A lot of things factor into how much your home is worth, such as the location, the square footage, the school district and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Although several of those parameters aren't easily changed, some are under a homeowner's control.
As an astute homeowner, your job is to consider both what you can do to improve your home's value, as well as what you may (inadvertently or otherwise) be doing to decrease it. Completing renovations and repairs might pay off to varying extents. In other cases, you may just have to put up with some of the things you don't love about your home, but letting a house slip into disrepair is a surefire way to decrease its value. Whatever path you choose, it's crucial to be aware of how you're affecting your home's bottom line and to understand what can be done to raise it back up.
One of the main things to remember while trying to boost your house's value is that people have a wide variety of tastes. Those tastes may vary greatly both geographically and demographically. A house with the flexibility to suit a big slice of the population pie will be more in demand than one highly customized to any one particular lifestyle. The more people who find a house attractive when it hits the market, the better off you'll be.
On the following pages, we'll examine some of the top causes of home devaluation and see what, if anything, homeowners can do about them.
Lots of Comparable Listings
The housing market rises and falls, and if you've tried to unload a home at a decent price during the real estate chaos that occurs during one of the lows, you're probably all too aware of how difficult that can be when the market is flooded. The more comparable homes on the market, the harder it is on your house's particular value, especially when buyers are scarce.
It's even worse if your home is located in an area where lots of homeowners have failed to pay off or unload property. Living in a neighborhood that has seen many foreclosures or short sells is bad for your home's bottom line. Each foreclosed house within 250 feet (about 75 meters) will cost an average of 1 percent of the property value [source: O'Connell].
Next up, we'll look at more ways the neighborhood can affect your home's value.
Apart from nearby foreclosures, many other aspects of a neighborhood can detract from how much buyers will be willing to offer. If you live by an airport or train tracks, for example, the resulting noise pollution might devalue your home. Light pollution from a nearby highway or athletic complex could make buyers wary, too. Power plants and landfills are bad news, too. They've both been proven to affect home values negatively.
Or maybe since you first moved in, a cell phone tower has been built nearby. Or the area went to pieces, and a strip club with dodgy clientele has set up shop just around the corner. If your part of town is known for criminal activity, that's not good either. Times change and so do neighborhoods, and if yours has gone downhill, the value of your home could suffer.
You can attempt to negotiate with bad neighbors of all sorts. In some cases there won't be much you can do, but in others you might meet with success. Be sure to document your complaints and deliver them respectfully. It may also be a matter you can bring to local law enforcement or elected officials, depending on your area's laws and ordinances.
And there are more neighborhood features that might be trouble too, including the one on the next page.
School District Details
If the schools in your area aren't healthy and flourishing, that could be driving down the value of your home. It's very common for homebuyers to want to move to places with top-notch schools. People with children will usually be especially cognizant of the quality of the schools in the areas they're targeting their search. Other buyers, aware of the impact schools can have on property value, may make it a consideration as well.
There's not an awful lot you can do to improve a school's reputation, but studies have found that schools with involved parents often perform better. And good schools -- along with concerned parents -- often coincide with wealthier neighborhoods, so it's a complicated playing field.
On the next page, we'll take a closer look at how local features, in particular fellow denizens, can detract from home value.
Before a potential homebuyer can get to your house, he has to drive past your neighbors, and they can take a bite out of your home's value in a multitude of ways. For example, arguing over exactly which blades of grass encompass the all-important property line is just one of the many disagreements that can sour neighbors against one another. Sometimes those arguments spill over to future owners. If it's apparent you have a dispute with the folks next door, many buyers may pass or offer a lower price.
Another issue that can crop up is colorblindness -- your neighbor's colorblindness. If you're one of those unlucky people who have a poorly pigmented house in your neighborhood, it's doing more than giving you something to grumble about when you pass it on your morning jog. That eyesore is driving potential buyers -- and potential dollars -- away as well.
Buyers may also consider a nearby unkempt lawn or annoying pet within earshot as strikes against a property. People who party at all hours can be a problem, too, as can living close to a registered sex offender. If you're within a tenth of a mile, that will almost certainly take away some of your property value and your home will likely take much longer to sell -- to the tune of about 9 percent of the value and 10 percent more time on the market [sources: O'Connell, Longwood University].
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot you can do when items like these are an issue besides potentially performing some figurative fence mending (or abject pleading) with your neighbors. You can do something about your own property though. Let's talk curb appeal next.
Curb Appeal -- The Yard
Pull up to someone's house, and what's one of the first things that catches the eye? The yard, right? (Or lack thereof.) If caring for the yard isn't one of your priorities, it may make your house harder to sell when the time comes. After all, strong curb appeal is essential to selling a house: It sells more than half the homes on the market [source: Heavens]. If your home doesn't have any, that may mean low offers -- or no offers at all.
