To renovate or not: that is the question

Duane Hicks

Some people renovate their homes to increase their long-term enjoyment of it. Others may do it with an eye to increase the value of their houses and make them more desirable when they put them up for sale.
But what are some of the things homeowners should consider before making renovations? What do prospective buyers want out of today’s home?
And is it worth redecorating and renovating if you’re not going to get to enjoy it for yourself first?
“If somebody is renovating their home with the idea of staying there, their approach should be, ‘I don’t want to do anything that would away value from the home,’” warned David Kircher of Tichborne’s Real Estate here.
“Maybe something a little wild in terms of colour or unique.
“Unique is not necessarily good in real estate. Unique also means ‘white elephant,’” Kircher chuckled.
“They should keep in mind two things—that they’ll be living there and, at some point, they will be selling their home,” he added.
“I would suggest most people approach it that way. Because if you’re comfortable living in that environment, that will be reflected when somebody looks at your home.
“You should not deny yourself, either, from doing what you like to do.”
If you are preparing your home to sell in the near future, Kircher suggested the best thing they can do is “take what’s there and make it look as good as you can for basically as little as you can.”
“It’s not worthwhile to put in all new windows, do a new kitchen, or anything like that,” he noted.
As for where to start, why not the outside? Dan Cousineau of Cousineau Real Estate here said the exterior of the home definitely is worth an upgrade.
“You have to spruce up the outside, make it look attractive in whatever way, whether it’s painting, repairs, or cleaning up the yard,” he remarked, adding that if the home really needs it, you may go as far as a total paint job or new siding.
“Your first impression is the outside, so have a nice appearance, nice ‘curb appeal’ as they say,” echoed Kircher. “That’s important.”
As for landscaping, there’s no need for elaborate topiary—just keeping your yard trim and tidy often is enough for prospective home buyers.
“The outside stuff is not quite as important, other than that it has to look good,” said Cousineau. “We live in an area where it’s winter half of the year, and you don’t see the landscaping like you do in other areas.
“It’s easy to spend a lot of money on landscaping, yards, and fences, but the payoff can be minimal,” he warned.
“It’s got to look good, but it doesn’t have to be anything special,” he stressed.
But Kircher said he sees landscaping becoming more of a selling point in future.
“I would say the trend is getting there. It will get important,” he noted. “It’s not important yet, but more and more people are devoting a lot of their energy and resources into landscaping.
“They don’t see the benefit of that landscaping in the winter, but certainly a well-tended yard and a well-presented yard is more salable than one that isn’t.”
Moving to inside the home, Cousineau said a good place to start is making any repairs that need to be done, like patching holes, as well as slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls.
“Paint goes a long way,” Kircher agreed.
Moving beyond the superficial, home sellers need to start making some hard decisions. For example, luxurious bathrooms and state-of-the-art kitchens can be a serious selling point for today’s home buyer—and some even put them at the top of the list for what people look for when eyeing a home.
But Cousineau said the cost of renovating kitchens and bathrooms should be kept “within reason,” or the investment may not be worth it when the house finally is sold.
Sometimes it is better to leave that work to the new owner.
Another consideration is flooring, with hardwoods, laminates, and ceramic tile having become quite popular among new buyers or people upgrading to a nicer home, noted Kircher.
But he cautioned that one way or another, there is a cost to installing flooring in anticipation of selling a house.
Personally, if he were a seller, he sooner would consider the fact his home needs new flooring and factor it into his asking price, rather than going ahead, paying for the new flooring, and adding it to the asking price.
“Again, that’s something that is subjective in terms of likes and dislikes,” he admitted.
On the same note, while it’s important to keep your unfinished basement clean and maybe give it a paint job, there’s no need to decorate it—leave it up to the new owner to decide what they want to do with it, advised Cousineau.
“It’s easy to put $20,000 into a basement and make it nice, but it’s really hard to get that back,” he remarked.
“Generally speaking, people don’t do a lot of improvements on basements unless there’s already some improvement there, in which case they might spruce them up a bit.”
Cousineau said there’s always things that can be done to catch a buyer’s eye, but these are always changing—and what works and what doesn’t sometimes is a matter of individual taste.
As such, if you’re prepping a home for sale, it never hurts to ask others for their opinions.
“Some people kind of have a knack, some people are good at it,” Cousineau noted. “I am not good at it myself, but some people have an idea of the colours that should go, the different little things that can make a big difference.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but some people are just better at setting houses up to make them appealing.”
As for fans of TV programs where people buy homes, renovate them, and then “flip” them for a profit, Cousineau said that’s not something he sees much of here.
He noted people have to keep in mind that the tax structure is different in the U.S., where they tape the TV shows, because in Canada, the home buyers would have to pay a capital gains tax doing what they do.
“But if you live in a house for a while, and then sell it, it’s your principle residence, right? So there’s no taxes. . . .
“We don’t have a lot of them, but we do see people who buy a house, fix it up, live in it for a while, and then sell it,” Cousineau said.
“You don’t really look at it as being ‘flipped’ because it doesn’t come across that way.”
Looking at long-term trends, Kircher noted local market values only have gone up two-five percent per year since about 1990.
Because there hasn’t been a large swing in market values, prices have remained stable. But that also means “flipping” a home here probably wouldn’t be worth your while.
“Between the cost of purchasing, the cost of selling, the cost of renovating, it’s pretty difficult in a stable market to ‘flip’ a home and be profitable,” Kircher said.