Dear Darrell: I am going to be putting my house up for sale pretty soon, and I know it could use some sprucing up. What improvements will bring me the best payback on the cost of the work? (I'm planning on doing most of the work myself.) -Norma T., Tenleytown
Dear Norma: I know you didn't ask, but I'll give you an answer anyway: if there is any way you can swing it, don't do the work yourself, unless you are particularly skilled at what you will be doing. Nothing turns off a buyer faster than going through a house and seeing that repair and touch up work has been done by an amateur. Not only does the work not look as appealing, it also raises questions in the buyer's mind (and that of the buyer agent) as to what unseen things might be problematic in the house. Even if the buyer can't quite put his or her finger on the uncertainty about the property, a succession of even small issues accumulates into major doubt about buying the property.
So to your actual question: there is no hard and fast rule about what things bring the best return when fixing up a property, but these are the most likely areas: kitchens, bathrooms, decks (or the like), paint, landscaping. You might say to yourself, "I can paint! I'll go to the store, get some paint and brushes and have a painting party." Hopefully you would respond with, "Didn't you read Darrell's advice above?" (Of course, if you find yourself talking to yourself, you may be under a lot of stress, and this may not be the best time in your life to sell a property!) In any case, yes you could have a painting party, and the walls would get covered in paint, but the finer points of a paint job would be missing. And most prospective buyers would notice. This is not to mention someone stepping in the paint tray and tracking paint on your hardwood floors, the drips on your toe molding, the purchasing and cleanup time, and so on. If you are going to do it yourself, it's important to select a neutral but appealing color (not all white, or all tan), and apply it very carefully, giving attention to the details. Only you will know if you have the patience for that.
If you can hang in there for another week, I'll write more about the other fix-ups I mentioned above. Good luck!
Dear Darrell: My house in Northwest has been on the market for a long time — three months — and no one has even made an offer. It’s in a great location and it’s in great condition. The problem is that it is an unusual design. I keep thinking there is something I should be doing to it to make someone like it. -Maureen S., Cleveland Park
Dear Maureen: First of all, three months is not so unusual these days, depending on the price of your property. I’m assuming yours is towards the upper end of the price range in D.C. Secondly, once you have dealt with location and condition, the only other thing to do (besides renovating) is to take a hard look at the price. Third, one of the things which makes our area so appealing is the variety of choices the buyers have. Think of a piece of music. It’s made up of many different notes, e.g. eighth, quarter, half, whole. If a symphony had only whole notes or only quarter notes it would be pretty boring. As one of the notes in the symphony known as D.C., your property may be one that jazzes us up a bit. That may not appeal to the majority of buyers, but there will be a buyer who will resonate with your “note.” Of course, if all else fails, reduce the price!
Dear Darrell: I’m thinking of putting my house on the market. I’ve talked to a number of friends about it, and have gotten a variety of responses about how their process was, and about agents they know of. How do I know if an agent is going to be the “right” one for my house? -Michael C., Glover Park
Dear Michael: I think you are on the right track by talking with friends who have had recent experience with this. It’s a great place to start. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you visit several different Sunday open houses so you can get a feel for the style of the particular agent at the open house. For instance, is the agent quiet, dramatic, intense, laid-back, funny, seemingly uninterested, etc.? I suggest this approach because you and your chosen agent will be spending a lot of time together. Style is a very important part of the success of that relationship. The experience of friends is good information, because it puts potential listing agents in a known context. But it’s also important for you to experience the agent for yourself. As I mentioned, open houses is a good way to do that.
Next, I would focus on “substance.” Is the agent knowledgeable, responsive, skillful, creative, thoughtful, energetic, confident, smart, communicative?
Finally, I would talk with them about their track record. I don’t put this first on the list, because I don’t think it is the most important aspect of the process. Insofar as agents can point to success in the past, it is a measure of their skill. But you are presumably interviewing several skilled agents, each of which is likely to have a different style. The better your communication with your listing agent, the easier it will be for you to trust one another, be open with one another, and make the sale of your property a team effort.
Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.