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March 01, 2009

Speaking of: When to call it quits with condo ‘improvements’

It's best to keep it simple when getting a place sale-worthy

Shelley Williamson

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What a difference a year makes! A year ago, the market was so busy and the number of listings for resale condos so low (especially those in the lower price ranges), many people based the decision to purchase their condominium home on a five-minute viewing....

In a sellers’ market, people often have to look past the old stained broadloom (what was that crusty patch in the bedroom carpet?) and the crazy colour scheme, which might even have extended to the metal railing, doors, walls, appliances and cabinets. Many even turned a blind eye to the unsightful blinds and dated curtains, setting aside the fact that the previous owner’s designs for making the living room a warm, cosy space included a pine armoire to house the TV and a tacky floral throw over an aging sofa.

Today, with new home and condo sales down significantly from just six months ago—and literally thousands of properties on the market, prospective purchasers are taking more than their fair share of time to settle on what’s likely the biggest investment they will ever make.

Things have come full circle, and it’s a buyers’ market out their now. Which means, if you already own a condo, and want to flip it for a new one, it’s a good time to buy. If you can sell your old one.

So that begs the question: just how much renovating is too much when you are preparing to get your condo on the market?  Not that you necessarily want to post a sign in the window immediately, but eventually it will be a consideration when you’ve made the final decision to move up.

In the current buyers’ market its best to think hard before sinking too many hard-earned dollars into renos for those looking to sell their condo. It may be wiser in the long run to leave it the way it is and offer a lower price as there’s no guarantee people who have put a lot into renovating will  recover their money on the sale.

The exception may be those folks who are willing and able to roll up their sleeves to put in a little sweat equity; like putting a fresh face on your condo by painting the place yourself, replacing baseboards, installing new lighting fixtures and/or laying some trendy new flooring. The number of unsold homes on the MLS serves as a reality check to would-be sellers, saying “you have to be cognizant of where you are,”—in other words, shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to a condo in the entry level of pricing may not give the return you are expecting, as there is only so far for your price to go in that part of the market.

Remember, condo shoppers are busy people by nature and can’t—and don’t want to—have to look beyond the clutter and bad décor decisions. So it’s best to keep it simple when getting a place sale-worthy.

To that end, stick to cosmetic, rather than structural changes for a look that’s clean and crisp. The most important thing is a fresh coast of paint and keeping your place really, really clean—showhome clean.

It’s also a good idea to shed a little extra light on your situation. Especially if your light fixtures are older than ten years, update them.

Replacing things like kitchen cabinets is expensive—often to the tune of several thousand dollars—so if you can get away with it,  a fresh splash of paint will often suffice, and perhaps change out the old brass handles for some shiny chrome pulls. Likewise, spending thousands on new laminate, hardwood flooring or carpeting may not always be necessary. Sometimes a good shampoo or steam cleaning is all that’s needed to take the smell of good old Rover out of the room.  CL

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