Monday, August 19, 2013

Live Like You Plan To Move

It's happened a lot this year. A homeowner calls and announces they are thinking about a move, heard that it's a seller's market and wonder if I would give them a market analysis. I spring into action and head to their home with my camera and notebook in hand, wondering what I am going to find. Sometimes I find a home that is completely updated and beautifully decorated. That's such a pleasure, but not the norm. More often than not, I find homeowners who want to buy something that sparkles, but don't have their home in optimal condition. I might suggest the homeowners replace the stained carpet, but sometimes am told, "I don't know what color the next buyer will want....let them replace it." At that point I tell them that I happen to know what color the next guy wants as I have been shopping with buyers for years and hear the same comments over and over. They want a color their red couch and green bedspread and orange futon will go with...and they want the ability to change colors and not have to change carpet. They want beige. Make sense? They also want to come into a home and even if it is "used," they want to feel like it is "new." New carpet will do that. So will fresh paint. There is something about clean, bright walls and floors that make a potential buyer smile.

In my market, I work with a lot of two-income households. Buyers are working long hours and the last thing they want to do when they buy a new home is to start writing checks and overseeing contractors. OK, there are a few buyers out there who are willing to do that, but they are more the exception than the rule in my market. Also, if they are willing to do the work the seller did not do, buyers are going to expect to be compensated for that work in the form of a lower purchase price. You can't have it both ways. If you don't pay to have the work done while you are the homeowner, someone else will. Inevitably, you pay if you do the work yourself and enjoy it while you are there, or you pay by garnering a lower price when you sell, which brings me to my point: why not live now like you are planning to move?

So what would you do if you knew you were moving in 2 years? It wouldn't be a bad idea to call a Realtor and ask them for advice. I get that call now and then. I will talk to a homeowner who is thinking about getting their home market-ready and wondering where they should focus. I really enjoy those conversations and inevitably, am able to help sellers focus on prioritizing their repairs and improvements. Sometimes I talk them out of an expensive remodel and help them see the need to work on some deferred maintenance issues. Mossy roofs, overflowing gutters, a weedy yard and garden begging for attention, a deck with rotted boards, overflowing closets, clutter and other issues can often take more elbow grease than money and these improvements go a long way. If a homeowner has a budget to do more, we prioritize so they can tackle the items that give the best return on their investment.

But what if you aren't planning to move? My suggestion would be to live like you are. Most people move more often than they think. Sometimes you don't see these moves coming. Perhaps a new job or growing family or empty nest make you think life would be better in a different home. We often get so busy with day-to-day living that we do not look ahead to plan the next chapter of our lives. It sure would help if we did.

Perhaps because I  have moved so many times and know the getting-the-home-ready-to-sell drill, I always buy with an eye to sell and start the home improvements day one. Since I chose fixer-uppers, neutral paint and landscaping were often first, then maybe some electrical improvements, new toilets, appliances, etc.: every year a project. And then when the inevitable move came, I was ready. The bonus: not only did I garner a good profit when I sold, but I enjoyed a nice home while I lived there. Spreading the repairs out over the years was a budget-friendly way to do it, rather than waiting for the Realtor to tell me I had an overwhelming number of items to address before I could list the home for sale or that I would have to take a lower price if I wanted to list it "as is."

I recently met with one woman who was in charge of selling her mother's home. Her mother was getting older and could no longer care for the home where she raised five kids. While it was hard to leave the memories that home held for her, she knew it was time for assisted living and moved out. Her daughter spent seven months preparing the home, having an estate sale, and hiring contractors to work on every area of the home. She asked me to come see the progress and evaluate what else needed attention. We had several contractors come give their advice and together we strategically decided where to focus our efforts. When all was complete, we had the home staged and professional photos taken. 50 groups of buyers toured the open house and then we reviewed three offers, all well over list price. We were confident that the money was well-invested and that our seller got back much more than she spent. Yes, she spent seven months working on the home, but that just underscores the need to stay on top of repairs. It also validates that you pay now or later, but inevitably: you pay for your home repairs.

With the average American moving every five to seven years, it might be that your time to move is closer than you think. Why not look around your home with a discerning eye and make a list of improvements that need to be made, then start tackling that list one at a time. If you aren't sure where to start, give me a call. If and when the time comes to move, you will be that much further ahead. If you end up staying in the home for an extended period, you will be enjoying much nicer surroundings. Sound like a plan?

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