Spice Up Your Listings

With a pinch of texture or a dash of color you can add gourmet flair to a property—and you don’t need a five-star budget to do it.

August 1, 2006

As they say in the restaurant business, presentation is everything. Sure, in real estate, the three big factors are location, price, and amenities. But ask real estate pros who’ve been through a slow market and they’ll tell you: Buyers with plenty of choices at hand will look for any reason to say no to a listing. The house that makes an emotional connection—giving buyers a feeling that they’re standing in their future home and not just another house—is the one that’ll sell. Nothing can kill the mood faster than staring at boring, outdated, or empty rooms. Enhancing the mood of a listing doesn’t have to be expensive. We asked readers for examples of small investments ($1,000 or less) that would increase a home’s value or reduce days on the market. Just take a look at what a coat of paint, new tiling, or even refolded linens can do.

From Drab to Fab

Mission - Revamp a blah bedroom

Gina Carpenter, owner of Denver-based Gina Carpenter Designs LLC, saw the problem with this Salt Lake City home right away: Most of the architectural details were hidden by the color scheme, and the home lacked any sense of character. Carpenter made changes throughout the house, but her most dramatic work went into the master bedroom. “The room needed to be warmed up,” she says. She painted the walls terra cotta red, the ceiling cream, and details like the crown molding and window seats white to make them pop. She repositioned the bed and dresser to create a better floor plan, then brought in a chair and table from elsewhere in the house to form a reading area. Picking up on the metal trim in the nightstand, she painted the picture frames and sculpture silver, used chrome shower rods for the window treatments, and even painted a silver box on one wall in which she centered a mirror. “That added a lot of depth to the room,” Carpenter says. She also purchased new bedding to add a touch of opulence. Carpenter spent just $260 on the room—$100 on the bedding, $60 on paint, $30 on a lamp, $30 on fabric and hardware, $15 on picture frames, $15 on the mirror, and $10 on a lamp shade—and completed the room in a weekend. Result: The house sold in just over a month for 7 percent more than the original listing price.

Mission - Add warmth to a vacant space

“An empty space feels lifeless, and it will show every little flaw,” says Martha Webb, author, with Sarah Parsons Zackheim, of Dress Your House for Success (Three Rivers Press, 1997) and president of Minneapolis-based BCW Group, which offers courses on staging to real estate professionals. “When you think about the concept of ‘home,’ it’s not empty and lifeless. So when you show a vacant property, you’re challenging a buyer to get over these feelings [of lifelessness] and see the potential of the space.” A better approach, Webb says, is to aid buyers’ imagination. “You don’t have to do a full staging like you’d see in a model home,” she adds, “but you can do it in certain key areas such as entryways, kitchens, and bathrooms.” Webb says she knows a listing agent in Texas who used about $120 worth of items to partially stage a home that had been on the market for six months and received an acceptable offer the next day. The condominium shown here was competing against other empty condos, so the listing agent decided to add some spark with items she already had, such as the side table, candles, mirrors, and place settings. “She did a great job of conveying a sense of elegance that certainly doesn’t come through in the first photo,” says Webb, who estimates all of the items shown could be purchased for about $200.

From OK to Oh, Wow!

Mission - Breathe life into a bathroom

If their rehab project was going to be a success, Kurt H. Krug, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker McMahan Co. in Bardstown, Ky., and his partner Bess Haydon, an interior design consultant, knew the bathrooms in the Lexington house they purchased were going to need an updated look. “They were very stark, very sterile,” Krug says. In the bathroom pictured, the partners installed vinyl flooring with a stucco tile appearance ($175) and put up fern-patterned wallpaper. “We kept the foliage motif with the leaf patterns in the shower curtain and window treatment,” says Krug. The wallpaper, window treatment, and shower curtain cost about $50. A new vanity and double-sink countertop with brushed nickel faucets was the biggest expense (about $700), but perhaps the biggest change came from removing the soffit and replacing the fluorescent lighting with brushed nickel sconces ($40). A new mirror in a wooden frame ($35) was the finishing touch. “The wood softens the whole room and gets us away from that sterile feeling,” says Krug. After purchasing the house for $204,500, Krug and Haydon have it back on the market for $289,000. He estimates the updated bathroom pictured added about $2,000 to the listing price, while all three remodeled bathrooms probably added between $4,000 and $5,000 in value.

Mission - To a nice kitchen, add some zest

Linda Warden, a salesperson with Advantage Plus Realty in Midlothian, Va., isn’t selling her home, but if she does, she’s confident a modest investment she recently made will add thousands to the price. She already had a nice kitchen with new cabinets, countertop, and stack range hood but the space seemed out of sync with the rest of the house. “I wanted something that would coordinate the copper, bronze, and brass metals used in the rest of the house with the stainless steel in the kitchen,” she says. Installing copper-colored slate tiles on the walls in a diagonal pattern added visual interest as well as warmth to the cold stainless steel in the kitchen. “The whole room really shines now when the lights are all on,” she says. Warden spent $400 for the tiles, mortar, and grout. She did the work herself at night and on weekends, saving about $1,000 in labor costs.

From off-putting to inviting!

Mission - Neutralize the competition

This house had been on the market for about six months and was competing against several homes in the same subdivision. “There were four on the same street,” says Angel Pendleton, who, with her husband Craig, owns three House Medic Handyman Service franchises (part of House Doctors Handyman Service) in the Central Ohio area. Although the bright blue kitchen-dinette area was attractive, it wasn’t showing well against the competition. The Pendletons decided to go with the age-old wisdom of neutralizing the space. White walls made the whole space appear cleaner and brighter, Angel says. The owners were so pleased with the outcome, they decided to repaint more of the interior. They did a total of five rooms, and each room cost less than $500 for materials and labor for a total cost of about $2,500. When the job was finished, the listing agent put new pictures in the home’s brochure and Web site listing. The house sold within two weeks for $480,000—toward the upper end of homes for sale in the subdivision.

Mission - Show off a closet’s functionality

Closets offer an excellent, and often overlooked, opportunity to make a positive impression with potential buyers. A messy and disorganized closet will make buyers uneasy when what you really want to do is instill a feeling of comfort and relaxation. “Those are two really key emotions for a buyer making a decision,” says author Webb. In a linen closet, Webb suggests refolding and stacking clothing and towels. Items such as fitted sheets that are difficult to fold neatly can be placed into pillowcases that can be purchased for about $8 to $10 at a discount store. If the shelves are stained or damaged, they can be replaced with wire shelving, which costs about $4 to $6 per linear foot. Adding bath salts or candles will create a pleasant aroma, Webb says, while small decorative baskets are a great way to store miscellaneous loose items. All of those things cost less than $10 each.

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