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For the best profit, should you sell your house as is or renovate?

Beth Ann and Pete Mayer in their new

Beth Ann and Pete Mayer in their new home in Babylon, which Beth Ann says they chose because "it had just been completely remodeled, and the sellers had done an incredible job." Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

When Beth Ann Mayer first saw a house in Babylon Village a block from the train station last September, she fell in love with it instantly. “It was perfect, just what we were looking for,” says the 31-year old social media manager, freelance writer and first-time home buyer.

Mayer works in New York City and rides the rails each day. She and her husband, Pete Mayer, 42, a lawyer with an office in Hauppauge, keep busy schedules and aren’t particularly handy. Although they still had six months left on their apartment lease, they had begun looking for a home to buy figuring it would take a while. They struck gold right out of the gate.

“Everything about this house was right for us,” explains Mayer of the three-bedroom Cape with 1.5 bathrooms and an unfinished basement on a 0.17-acre lot. “Even better, it had just been completely remodeled, and the sellers had done an incredible job. From the kitchen’s new stainless steel appliances to the bathroom faucets, everything was modern and tasteful, even though the house was built in the 1950s.”

The couple was so impressed they broke their lease early and moved right in. “We couldn’t be happier,” Mayer says.

Sometimes it happens like that. Home sellers make a big investment in repairs and upgrades and a prospective buyer likes their style. But undertaking major renovations does not always bring a big boost in profit. Housing experts caution would-be sellers not to go overboard.

A focus on cosmetic changes

“It’s hard to recoup a large investment in remodeling or upgrading a home for sale,” says Mitchell Pickman, an agent at Thomas J. McCarthy Real Estate in Southold. “I think potential sellers are better off making cosmetic changes. A fresh coat of neutral-colored paint in each room is probably most important, and uncluttering the house helps, too. But in terms of major upgrades, I’d recommend doing the least amount possible because you may be putting your money into a project prospective buyers might not like and will ultimately change anyway.”

Bill Hogan, owner of Hogan Construction in Centereach, agrees with Pickman. Hogan’s company specializes in home renovations but he also purchases and “flips” properties.

“If you want to sell a house fast, remodel the kitchen and bathroom or even fix a roof, but that isn’t likely to bring you a windfall,” says Hogan. “Depending on the size of the house, a complete kitchen renovation with new appliances might run between $15,000 and $30,000, a bathroom renovation could cost $10,000 to $20,000 and a roof repair $6,000 to $12,000 for a typical Cape or ranch-style home on Long Island. Those fixes help sell, but they don’t guarantee more profit.”

Like Pickman, Hogan recommends sprucing up a home for sale with smaller projects and cosmetic changes. “Power-wash the outside to make it look cleaner, replace worn carpeting and add some flowers to sharpen your curb appeal,” he suggests. “Those simple steps should be your starting points.”

'Turnkey' on a budget

Val Allocco, owner of Staged 2 Sell NY, a home-staging company based in Northport, says she is more likely to invest in projects she believes will help a house show its best.

“Most times it pays to put in some kind of investment,” says Allocco. “Prospective buyers want to see themselves living in the home, and you have to foster that experience. Today’s buyers also want a home to be ‘turnkey’ when they move in. Everyone’s busy. People don’t have time to buy a house and fix it up like our parents did back in the day.”

Still, Allocco says she prefers small investments over larger ones. “There’s nothing wrong with investing $2,000 to $5,000 if it helps speed things along,” she says. “Don’t gut your kitchen, but do paint cabinets, change hardware and buy new lighting fixtures to give rooms a modern look. Also, unclutter every room. Sometimes we’ll move furniture around or remove a piece completely to open up more space.”

Who is your buyer?

Knowing your target market helps, too, notes Allocco. She says millennials want connectivity, a home office, closet organizer systems and a minimalist look. They like to be within walking distance of restaurants and stores, she says. Generation X is focused on family, requires more bedrooms, places for kids to play, and at least two bathrooms, she adds. Finally, says Allocco, older couples exploring age 55-and-over communities want a master bedroom on the ground floor and amenities such as indoor and outdoor pools or golf.

