By BOBBY WADDLE
When it comes to marketing a house, there’s a popular word among real estate agents: maintenance.
Ray and Juli Frankart, owners of Re/Max Realty Findlay, say that something as simple as peeling paint can make your house look worn out.
These small maintenance issues can lead prospective buyers to question whether the house has more serious problems, like a bad roof, air conditioner or windows.
“These are all capital improvements that cost a great deal of money,” Ray said. “As a consumer, you don’t want to spend the money for someone else’s deferred maintenance.”
And one delayed repair project can lead to additional work.
“Everything matters,” said Josh Slough of ERA Geyer Noakes Realty Group. “If you fix something on the roof, but your window’s still leaking and you don’t have enough money to replace the window, then you get leaking, which causes drywall damage, which causes moisture damage, which causes mold, you know.”
Real estate agents also agree that first impressions matter.
Slough says the outside of the house is important because it’s the first thing a shopper sees.
While a home doesn’t need to be the “Taj Mahal of the neighborhood,” simple landscaping can take it a long way, Slough said. This includes a nice edge line on the walkways, and keeping debris and kids’ toys out of the yard.
“Just like food, your eyes taste it first,” Slough said.
Good landscaping can also solve problems.
Tiffany Holdgreve of Century 21 Koehler and Associates says landscaping plays a critical role in maintaining a home’s foundation,
Holdgreve said a home’s landscaping can begin to settle over time, which can lead to rainwater rolling toward the foundation rather than away.
To fix it, Holdgreve suggests bringing in some topsoil when the flower beds start getting low.
Slough also recommends maintaining the gutters and extending downspouts at least 3 to 6 feet away from the house to keep rainwater from eating away at the foundation.
These are matters that homeowners can take care of well before their house hits the market, the agents said.
Holdgreve says issues are easier to notice if you conduct a top-to-bottom, semiannual check of your house.
For example, this has been the windiest winter Holdgreve can remember. She says now is a good time to check the roof.
“Understand there’s a life to all of our roofing, and it needs to be replaced” eventually, she said. “Be a good homeowner, go out with binoculars. Go around your property.
“Don’t wait for that leak to come through your kid’s bedroom ceiling to realize you lost some shingles in that last storm.”
“Water damages more homes than fire or wind,” Holdgreve said. “If you have a leak in the roof, if there is a toilet that is leaking into the crawlspace, those things need immediate attention, and it should never be let go.”
Holdgreve also said moisture issues caused by improper ventilation are common in Findlay, which can lead to fungal growth in the attic.
Holdgreve recommends monthly maintenance of a home, including tasks like changing the filter in the furnace.
And while it may not need attention every month, she recommends periodically checking the condition of a home’s sump pump, particularly in a flood-prone city like Findlay.
Holdgreve said YouTube videos are a fantastic resource for homeowners who would like to tackle repairs on their own, like replacing the wax rings under a toilet or a wonky window blind.
“I can repair wax rings, and I am no home improvement guru,” she said. “It’s not great, nobody really wants to do it, but I can do it.”
While keeping a well-maintained house is a basic requirement for the selling process, some areas of the house have a better return on investment than others and can help increase the home’s value.
The Frankarts, Holdgreve and Slough agreed that kitchens and bathrooms are a top priority.
“There’s other things you can do around the house where you might put the money in, but not get it back out,” Juli Frankart said.
Kitchens and bathrooms “can be fairly expensive to remodel, so if they’re already done, that’s definitely a bonus for a buyer, because they don’t have that investment at that point,” she said.
Slough recommended giving the bathroom a thorough cleaning, and replacing whatever can’t be fixed. Replace caulking if needed, and make sure the lights and shower heads are working properly, he said.
He also recommended taking out a wall between the kitchen and the dining room or living room, if possible.
“Buyers right now really want the open concept,” he said. “In a lot of your older homes you’re going to be confined, so you want to open that up and make it feel as large as possible.”
Bonus rooms and finished basements also can have a good return on investment, Holdgreve said, though sellers in the flood plain should be careful with finished basements.
“It’s a hole in the ground, it will get water,” she said. “You just hope it’s not when you own the home.”
She also mentioned that outdoor amenities like decks, along with garage and front doors, are often good returns that capitalize on curb appeal.
The agents cautioned sellers about pricing themselves out of their neighborhood market with certain upgrades, however.
Holdgreve said improvements need to be comparable with the rest of a neighborhood. You will not recoup your investment if you splurge on a marble countertop in a neighborhood with mostly laminate counters, she said.
She mentioned open houses as a good way to see what home improvements are popular in a neighborhood.
“If they didn’t want nosy neighbors, they wouldn’t do an open house,” Holdgreve said. “Nosy neighbors are a fabulous resource.”
Replacing needed equipment may not add value to a home, Holdgreve pointed out.
“Every home has to have a water heater, every home has to have a furnace and air conditioner,” Holdgreve said. Replacing that equipment “will certainly pay you back in efficiency and lower utility bills, but I can’t jack up the asking price of your home by $10,000 because you just put a new HVAC system in your home. It has to have it.”
At the end of the day, Holdgreve said, home improvements should be done for you, the current occupant of the home.
Return on investment shouldn’t be the only reason to do an upgrade. Holdgreve mentioned a client who debated whether to remove a bathtub before installing a bigger shower.
“I finally told him, ‘Your intent is to be here for many years … Don’t worry if the next buyer is going to want a tub or not. If they have small children and they have to have a tub, then your house isn’t the one for them.’
“(The client) made it his, for him, because it’s his home.”
‘Neat, clean and neutral’
When prepping a house for sale, the agents said, make it easy for a prospective buyer to envision a future in your house.
Holdgreve said this is where an old real estate saying, “neat, clean and neutral,” comes into play.
“Neat and clean” deals mainly with clutter. Holdgreve recommends packing up things you’re already planning to move and neatly placing the boxes in the garage or storage space.
“You don’t want your potential buyers opening your kitchen cabinets and finding them so full that they can’t imagine how their belongings will fit in there,” she said. “Same with closets.”
“Neutral” helps people with the visualization.
Slough and Holdgreve both mentioned the popularity of white trim and gray paint.
Holdgreve illustrates why neutral colors work better than a more eye-popping red wall, which distracts from the rest of the room.
“I have blue furniture in my living room with beige walls,” she said. “So, somebody who comes in my living room can imagine their green, black or tan furniture in here because it’s a neutral wall.
“I know I’ve got a buyer when they start trying to figure out where they’re going to put the Christmas tree.”