from the surrounding area.

"These kinds of open houses are incredibly important. That's because the vast majority of serious buyers still work with agents. If agents come through the house and like it, they're more likely to show it to their clients," Tyson says.

-- Add appeal to your property with a new front door.

It's rare for listing agents to recommend major upgrades to the exterior of a home in order to sell it, but one upgrade that can prove worthwhile is a new front door. The cost: perhaps a few hundred dollars at most.

"The front door is the focal point of the house. If it's attractive, people will focus on this," Ellsworth says.

If you don't want to spend the time or money to replace your front door, consider other, less costly steps, such as repainting the door or adding new polished brass hardware.

-- Emphasize highly visible upgrades.

Not all sellers have time to make surface enhancements to their home, especially if they're making an urgent move. But those with sufficient time -- and funds -- generally more than recoup their expenses, Ellsworth says.

Flowers, new greenery and freshly pruned shrubs help entice buyers who might otherwise refuse to venture inside. Also, outlays for interior painting, carpet replacement or hardwood floor improvements are typically worth doing, as is replacement of outdated kitchen appliances.

"Very visible improvements could pay you back several times over," she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at