An old shed or a rotting fence also could affect your home's value, as could having too many artificial installations around your yard, like that funny, little garden gnome. Even elements such as pools, ponds and waterfalls could decrease the value of your house, especially for buyers with small children or for green thumb types who are looking forward to developing a new yard for themselves.
Also, just like clothes and cars, plants come and go in trends. What was all the rage a few years ago may make buyers hesitate, so it could be worth your time to look into what's currently popular in landscaping. Generally speaking, people may be looking to avoid quick-growing, high-maintenance plants, those that make a mess and could draw complaints from neighbors, and greenery that could damage masonry and other home components.
Lastly, while many homeowners have past pets slowly converting into fertilizer in the backyard, buyers usually are not thrilled at the thought of harboring your dead cat, dog, hamster or rabbit. Removing any grave markers would be prudent.
If your yard made a poor first impression on potential buyers, did the outside of your house make up for it? On the next page, we'll dig deeper into curb appeal.
Curb Appeal -- The Paint
Needless to say, paint plays a big part in curb appeal, and if your house is in desperate need of a fresh coat, that flaw could be wreaking havoc on your home's value. Just like the effect a poorly maintained yard can have on potential buyers, paint that's old, faded, cracked or peeled can give people negative feelings about a house.
Even if you spend time and money repainting your home, a buyer might still be put off by the color (or color scheme) you choose. If you're planning on painting, your best bet is to pick popular home colors in order to appeal to the largest buyer-base possible. Neutral colors are the most widely used; white, gray, blue and various shades of beige or cream are good bets. Front doors are the focal center of most houses, so pick that color with care as well. To better understand maximizing curb appeal and the power of paint, learn about color choice in What is color psychology -- and can it help you sell your home?
If you're worried that your house's paint job is a little lacking, it's a good idea to ask friends and family to recommend two types of professionals -- a housepainter and a color consultant. You may be able to find one person who can fulfill both services for you.
Now that we've covered the outside of your home, let's walk through the front door and see what we're facing.
If you manage to lure potential buyers into your home, they'll quickly take note of several things. Is the house cluttered with your possessions? Are there pictures of your family adorning every wall? Is the home dusty and dimly lit? These issues are easily remedied, but if you don't find the time to take care of them, your home will probably have trouble selling for your asking price.
A fresh interior paint job is a good idea too, although again, don't get too wacky. Odd colors, weird wallpaper and bad flooring are likely to look like a headache to potential buyers, rather than selling points. If your home is lacking in storage space, that also may be a point of contention. Warm and inviting -- and not overly lived in -- are what you're going for.
Before a showing, be sure to store stuff and clean up. You want people to envision themselves in a sparkling new home, not somebody's leftover abode.
Repairs in Arrears
If your house is in need of a serious repair, like a leaky roof, busted plumbing, a defunct HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system or a mold problem, then that will most certainly be a point of contention. You need to get major repairs sorted out or risk shaving off a significant portion of your asking price; otherwise, you're just asking future homeowners to foot the cost. They won't.
Get a professional to do the job if you're not confident you can make the repairs yourself. Shoddy DIY work will turn off many a buyer. From stained ceilings to leaky faucets, all these things can affect how much purchasers are willing to shell out. It's time to get those last few troublesome items off your to-do list.
Next we're on to some projects that might -- if undertaken properly -- significantly up your bottom line.
A Kitschy Kitchen
Once a potential homebuyer gets inside, one of the rooms he or she will examine most carefully is the kitchen. Because of this, people often consider it a good move to remodel and renovate their kitchens -- but they meet with different levels of success. Two reasons for only ho-hum success for this is that a homeowner may personalize a remodel too much, or go too high-end with it. Installing a huge stovetop grill might be just what a fellow avid carnivore is looking for, but what about a vegetarian or someone who doesn't like to cook? That person won't be interested in compensating you for the value of that addition.
Some renovations in the kitchen that typically meet with more success include the sink, countertops and cabinets. A sparkling new sink and modern cabinet design can really make people take notice. But if areas like your countertops or backsplash are outdated or stained, it can definitely detract from the value of your kitchen. Think of it this way: People really don't want constant reminders of past occupants in a home they buy, so if you've made any significant marks, you'll want to start erasing them pronto.
While a kitchen remodel can be challenging, if you take it step-by-step, it's a project you usually can accomplish on your own. On the flip side, if you're not exactly handy around a hammer or drill, you better call in a professional to get the job done. Getting quality improvements in the kitchen can really add some value to your home; paying for poorly done repairs and renovations will only burn a hole in your wallet.
