Love Live DC: What Should I Spend Money on Before I Sell?

This weekly column is written and sponsored by D.C. real estate agent and Edgewood resident Jessica Evans. Email her questions at  [email protected].

Question: I’m thinking that I’m going to be ready to sell my condo and move in a year or two, and I’ve set aside some money for improvements. I’d like to try to make improvements that result in a higher sales price or at least get back the money I spent on them. What do you recommend?

This is a great question and is a common discussion that I have with prospective sellers when they are preparing to sell their home. I strongly recommend starting this process as much as a year in advance (or more), and it’s always a good idea to consider the resale value of any money that you invest in your home. That imported Italian tile may be the most beautiful that you’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean the buyer who buys your home is going to be willing to pay any more for it.

To start with, I’m going to assume that all of the major systems and appliances of your condo are in normal working order. By major systems, I mean the HVAC, water heater, electric panel and wiring, plumbing — all the big ticket expenses. If they aren’t, you should start there.

It may seem obvious, but if your furnace is 30 years old, the chances of it coming up as a buyer objection when you go to sell are pretty good. Unfortunately, replacing mechanical systems doesn’t make your home LOOK any better, but I recommend saving receipts and creating a list of improvements (with the amount spent) so that buyers can better visualize the value of that new air conditioner. It’s not a bad idea to keep a running spreadsheet so that you have this info ready to go without having to dig through your records. 

Next, I would consider improvements that will have a strong visual impact. Depending on your budget for these improvements, this may mean minor cosmetic changes or full renovation. For example, you may not be able to redo your kitchen, but replacing light fixtures, painting cabinets and adding new hardware can give you a new modern look without a high price tag. Similarly, painting, changing hardware and light fixtures throughout your home are easy ways to improve the visual appearance without spending too much.

Before starting any major projects (which in my mind would be more than a few thousand dollars) it’s a good idea to know what the current market value is and what the “top of market” value is. This would be what your unit would sell for if it was in the best possible condition.

This is a good thing to ask your favorite real estate professional for help with, but generally in a condo building you can look at the highest sales prices in the last year for similar units. We can usually anticipate in advance what the best case scenario market value is going to be, or at least a conservative estimate for budgeting purposes. You want to be careful not to invest more money into your condo than it is worth if considering a sale in the near future.

Last but not least, one of the best returns on the money that you can spend is on staging and decor. The difference between a vacant empty condo and one that is professionally staged is truly amazing and will have an impact on buyers interest. If you have the time and creative sense you can easily do this yourself using the furniture that you already have.

If this type of thing isn’t your forte, considering bringing in a staging expert or interior designer for a consultation and get their recommendations on what you should purchase to add to and accentuate your space. The goal of staging is to enhance a space and show it at its best, I know I look like much different person in a cocktail dress as I do in sweatpants, and how you choose to present your home will make a difference in how it is received by prospective buyers both online and in person.

If you’re thinking about selling and this column has made you feel overwhelmed or like you’re behind schedule, don’t worry, it’s also possible to get a lot done in a short amount of time with the right team of service providers. We’ve helped clients prepare their home for sale and completely transform a space in as little as a month. If you’d like to get my thoughts or opinion on your particular situation and objectives, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to help you with no obligation or commitment.

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