By Ted Yudelson
One of the best ways to stretch your new home budget is to see the hidden potential in an existing property. It is not uncommon for houses to languish on the real estate market for months, and sometimes years, due to problematic design or decor choices. As a result, the asking price will often be cut over time and, in the case of a desperate home seller, a low ball offer may even be accepted.
As a buyer, there may sometimes be a monetary advantage in looking past some of the elements that typically work to devalue a home (that said, as a seller, you’ll want to avoid inadvertently devaluing your home).
Here are some of the most frequent faux-pas and some hints for remedial action:
- LACK OF CURB APPEAL
You only get one chance to make a good first impression. The exterior of the property is the first thing that is seen by the potential homebuyers. If the outside of the property appears to be in poor condition, is outdated and/or requires major repairs, one could easily get the impression that the inside is the same. Related issues include:
- outdated colors and/or materials
- chipped and peeling paint, broken gutters, a sagging or damaged roof
- unkempt front yard
- poor landscaping or neglected gardens
- rotting or broken fencing
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: Don’t let the outside scare you off. If a property has “good bones”, it may still be worth a look inside. A thoughtful buyer might see how the property could be improved with some inexpensive fixes, but many would rather move on to the next house on their viewing list.
- PROBLEMATIC INTERIOR AESTHETICS
Dated or poor decoration decisions can be an instant turn-off:
- dated or bold colors
- busy wallpaper
- bad flooring
- cheap wall paneling
Many potential buyers cannot see past bad decor choices and will likely walk away.
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: Renovate or simply repaint. Walls can be repainted, and wallpaper removed. Wall-to-wall carpeting or vinyl flooring can be taken up and new wood or ceramic flooring installed. Cheap wall paneling can be removed and new gyproc installed. There is a price-tag attached to renovating an older house, but it may be less than you imagine, and may still represent a fraction of what a “perfect” new build would cost.
- AWKWARD INTERIOR LAYOUTS
The relationship of the interior spaces is important to how you would actually use the house. If a buyer cannot easily conceive of how they might live in the home because the rooms are strangely arranged, again they will probably walk away.
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: A bad layout can often be fixed, just by re-dividing or re-allocating space. If there are other desirable factors such as a beautiful view, a large stone fireplace, south-facing windows, and so on, then it may be worth negotiating a price that will allow you to make the necessary changes to make the space more liveable.
- INADEQUATE ROOM SIZES
The dimensions of rooms can have an important impact on how one can occupy and furnish a space. This is not always easily perceptible and some may find out too late, but if detected, can be problematic.
HIIDDEN POTENTIAL: Remove or relocate walls. Perhaps you could convert a bedroom into a good-sized bathroom or take out a wall between two adjacent bedrooms. Think outside the box and almost anything is possible!
- NON-FUNCTIONAL ROOMS
Some rooms simply don’t work.
- inefficient fixtures arrangement
- tight circulation space
- lack of consideration of ergonomics
- disorganized kitchen or bathroom space
- lack of storage space/closets
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: Re-plan, annex or add space
- POOR LIGHTING (BOTH NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL)
This is one of my pet peeves and one that is not necessarily apparent depending on when and how often you visit a property. Placement and size of windows as well as the orientation of the house will have an impact.
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: Lighting can be improved by adding new windows or enlarging existing ones, especially in walls that are south-facing. Adding pot-lights in dark areas can vastly improve a home’s appeal, as can the choice of a paint color that will reflect the ambient light more effectively.
- SAFETY ISSUES
This can be a problem depending on the nature of the buyer. The treatment of interior and exterior stairs as well as the choice of balustrades around openings are the most common culprits and can detract from a potential sale.
HIDDEN POTENTIAL: Add or modify handrails or balustrades
In conclusion, many homes have hidden potential yet are overlooked because the buyer is unable to envision a solution to space, layout and/or decor issues. A qualified architect can be helpful in this regard, by suggesting fixes that will add value and protect your investment in the long run.