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June 03, 2007

Home in Los Gatos, CASummer’s just about here, and a lot of folks in Los Gatos, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and all over the country will begin some long-awaited home improvement projects now that the days are long and inclement weather is behind us for a few months. (If you are reading this post from out of state, you may not know that it virtually never rains in California in summer.)

Allow me to offer a piece of advice that I hope will make you money: before spending a lot of time or money on your home improvements, talk to your Realtor*.

You may be wondering, “But I’m not planning to sell. Why should I talk to a Realtor?”

A full time, dedicated Realtor spends a lot of time in houses, condos and townhomes, sees what helps a place to sell and what doesn’t. Usually, a good Realtor has a pulse on which home improvements will pay the most when it is time to sell in your particular market (your area, your price point). Because agents see the impact of additions, remodels, and decor, they can help you to make choices that ultimately will benefit you.

And the best part: there’s no cost to this free guidance.

Real estate professionals want you to have a relationship with them, for you to have them as “top of mind” for all your real estate questions, whether it’s how much the home down the street just sold for, how the market is now, timing issues, or remodelling issues. If it has to do with homes, your agent does want to hear from you! Realtors want to be your real estate resource.

So believe me when I tell you, we’re happy to do it.

So again you may be questioning this, thinking “but isn’t it obvious what improvements will make the most money?” Believe it or not, it does not seem to be intuitively obvious to everyone!

Let me give you a few examples of situations where a home improvement wasn’t ideal:
Remodelling without permits and finals, esp kitchen, baths, or electrical
Choosing bad colors for paint, carpet, or worse: appliances, kitchen/bath work
Too many additions to a home, resulting in akward, dysfunctional floor plans
Adding a pool, large patio/deck or enclosed porch when there’s not enough backyard
Putting in “easy” landscaping that isn’t green enough or doesn’t allow any playroom
Overspending on “staging” (furniture, things that do not stay) but ignoring real problems
Overimproving for a neighborhood (putting a $150,000 kitchen into a starter home)
Underimproving for a neighborhood (cheap improvements in a high-end home)
Garage conversions when there’s no possibility to add a garage or even a carport

Accredited Staging Professionals have extra training in staging homes to sell.We see these things all the time. I’ve seen homes with blood red or crimson carpeting and tile. I have seen homes where the bedrooms were painted super dark colors (makes the room “feel small”) or odd combinations like black and blue that leave the buyer wondering. I’ve seen homes where the kitchen cabinets were painted lime green (my parents bought it when I was a teen: it was a bargain because it was so ugly!). Once I saw a home where the kitchen cabinets and countertops were all made of mirrored glass. I’ve had listings with so many additions, and non-permittted ones, that you could not tell what the point was for some of the rooms. In one case, the county forced my seller to remove a room before the deal could close!

Sadly, while these improvements cost the owner money, it cost them even more money when the home was sold!

Buyers do want a roof that doesn’t leak, a furnace that is safe and efficient to operate, dual paned windows, and nice floorcoverings – whether carpet or hardwood.

A well done kitchen will add great value to a home, but a poorly done one will not.But sell a home with a roof that has deferred maintenance, a furnace that threatens to spew carbon monoxide because the heat exchanger is nearly cracked from old age and use, single paned windows in the age or high utility bills, or hardwood that needs to be refinished or carpets that need to be replaced, and you will get low offers at best.

Buyers want “light, bright and airy”. So, for example, maybe instead of adding dark brown carpets and dark brown wallpaper to match (which seems to be in style this year), your agent friend will suggest adding a skylight, window, or suntunnel to a dark area of your home so that it feels more spacious.

A good Realtor will tell you: put your money into this improvement, not that one. Consider doing X, not Y. Your agent will help you to make choices that will be conducive to your eventually maximizing the value of your home as much as possible.

Sometimes, of course, you have to personalize a home no matter what it does to resale value. Sometimes there is a handicap or disability to consider, inlaws moving in permanently or some other major life circumstance which requires changes that may actually harm your market value in the long term. And that’s ok: your house is first of all your home!

A $5000 patio set will not raise the value of your home $5000Generally speaking, though, homeowners have a lot of discretion in colors, landscaping, remodels. And Realtors can give you input, at no cost, that may help you tremendously.

So before you spend thousands of dollars, pick up the phone and call, or type out an email, your favorite Realtor and ask to meet and go over your ideas and plans. We want to be your real estate resource and we want to help you to be ultra successful when you do eventually sell your home.


*What if you don’t have a Realtor? There are a few ways to hire a good one.

First, ask your friends and colleagues whose judgement you trust if they have a good real estate professional. Or you can visit open houses and look for an agent who seems knowlegeable, friendly, and not too busy or pushy. Also you can search the web for an agent in your community and do a little research on the internet to see if this person has a web presence and seems to be competant from what you see online.

Then, no matter how you find your agent, I suggest you “Google” his or her name and see what comes up.

Finally, check the state licensing board to see if the person has been in business long and if there are any official complaints. In California, the web address is the one below, but each state has this information online: