October 21, 2011Colin and Justin
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
It’s been an interesting time, of late, as we consider the housing market; not for ourselves, on this occasion, but for two (unconnected) friends who’ve recently decided to move. Each has a different set of criteria and we’ve been on the case for both of them.
For one girlfriend, we’ve simply been around to cast critical eyes over a space she’s considering buying. For our other pal, Kyle, we’re more involved being that he’s moving from the U.K. to take up a position with a tax firm in Toronto’s downtown core. Consequently, unfamiliar as he is with the city, he needs help to ensure he invests wisely.
Our erstwhile girlfriend is focusing on a well-built but slightly older Etobicoke condo, whereas Kyle has his heart set on something brand spanking new in the city centre. With the condo market more competitive than ever, it means property has to shine, especially in the case of older condos that are trying to compete with glossy new towers that boast top-tier kitchens and marble-tiled bathrooms. Speak to most realtors and they’ll concur; well presented homes simply “perform” better at sale time regardless of whether they’re polished jewels or brand new multi-faceted diamonds.
Today, to augment value if selling a tired condo — especially one that’s less detailed than newer options in the same neighbourhood — it makes sense to “spec it up” — and by that we don’t mean simply staging with fresh flowers and a herd of strategically placed cushions. Preparing your home and making it truly market ready may actually mean pushing yourself just a little bit harder. Sometimes, as the well-worn adage proclaims, you “have to speculate to accumulate.” And, when you know what you’re doing, a modest 3 to 5 per cent of home value spent on simple updates can often yield a 10 per cent return (or more) on investment.
Four years past, when we bought our own condo, it was already six years old and, with no disrespect to the seller, it was looking dowdy. We were actually fortunate, however, that its owner seemed relatively unconcerned about achieving anything more than “bricks and mortar” value; the “lifestyle quotient,” to him, clearly wasn’t relevant. The finishings, when we viewed, were basic with a builders’ beige kitchen and similarly unprepossessing bathrooms. Shag carpet travelled wall to wall and there were no “bells and smells” to seduce us into thinking that what we were looking at was any more than a bog standard unit. Had he made a few key changes, our realtor explained, he might have squeezed significantly more out of most buyers.
Anyway, getting back to our duties as property sounding blocks, we’ve this week scanned a mountain of sales particulars, all the time reminded just how easy it is to bring a basic apartment up to speed. The model suites we’ve visited with Kyle certainly boast undeniably high spec bathrooms and kitchens, not to mention good quality flooring and glamorous set dressing. But the fact remains: behind the caprice of clever interior design lies similar “bones” to regular condos. Which means, essentially, that a basic home from a decade or so past can be given similar esthetics with a sequence of clever twists and turns. Bear in mind, of course, that results will be defined by how much you wish to spend, but, all things considered, here’s a guide to help remove red flags and achieve top dollar without sending your bank manager into cardiac arrest.
Most buyers prefer neutrally painted spaces. Fact. An accent wall or a wallpapered feature zone is one thing, but dramatically coloured schemes may be off putting to some. Crisp white is our default mechanism but soft bone and delicate grey shades are also good news. Pared back colours like these appear fresher and will help bounce light around darker rooms. Be honest; when was the last time you saw a model suite painted library green or dining room red? Painting tackled, add detail with accessories, interesting artworks and textural layering to achieve pop. But go easy; let the space speak for itself.
Replacing flooring is a big job, but, if yours is a problem, a level of remedial action may be required. To evaluate whether you should or shouldn’t get involved, take the advice of your realtor; would new hardwood cover its cost in outgoing sales price? Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes and consider the fact that tackling a new floor doesn’t only represent the cost of product; it also represents upheaval and effort.
It may be that carpet is an easier and quicker solution although, from our experience certainly, the majority of buyers will see this as less desirable. If your existing floor boards are salvageable, then sanding and refinishing may be an option but avoid stain will dated yellow or red tones. Opt instead for a warm oak or a soft brown shade. In our own condo we chose ebony flooring, but only because we have no intention of selling; we selected the finish for us rather than the market place. There’s a difference!
Setting the scene using tactics akin to model home design is paramount if you want to impress potential buyers. Employing colours as described earlier will help, but think, too, about no cost fixes such as clearing foot passage to windows so that views may be properly enjoyed.
Easing congestion and creating better circulation are very important when it comes to tempting potential buyers. If existing furniture is less than exciting, companies like Rent Wow can put together a rental package to help set the scene ahead of sale time. We also regularly counsel that it’s worth thinking about what you’re going to buy for your new home and buying it ahead of time. If you’ve got your eye on a new dining set or a pair of matching sofas, then why not give your old kit to Habitat For Humanity and bring in your new stuff, now, as set dressing?
Never underestimate the power of lighting to set mood and seduce buyers. Show homes have this down to a tee; their designers set atmosphere with cleverly positioned table lamps and overhead fittings, creating, as they do, warming pools of light. Translated, this means losing dated track spots and opting instead for slicker recessed pots (fire regulations permitting) to proffer a tailored model suite feel, or adding a statement chandelier to amplify drama in an otherwise low key room.
Kitchen quick fixes
Kitchens are a huge priority for homebuyers and if yours is less than ideal then it’s time to deflect attention from weaker points. Scrub your hob and make sure everything sparkles. A clean older kitchen is much better than one that appears poorly maintained.
If budget permits, new granite or butcher block countertops — and a change of faucet — will make a big difference and, if you can stretch yourself to new cabinet doors (or even smart new hardware on existing cabinetry), then all the better. Finally, tidy away clutter and start “counterscaping;” proudly position a selection of your glossier appliances such as coffee makers and blenders. Hamilton Beach have remarkably affordable options so don’t be shy of spending and remember that kitchen jewellery, such as this, goes with you to your new abode.
Bathroom quick fixes
Think again about counterscaping. If you can change vanity surfaces, then hallelujah! A simple piece of stone or even a good quality faux product will update an older laminate surface with ease. Other tactics include hanging a new mirror, adding a cute new tap or replacing a washed out shower curtain with a fixed glass panel. Coordinated accessories and stacks of fluffy towels will also distract from less than perfect features, but remain mindful that buyers are now wise to staging. so don’t cut corners. Clean grout lines with bicarbonate of soda paste and keep everything smelling fresh with scented candles.
Just for the record; since lifting our virtual quill to compose today’s column, our Etobicoke pal has had an offer accepted on the condo we helped her scope. Taking into account everything its owner hadn’t done to improve value, our gal cleverly undercut asking and saved herself thousands into the bargain. And as for Kyle? Well, he’s fallen in love with pretty much every model suite he’s viewed and we’ve dissuaded him from parting with a deposit cheque on at least three separate occasions. Guess he needs to learn that condo buying is like dating; yup, under the high heels, hair extensions and invitingly padded bra, there still needs to be a lovely girl worthy of his affection. A successful home, after all, is more about appropriate valuation, good accommodation and perfect location; everything else can be added as the relationship builds.
Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are the hosts of HGTV’s Colin & Justin’s Home Heist and the authors of Colin & Justin’s Home Heist Style Guide, published by Penguin Group (Canada). Follow them on Twitter @colinjustin or on Facebook (ColinandJustin). Contact them through their website, www.colinandjustin.tv.