Illustration by Sarah Lockwood
What Buyers Love
The classic real estate mantra of “location, location, location” still stands, and today that means being able to walk to restaurants, shops and parks. “Tons of empty nesters are leaving the suburbs and returning to the city,” says Kathryn Shoemaker of One South Realty. “They want walkability.”
Millennials want a walkable neighborhood as well, says Renee Sheehy, an agent with Real Living Eudailey Real Estate. “It’s becoming a greater priority that I didn’t used to see as much as I see it now.”
According to a National Association of Home Builders survey, only 14 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a home out of pure concern for the environment.
However, according to the same survey, buyers will pay more for a home if they can get lower utility costs in return. “When it comes down to it, people are willing to pay a little more on a monthly basis to make sure they have the things that are most important to them,” says Graham Rashkind, managing broker and co-owner of Rashkind Saunders & Co. Real Estate.
Modern and Clean
Buyers are looking for a clean, simple aesthetic,” Rashkind says. “They like to see modern design trends implemented even in some of the older homes we have now, but at the same time, like the character to still be intact, if it ever existed.”
If you decide to update your home to sell it more easily, go with clean, neutral colors and materials; you can’t go wrong with white kitchen cabinets, says Margaret Wade of Long & Foster. “You need to look and see what’s on trend, not just what’s on sale at Home Depot,” she says.
Many of today’s buyers want a home to be move-in ready, especially young buyers purchasing their first home. “I have very few buyers who have the time to take on a renovation,” Wade says.
“Some of them don’t even want to paint,” Shoemaker adds. “They may be willing to sacrifice finishes or appliances if they do not have to do any work.”
Rashkind also has observed this trend. “Nowadays, in large part because of changes to lending and the cost of homes, people are reluctant to take on a project.”
“The open floor plan is not dead,” Shoemaker says. In fact, it is thriving. “People walk into an older house ... and they want to take out the wall between the living room, dining room and kitchen ... blow it out to make a great big space.”
Rashkind believes the trend is driven by today’s more casual lifestyles. “People want to be able to entertain and host gatherings,” he says. Adds Wade, “People don’t want rooms in their house that they [won’t be] using.”
What Sellers Can Do
Giving your home a fresh coat of paint is one of the easiest things you can do to seal the deal.
“The biggest bang for your buck is a fresh coat of paint,” Shoemaker says. “It makes the whole space look clean and crisp.” Neutral colors are the best bet, and in 2017, that means gray. Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter is Shoemaker’s go-to hue.
If you don’t have the time, money or energy to paint the whole house, at the very least “paint the front door,” Sheehy advises. “When I’m trying to use the key to get into the house, the buyer is out there looking around. Make a good first impression.”
Wash Your Windows
When was the last time you washed your windows? Even if this task is part of your regular spring cleaning, you’d be surprised at how quickly the panes accumulate grime both inside and out. Shoemaker recommends hiring a professional window washer for the most sparkling results. “It’s surprisingly inexpensive,” she says. “A typical 2,600-square-foot house in the Fan is about $300. People are shocked at how it lets so much more light in.”
Sheehy says it’s especially important to keep double-paned windows clean. “If a window is dirty it can look like your seals are broken,” she says. “When that comes up at inspection, it can scare a buyer.”
Declutter and Depersonalize
When selling, you need to declutter and depersonalize your home so that a potential buyer can picture themselves living there. This can be a difficult, emotional experience, especially if you have lived in your house for many years.
“You have got to make it as bare-bones as possible,” says Shoemaker. “I always tell people, ‘Pack like you’re moving, except what you absolutely need to live with … because you are moving.’ ”
Wade says her rule of thumb is to “clear out half of every closet.”
A picture is not only worth a thousand words — when it comes to a real-estate transaction, it can be worth thousands of dollars, too. Investing money in professional photos of your home will pay dividends later, attracting more buyers to view your home more quickly.
“Hiring a professional photographer is the No. 1 thing that any seller can do to get their house sold quickly and to attract buyers,” says Rashkind. “People use the photos they see online to decide what they are going to take time to see in person.”
And forget about that wide-angle lens, Photoshop and fancy filters, adds Sheehy. “You have to make sure your house looks like [the photos] when people come in.”
Hire a Stager
While some professional stagers bring in furniture and accessories to update your home, they can also “make better use of the furniture and space a person has to make their real-estate photos look better,” Rashkind says.
“It is nice to have a third, neutral party to come in and tell you how to depersonalize [your home], which can be hard to do,” adds Shoemaker.
Infographic by Sarah Lockwood
Top 4 projects for return on investment*
1. Refinish hardwood flooring (100% of project cost recovered upon resale)
2. Upgrade insulation (95% recovered)
3. New wood flooring (91% recovered)
4. Convert basement to a living area (69% recovered)
*Source: National Association of Realtors' 2015 Remodeling Impact Report