Modernize Your Outdated House Before You Sell

Does your home still look like it’s from the ’80s? Here’s how to fix it up without breaking the bank.

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When it comes to outdated decor, Vancouver-based real estate agent Michael Tudorie has seen it all – wood panelling, carpets in bathrooms, kitchens that haven’t been updated in decades. He’s often tasked with selling homes owned by downsizing boomers or elderly Vancouverites, and some of these abodes look like they’re out of a mid-20th-century movie.

Many of his clients want to do renovations before selling, because they think spending thousands on upgrades will get them a better price. One family wanted to tear down walls to create an ensuite and replace a dated tub with a shower. “I said, ‘No, let the buyer do that,’” says Tudorie. “Sometimes, it’s not worth investing.”

Still, it helps to do something – many people do get turned off when they see pink shag carpeting in the living room. Rather than having to take out a second mortgage for renos (save that for your next property), it’s better to proceed with a more moderate approach, says Tudorie. Why? Because if your tastes don’t match a potential buyer’s, then you could have trouble selling the house.

Small upgrades can pay off financially, too, says Alice Kent, a Toronto-based real estate agent. You can see a home’s value rise dollar for dollar just from painting, lightly sprucing up kitchens and bathrooms and working on curb appeal.

There are four things you can do to get an outdated family home back on trend, so it can sell quickly and for a great price.

The only big renovations you should do is if something has gone awry, like a basement flood or burst pipes in the bathroom and those areas need to be redone.

Focus on must-do renos

The only big renovations you should do is if something has gone awry, like a basement flood or burst pipes in the bathroom and those areas need to be redone. But talk to a real estate agent before the makeover, says Kent. They’ll know what buyers in your area want in terms of style and use of space. Generally, today’s younger buyers like a sleek, modern look – not a lot of crown moulding, some wood (but not too much) and lots of light.

Also consider the possibility that your home might get torn down. “If you go down your street and see brand new homes and you’re the only one left, chances are the buyer will rebuild,” says Tudorie, who comes across many homes in this situation. If that’s the case, don’t invest a penny on the interior, just focus on making the property look appealing.

Yes to paint, no to carpet

Kent says paint is one of the quickest ways to upgrade the look of a place. You may love grey or even dusty rose, but pick a white, which is in fashion now, instead. “It makes it feel bigger and fresher,” she says. “And white looks good no matter what the style of your home.”

If your outdated house has carpet in weird places – “In some of these homes, I see carpets in the kitchens,” says Tudorie – then get rid of it. Walking into a house with carpet in every corner can be a turnoff. Add tile or hardwood instead. The only exception is stairs, says Kent. Clean any carpets you do keep.

Brighten up kitchens and bathrooms

Kent says a small budget can go a long way in making kitchens and bathrooms look fresh and modern. New cabinets are pricey, so simply paint wooden cabinets white – buyers probably won’t like your oak cupboards – and put in new stainless steel hardware. While high-end countertops such as granite and quartz are all the rage right now, leave it to the new owners to decide what they want.

As for the bathroom, put in a new, modern tap, a bright shower curtain and finish off the look with fluffy white towels, says Kent. Also, consider replacing your old brass light fixtures with something more modern in a grey metal. Or, install pot lights, leaving no dark corners in your house.

Go for curb appeal

“Most buyers drive by first,” says Tudorie. They’re looking for a tidy property with clean lines and a few pops of colour. Spruce up the garden and put planters on the front porch. “Get a new letter box [or, less British: mailbox] and paint the front door,” says Kent. “Any colour, people will tend to be receptive.”

You can get your family home looking on-trend for around $10,000, depending on how much work you do and purchases you make. That’s good, because you have a lot of other things to deal with as you downsize and move on.

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