After the buyers finish their examination of the kitchen, where are they likely headed to next? One of the other crucial rooms that can make or break a home's value is the bathroom, so let's hope they like what they see. Find out more on the next page.
An Abused Bathroom
The bathroom is another room where you may want to pay some attention, but again, be sure to tread carefully. While you want to make sure you enjoy the fruits of your labor -- especially if you aren't planning on moving anytime soon -- you want to ensure that lots of other people will like it, too.
Bathroom renovations and additions can help increase your home's value, but going overboard with items like gaudy faucets, garish wallpaper and ill-chosen paint can be an easy trap to fall into. Sticking to mainstream and tasteful features will serve you better. If you do plan on moving, but not for several years, understand when that time rolls around, you might want to check out the current bathroom styles to see if yours is still in style or if it needs an updated look. If wallpaper was the route you took, you should probably expect it to take away some of the value from your home, unless you already intend on taking it down yourself and repainting in preparation for the market.
New flooring can also be a good move, especially if there's been any damage, but carpet should generally be avoided, as should vinyl flooring. (This is true for the kitchen as well.) And while linoleum is making a comeback, it's best to avoid it; many people still cringe when they think of it and the glue that holds it down. Some good options would be hardwood floors or various types of tile.
Last but not least, don't forget to give some thought to the toilet. People can be pretty picky about toilets. As in the kitchen, they aren't looking for reminders of past owners.
So if you're ready to move, following these suggestions could get you more money for your house. And if you're planning on staying put, you'll get to enjoy a classic, valuable home. For more tips and tricks for your home, see the links on the next page -- they could give you even more ideas.
Old houses have an undeniable charm, but there are inherent issues that can turn owning one into a nightmare. Knowing what to watch for is key.
More Great Links
- "20 Ways To Devalue Your House." BBC Channel 4. (July 14, 2008) http://www.channel4.com/4homes/buyingandselling/devalue_house.html
- Burnett, Bill and Burnett, Kevin. "Bathroom Renovations are a Good Bet for Recouping Investment." DoItYourself.com. (July 14, 2008) http://www.doityourself.com/stry/bathroomrenovations
- Conrad, B.E. "Add Value to Your Home with a Bathroom Remodel." DoItYourself.com (July 14, 2008) http://www.doityourself.com/stry/bathroomvalue
- "Determine Your Home's Value." RealEstate.com. 2/6/2007. (July 14, 2008) http://www.realestate.com/TipsAndTools/Pricing-Your-Home/Determine-Your-Homes-Value.aspx
- "DIY could devalue your home." ThisIsMoney.co.uk. 9/7/2006. (July 14, 2008) http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/mortgages/article.html?in_article_id=412460&in_page_id=8
- Gopal, Prashat. "Bargain Homes in the Best School Districts." Business Week. Sept. 24, 2009. (Nov. 16, 2011) http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/sep2009/bw20090923_922099.htm
- Graham, Matthew. "The Definitive Short Sale Article." Mortgage News Daily. (Nov. 16, 2011) http://qna.mortgagenewsdaily.com/questions/the-definitive-short-sale-article
- Heavens, Al. "Right Paint Choices Are Key To Resale." Realty Times. May 9, 2002. (July 14, 2008) http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20020509_paint.htm
- O'Connell, Brian. "7 neighborhood threats to your home's value." MSN. (Nov. 16, 2011) http://realestate.msn.com/7-neighborhood-threats-to-your-homes-value
- Perkins, Broderick. "Painting Your House." Realty Times. March 19, 2008. (July 14, 2008) http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20080319_painthouse.htm
- "Plants that Devalue Your Home." UKTV Garden. (July 14, 2008) http://uktv.co.uk/gardens/item/aid/588252
- "Research by Longwood business professors examines sex offenders' effect on homes sales." Longwood University. Aug. 6. 2010. http://www.longwood.edu/2010releases_26711.htm
- Robertson, Chris. "Realtors say that house painting is the single best way to increase the selling price of your house." Majon International. (July 14, 2008) http://www.majon.com/articles/Home_Improvement/house_painting_23.html
- Rodriguez, Natalie and Vaglica, Sal. "DIY Projects That Pay." This Old House. July 2008. (July 14, 2008)
- "Selling Property." Channel 4. (Nov. 16, 2011) http://www.channel4.com/4homes/buy-sell/selling-property
- "Selling Property." Home. (Nov. 16, 2011) http://uktv.co.uk/home/dgiped/kw/141
- Smith, Alden. "Bathroom Renovation - A Good Investment?" DoItYourself.com. (July 14, 2008) http://www.doityourself.com/stry/bathroom-renovation
- "The plants that devalue your home." Easier.com. May 21, 2007. (July 14, 2008) http://www.easier.com/view/Home_and_Garden/Garden/article-117313.html