When it comes to selling that all-important investment, your home, there are many factors to consider. In addition to freshening up the paint — a must before you list — here’s what savvy real-estate brokers across Canada recommend.
Deciding whether to stage, update or renovate areas of your home before you sell depends on the type of property you have, says Will McKitka, a senior vice-president of sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “If it’s an older property where the land is 90 percent of the value, then staging and décor [are] less important. If the property is a $2,000-a-square- foot condo, staging is key because it can strategically make a small space seem larger and show how it can be maximized.”
If you can’t afford to do a full-stage, opt for a mini-stage. Remove clutter (strollers, toys, personal items, anything pet-related), use the right scale of furniture, paint walls and clean every horizontal surface. “A coat of white paint on the walls freshens them up, no matter the age of the home,” notes Kevin Hardy, McKitka’s business partner and a senior vice-president of sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.
Another smart paint trick is to spray-paint dated aluminum windows from the inside, which will not require permission from the strata corporation. For larger projects such as an outdated kitchen or bathroom, McKitka recommends renovating both if you can, and at the same time. “If you renovate only an outdated kitchen and not the bathroom, it’ll make the unfinished room more noticeable.” Do it fast and do it right. Hardy adds, “If you’re selling a $300,000-to-$600,000 home, you can get away with painting only the cupboards and new hardware. But if it’s a $5-million-to-$7-million home, people’s expectations will have to be met. You’ll lower the value of a high-end property if you do a cheap fix.” Buyers make up their minds within the first 60 seconds of viewing the home, according to Hardy. “First impressions can end up being their last impression, and improving areas like the exterior, front yard and outdoor space doesn’t have to be costly,” he points out. “They just need to look fresh, relevant and tidy.” Cut back overgrown plants and repaint the stairs, deck and front door, adds McKitka. “Patios and sundecks, any outdoor spaces, even if they aren’t used a lot — you need to make them relevant again because there is value in that.”
Even more important than the architectural style is the décor, which should match the identity of the home, notes Ron Dickson, a senior vice-president of sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. “Today’s buyer relies on the Internet and great photographs — even 4K videography for their information. When we arrive for a viewing, the home has to maintain that excitement that the buyer felt when they viewed it online,” Dickson says.
He advises sellers to concentrate on minimalizing and depersonalizing your home. “You want to make the home appealing in a blank canvas sort of way, so [apply] a fresh coat of paint and remove clutter and unnecessary furniture, personal photos and artwork,” he says. “Even if the property isn’t the most stylish, you want it to look like it’s been lovingly cared for and well maintained.” This means fixing cosmetic issues that buyers will notice, like cracked tiles, a broken window, burned-out lightbulbs, carpet stains and cracks on the walls. If you’re including items like the washer, dryer, air conditioner and stove with the house, make sure they’re all in working order. “[These] all add up to a long list of problems that [buyers] can use to renegotiate the price of the house or cause them to choose another [home],” Dickson points out.
If you think the kitchen or bathroom — key rooms that sell a property — need an update, keep the price of the home in mind. “If the price point appeals to first-time buyers, you may want to leave things alone, so the buyers can put their own stamp, especially if the rest of the home is clean and [well] maintained. If you’re at an upper price point, do the renovation to create unison in the house and [to] command more money.” And if you do renovate, leave it to the pros. “If you’re not handy, now is not the time to DIY,” Dickson cautions.
In today’s market, buyers either want a place they can transform themselves or they’re looking for a finished home, especially buyers from overseas who may not have the resources or contacts to have renovations done, says Andy Taylor, a Sotheby’s International Realty Canada senior vice-president of sales. When it comes to condominiums or model homes, Taylor recommends giving them some character and swapping out items like basic builders’ light fixtures for customized ones or installing built-in shelves in the living room. “It should look like care and thought have been put into the home,” he says. However, if a bathroom or kitchen has to be updated, there’s no need to put your own personal stamp. Keep these rooms as simple and neutral as possible. Taking the time to renovate these key areas will make your home easier to sell and open yourself up to a greater number of potential buyers.
Along with the requisite decluttering and fresh paint, it’s also advisable to know what challenges your house could pose to the buyer. Providing your own home inspection is good for you, the seller, as well as for the buyer. “Remember that the buyer’s perception of issues is usually exaggerated,” notes Taylor. “There may be a small cost to repair something like a broken door handle, but the perception of the buyers is that it’s going to cost them a lot more, as well as their time.” If you do your own home inspection, you’ll know what the house’s deficiencies are and what needs repair, along with potential costs. Fix the problems now before buyers discover them, as they’re more discerning nowadays. “You want to take away as many [buyers’] objections to the property out of the equation,” says Taylor.
In today’s market, the success to selling a house starts even before the buyer steps through the front door. “Buyers are looking online and these pictures are the most important tool when it comes to selling homes,” explains certified real-estate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty Quebec, Cassandra Aurora, who is also a registered home stager. “It starts with one image, and in that photo, you have to sell [buyers] on not just the home but [also] the [natural light], the décor, the floors, the ceiling height. And if they like it, they’ll scroll down.”
The trick is to keep everything simple, even the décor, so buyers look at everything and not focus on, say, that one couch or the wall colour. “I try to use what the seller has, as long as it’s not overwhelming. Then I’ll bring in brighter cushions, a throw, change a floral couch or Persian rug to something neutral,” says Aurora. “When it comes to tackling updates to a kitchen or bathroom, the investment depends on the quality of the material. “If [the area is] well maintained, in wood or in good condition, then it may only require a paint job. If it needs a bigger update, then I’m [in]. It may cost you $15,000 for a new bathroom, and while it’s not a guarantee you’ll get that $15,000 back, your home will sell faster.”
For photos, visits and on open-house day, Aurora recommends removing all personal items, including anything pertaining to pets, so buyers feel like they’re walking into a model home and not someone else’s space. When people find out that a dog lives in the home, they’ll inspect the floors and walls more closely for scratches and dirt, she reports.
“We also need to create a certain lifestyle. If the home has a hot tub or outdoor fire pit, for example, capitalize on it. Remove the cover and turn on the hot tub, and position [skewers] with marshmallows next to the fire pit,” she says. “I even place rolled-up towels next to the bathroom sink, reminiscent of a spa experience.”
Looking to sell your home? Our real estate advisors offer in-depth knowledge, exemplify professionalism and deliver attentive service tailored to your needs. Connect with one of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada’s top real estate agent today.
By Tracey Ho Lung – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Winter 2018 and has been updated on July 31, 2023.