Inside information: cost-effective sugar and spice

Sunday, June 27, 2004, 00:00

Should I change the kitchen? Ought I put in air-conditioning? Must I really block the entrance to the kitchen’s en-suite bathroom? Will painting the front door a vivid yellow make any difference? Should I enumerate the hundreds of things wrong with the plumbing?

These, no doubt, are but a few of the questions asked by householders wanting to put their homes on the market. Most estate agents will tell you that spending a fortune on renovating premises to up the price does not necessarily mean you will recover the money. Indeed, those of us who have had new neighbours moving in over the years know that sitting rooms become garages, front gardens become extensions of children’s playrooms, backyards become greenhouses, and balconies walk-in closets, to name but a few so-called ‘minor’ alterations.

The story is told of the couple who had a corner house painted a muted shade of lilac. It had been on the market for quite a few months. A well-meaning relative told them that potential buyers were probably put off by the colour, and offered help in removing it.

They enlisted more help, and in a relative jiffy, the deed was done. And then came the phone call they never expected. “We passed by your lovely lilac house last month on the way to the airport last month; is it still on the market?”

Let us say you are like the acquaintance of mine who has lived in the house since royal purple was the ultimate colour for bathrooms; she still hasn’t used hers, content to make do with the spare shower, for fear the colour might wash off.

Even in such an extreme scenario, it would be pointless to say the bathroom is ‘new’ – the buyers would probably want to install a brand new one… and they would, to boot, probably suspect something wrong with the plumbing, as to why the room had not been utilised.

Think Englishman in New York. You may be used to the filthy grouting in your driveway crazy paving, the overgrown jungle of weeds choking the hibiscus and the aspidistra, or the way the gate screeches in protest when you open it; but how would you have reacted if it belonged to someone else? Sometimes the tiny details put people off a property.

Carrying out minor or major refurbishments does not necessarily mean you will recoup your costs. However, they may be the deciding factor in clinching a deal.

Most kitchens these days are made of fitted units, and included in the price; however, do not be surprised if prospective buyers complain about the wood, colour, lack of storage space or dearth of appliances, as part of the traditional haggling process. Most people will appreciate an extra toilet and wash-hand basin in the washroom or tucked away downstairs somewhere.

Consider whether updating the bathrooms suites is worth it. Even if you opt to change only the bath, it may mean finding a veritable disaster area, plumbing-wise, under the tiles, some of which will inevitably crack when fittings are removed. And are you sure you have enough matching tiles for the necessary patchwork?

Think cosmetic surgery. If you improve your nose, you will probably think your love handles need removing. And when you have done that, you will probably want the bags under your eyes ironed out.

If you remove shelving and paint one wall in a room, the other three will look dingy. Similarly, rest assured that if you renovate one room, the rest of your house will look shabby. But grubby doors and sticky floors never did anyone any favours.

Are you really going to use all the furniture you have put in storage for your new home? Will the venetian blinds made-to-measure for this property fit into the apertures of your new house? What about the carpets and curtains? Are you sure you do not want to leave them in this house as selling points?

While house-hunting, I have come across all manner of fobbing-off methods when I asked about things that did not seem right. In a house with not one right angle in the rooms, I was told that it was the ‘modern’ way to build. In a house where the entrance to the garage from the house was through a 40-cm slit in the kitchen wall, I was told that this was in aid of an ‘extra’ row of kitchen cupboards. In a house with iron beams at 45o to one another in the bathroom, I was told it was because of the ‘portico’. In a garage where water was practically streaming down the walls, I was told that the roof tanks had overflowed that morning. Moral: whatever you do, do not lie. It puts people off.

Think body language. If you fail to replace spent bulbs and broken window panes, even if you are not living in the house any more, you will not make too good an impression on visitors. For the same reason, a house that is clinically clean will appear artificial, but one where the term lived-in includes dirty socks on the floor and a thick, dark tideline around the bath is off-putting. An old trick is to have the smell of baking bread or freshly-brewed coffee lingering in the air – without making any reference to it. Avoid having curries or fry-ups when visitors are calling.

Think shopping list. Potential buyers will be less likely to pay extra for a garage that is not attached to the house, even if you hint it may become part of the package. A garden gives instant brownie points – but not if all the trees in it are beyond redemption and the soil is caked and cracked, decorated with dollops of dog mess. You could, in passing, mention how far the house is from the nearest bus-stop, supermarket, church, and playing field, according to the information you would have garnered through playing it by ear.

Think chain reaction. ‘Gazumping’ is the term that explains what happens when there is a chain of buyers who are also sellers, ready to move into their new home when theirs is sold and they have the wherewithal to pay for it. Be wary of joining such chains, because if one link defaults, you may be left high and dry, with a promise made to sell your old home but nowhere to move into.

Furnished accommodation can prove very expensive, and not everyone has relatives or friends who will offer temporary lodging.

Do not gossip about the neighbours, especially if you do not happen to see eye-to-eye with them. Apart from the fact that they may be bosom friends of the potential buyers, or even related to them, there will be time enough for new inter-personal relationships with them if these people move in, and it is not your job to be the liaison officer. Incidentally, if you are asked why you intend to sell the house, always give the same answer to everyone.

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