- - Thursday, May 31, 2012

While there’s no such thing as one home style that fits every buyer, many younger, first-time buyers prefer a home with an open floor plan, plenty of natural light, a modern kitchen and renovated baths. Buyers who also are searching for an affordable first home may find a disconnect between those desires and some of the older homes on the market.

Homeowners who want to sell an older property can take steps to make their property more appealing to younger homebuyers. The National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers in 2011 showed that the average age of first-time buyers was 31.

“Some buyers are eager to buy a home they can fix up themselves, but if you offer a home ‘as-is,’ the buyers will expect to pay a much lower price,” said Gary Haynes, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Annapolis. “If you want to maximize the price, you’ll need to do some work.”

Morgan Knull, an associate broker with Re/Max Gateway in the District, said today’s buyers are more sophisticated and well-educated about a home’s finishes.

“I call it the HGTV and Bravo effect because now even first-time buyers are aware of things like what a soaker tub is compared to a decade ago,” Mr. Knull said. “The finishes in the house are the first thing the buyers see and the last thing they see and most are looking for turnkey-ready homes. That means that sellers can’t get away with doing things halfway.”

Mr. Knull said sellers of older homes need to start by decluttering, eliminating heavy drapes and doilies on the furniture and opening windows to freshen the air.

Sellers have the option of selling their home as-is if they don’t want to put the time and money into repairs or renovations, but they likely will garner a higher price if they make the effort to improve the property.

“The first thing to do is to get rid of anything that makes a house look old,” Mr. Haynes said. “Wallpaper is almost always a negative and should be taken down and replaced with paint. If a home is full of older furniture, I prefer to show it empty so that younger buyers can visualize it with their own style.”

Peggy Hamaker, an associate broker with KDH Real Estate in Arlington, said that many older clients are downsizing, so she recommends clearing out as much as possible before putting a property on the market.

“If you’re moving out, this is a good time to pack up your belongings to put them in storage and to go through your kids’ stuff and give it to them or get rid of it if they don’t want it,” Mrs. Hamaker said. “Then you need to scrub the place until it sparkles and paint the walls a soft yellow or light taupe, a nice neutral, yet modern, color.”

Mr. Haynes said sellers of older homes need to fix anything that could be an indication of past or future problems in the home.

“If there was a water problem, you need to fix the leak and paint over the water stain because no one wants to take on a problem house,” Mr. Haynes said.

Depending on the seller’s budget, some home improvements can be made to appeal to younger buyers.

“If the sellers don’t have enough cash to fix the property, you may be looking at a predicament of spending money to avoid losing money,” Mr. Knull said. “It may be better to spend $10,000 than to lose $25,000. The goal is to minimize the seller’s losses.”

Mr. Knull said in a recent home he saw the sellers had spent about $500 to replace the bathroom flooring, vanity and light fixture and to paint the bathroom walls, but left the old tile surround and shower in place.

“They took what could have been a negative, an unrenovated bathroom, and neutralized it, Mr. Knull said. “They didn’t make it a selling point, because that would be a brand new bathroom at a cost of $5,000, but they at least eliminated the negative.”

Mr. Knull said a brand new kitchen or bathroom will bring a higher price for a property, but he said sellers who cannot afford that can improve the look of a property by pulling up the carpet to reveal hardwood flooring, painting a dark brick fireplace white and lightening the look of a home with brighter paint colors and less furniture.

Older homes sometimes have smaller bedrooms and closets, so Mr. Haynes recommended removing the bedroom furniture from a small room and turning into an office with a small desk and computer chair to show an alternate function for the space. He said sellers also could opt to place a crib in a secondary bedroom to show its potential as a nursery. Furniture can be rented inexpensively or borrowed for home staging.

“You can stage a home with smaller furniture, such as little table or smaller benches in the kitchen to give buyers a sense of what fits and looks stylish in an older home,” Mrs. Hamaker said. “You can inexpensively update rooms if you switch to brushed-nickel doorknobs and light fixtures.”

Mrs. Hamaker recommended replacing windows, installing granite counters and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen and painting or replacing cabinets, if sellers can afford it.

Older homes often have fully grown trees and shrubs, so Mr. Haynes recommended trimming overgrown landscaping, if possible. He suggested staging an outdoor living area, which could offset any dreariness inside, especially in a home with a large backyard.

In addition to improving the look of an older home through cleaning and making minor - or major - repairs, an older home can be made appealing through marketing efforts.

“Some of the older homes in Arlington have a lot of appeal to young couples and young families because of their location within walking distance to Metro and within a great school district,” Mrs. Hamaker said. “You can emphasize the location, the charm, the mature landscaping in an ad and tailor your marketing to likely buyers.”

Mr. Haynes said Realtors also can pay to have a property “virtually staged” with images of how it could look with modern furniture and some improvements.

“If the yard is the selling point of a house and it’s almost like you’re buying a yard that comes with a house, then you need to play that up,” Mr. Knull said. “Sometimes I sit in the backyard and put the marketing materials out there so people have to come out and look at it.”

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