Although housing prices are finally beginning to cool, there’s no denying that much of the nation is still in a seller’s market.
Case in point: The rat-infested Orange County, CA, “hoarder home” that just sparked a bidding war and sold for $655,000—a whopping $56,000 above asking price.
Now, if you’re sitting in a statistically hot market—Midland, TX, Colorado Springs, CO, and San Francisco, we’re looking at you—and trying to sell your home, you might be thinking: If a rat-infested, junk-filled house can sell for over asking, what would my house go for without doing a thing?
Perhaps you don’t need to waste your time or money on upgrading appliances, painting the exterior, or dealing with a costly staging. People will be lining up to buy your home in whatever condition it’s currently in, right?
Well—yes and no, real estate experts say. It’s true that in a competitive market less is needed to sell a home. But the goal is always to get top dollar, says Kevin Deselms, a Realtor® in Golden, CO, outside Denver.
“The big question sellers should ask themselves is ‘Are my marketing and pricing attracting the most potential buyers and the highest possible offers?'” Deselms says. “It isn’t just about whether or not it’ll sell—it’s about maximizing a seller’s net return.”
That said, if you’re not worried about profits and are just looking to offload your home fast, there are a few things you might be able to skip when prepping your home for sale in a competitive market. We talked with agents in some of the nation’s hottest markets to ID which repairs you need to focus on—and what you can leave for the buyer to deal with. (A big disclaimer: Talk to your agent to make sure you’re on the right track; your agent will know best what’s happening in your particular market.)
1. Staging: It depends
Most real estate pros recommend staging—it’s the secret sauce to making your home look as attractive to as many potential buyers as possible. But whether it’s worth it depends on how much you’re listing your home for, Deselms explains.
“At the higher end of the market, it’s more common to stage a vacant property, because they tend to stay on the market longer, before attracting an offer,” he says. “Higher-end buyers also tend to expect the presentation and marketing to be more robust, so it may harm the perception of a property if it isn’t staged.”
If you’re pressed for cash, Deselms says you can probably skip staging if your home is priced under $500,000. But it becomes much more necessary as prices approach $1 million, he says.
2. Swapping carpet for hardwood floors: Skip it
This one might come as a surprise, but think about it: Older carpet can be overlooked, Deselms explains, so he tends to advise against spending money on it.
“Floors are typically one of the first things a buyer will be thinking of replacing, anyway, usually switching out carpet for a hardwood or veneer,” he says. “So it’s a pointless expense for the seller to shoulder.”
3. Upgrading older (but functioning) systems: Skip it
Listing a home with an older roof or HVAC system is usually a no-no. But in certain markets, you might be able to get away with it, explains Atlanta-based real estate agent Bill Golden.
“If you know that the roof or the HVAC system is old, but it’s functioning fine, then yes, you can skip doing that—but be prepared to pay for it or contribute toward it once a buyer does an inspection,” he says.
“However, in this market, it’s possible you won’t have to do it at all if the buyer is not concerned or if they have lost other bids and really want your home,” he adds.
But tread carefully here: Your systems and foundation will need to be functioning and safe, explains San Francisco real estate agent Alina Laguna.
“If the issue is either something major or something that has to do with the health of the home buyers, I would necessitate a repair,” she says.
4. ‘Obvious’ repairs: Do them
“Obvious repairs are still essential,” Golden says. “If you’ve got paint peeling off the outside of the home, or broken cabinets—or anything else that shows—it’s going to create a negative impression of the home, and people may read that as your home having more and larger issues.”
5. Interior paint: It depends
You might think a buyer who really wants the home won’t care too much about paint colors—that’s easy enough to change out, right?
“It depends on how the rest of the interior looks,” Golden says. “If there’s no furniture in the home and nothing on the walls, then old and dirty paint will be a major turnoff, as would very strong color choices.”
But if the house is furnished and the paint isn’t offensive, you can feel free to leave it be, Golden says.
“Buyers all want to put their personal stamp on a home, and paint is one of the ways they use the most to express themselves,” he says.
6. Expensive landscaping: Skip it
No real estate pro will ever tell you that curb appeal isn’t important. But you don’t necessarily need to spend a mint to add some oomph to your exterior in a competitive market.
“Landscaping is something most new homeowners devise plans for, before ever closing on a property, so it’s something sellers should avoid spending money on,” Deselms says.
That said, no matter what kind of market you’re in, you should do the bare minimum: Make sure the yard is free of clutter (your kids’ toys should be nowhere in sight), rake up leaves and other debris, and make sure your lawn is freshly mowed before any showing.
7. Upgrading appliances: Do it
“Of course, it depends on the buyer, but the whole place changes with new appliances and feels more updated,” Laguna says. “Also, some home buyers don’t want to have to spend a penny after moving in, so they look for homes that have newer appliances and finishes.”