“If you want more money, spruce things up,” says Shirley Brockman of Brockman Consultant and Real Estate Services in Hempstead. “People want houses that are modern and don’t need repairs. If there is cosmetic work that can be completed, go ahead and do that. Fix any plumbing or roofing issues, too. But if you’re in a medium-range market of $350,000, don’t think taking on a couple home improvement projects is going to get you $450,000. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Brockman notes that buyers are going to have their own visions of how a home should look, so let them undertake major changes and renovations. Spend your money, she advises, on making sure the window trim is neat and that cracks and holes in the walls or ceiling are fixed. Splash a little paint where needed. Bright colors are best, she says, because it makes the walls look larger. Refinish wood floors. Change your outdated faucets, but don’t knock down the shower. Just as important, she emphasizes: make sure your home smells good when somebody comes to look at it. Realize that little things can make a big difference but also that the price of “sprucing up” should not exceed the home’s equity in comparison to the current market value..

Glenn Albright, 53, and his wife, Susan, took a compromise approach when they put their Southampton home on the market in early March. Priced at $895,000, it’s in good shape and in a prized neighborhood, but the kitchen and bathrooms need updating, says Aleksandrina Penkova, who represents the listing with Raphael Avigdor for Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

“We weren’t sure whether to do a major remodel and set the price at $1.25 million or to put it on the market as is, and hope for a quicker sale at a lower price,” says Albright, who sells commercial real estate for a living. “After thinking it through, we realized anyone looking to buy this house would probably want to fix up the kitchen and bathroom their own way and, at best, we would only break even on the extra money invested.”

Instead of putting as much as $150,000 into completely renovating their home, the couple hedged their bets and spent $50,000. They replaced the hot water heaters, put on a new roof for a more modern look (the old one was red), reconditioned the deck and floors, replaced the skylights and painted the home inside and out. “We’re comfortable with our decision,” says Albright, ”and we are seeing a lot of interest.”

Experts on what improvements to make

“Concentrate on cosmetic repairs: sanding worn wooden floors inside the home, fixing the molding, trimming the hedges and a general yard cleanup.” --Mitchell Pickman, licensed real estate salesman at Thomas J. McCarthy Real Estate, Southold

“Most rooms need painting — red walls, purple walls, you can’t sell that. Curb appeal is important, too. Older houses have tall, leggy, tired shrubs and bushes. New homes have smaller, fresh-looking plants. Pull the old and replace with hydrangeas and a mix of colorful annuals. Cull some furniture so rooms don’t look crowded.” --Val Allocco, Staged 2 Sell NY, Northport

“The front door should be painted or stained to look fresh. All hardware should be new, too. The outside lighting needs to be current. These are inexpensive fixes. Get rid of clutter — and be sure to put away your valuables before any showings.” --Shirley Brockman, Brockman  Consultant and Real Estate Services, Hempstead.

What’s in, what’s out

In some cases, major renovations are necessary or at least justified before putting a home on the market -- plumbing problems or a leaky roof, for example, real estate experts say. Others, such as kitchen and bath remodels, are optional projects that may be undertaken or avoided for a variety of reasons with decisions made on a house-by-house basis, they add. Before starting such projects, however, some research or a consultation with a home contractor or designer is a good place to start, they say.

Looking online is one way to see what’s trending. In a recent study on kitchen trends, the website www.houzz.com, which connects homeowners with design and construction professionals, provides articles and advice on home remodeling and renovation projects, and also sells some home products, found that more than half of upgraded faucets are high-tech (57 percent), boasting water efficiency, no-fingerprint coating or touch-free activation. Other high-tech features such as wireless controls (16 percent) in upgraded appliances and home assistants (31 percent) in upgraded electronics are growing in popularity. Black stainless steel appliances now appear in one in 10 upgraded kitchens and engineered quartz (48 percent) surpassed all natural stone materials combined (43 percent) in popularity, paving the way to increasingly white countertops. Similarly, engineered flooring, such as engineered wood, vinyl and laminate, has become nearly twice as popular (40 percent) as natural hardwood (24 percent) floors.

How much can you recoup on home improvement projects?

In its 2019 Cost vs. Value Report, Remodeling Magazine, which provides business tools, product information, design ideas, cost-estimating tools, and management advice to full service remodeling businesses compared the average cost for 21 popular remodeling projects in 149 markets with the value those projects retain at resale in 100 U.S. markets. Here’s the “costs recouped” results for several common home remodeling projects.

  • Master Suite Addition (midrange): 51.1 percent
  • Kitchen (major remodel): 52.6 percent
  • Kitchen (minor remodel): 73.4 percent
  • Bathroom (midrange) 59.0 percent
  • Roofing replacement (midrange; asphalt shingles): 61.8 percent
  • Deck addition (midrange; composite): 74.1 percent
  • Siding replacement (midrange): 67.5 percent
  • Window replacement (Vinyl): 70.4 percent

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