Psst, Seller: Your Stove Is Showing Its Age

The New York TimesNovember 04, 2011
FOR those who wince every time they look at the cracked Formica counters in the kitchen, the decision to sell the old apartment may be especially liberating.

They can begin to dream of making a fresh start in a new kitchen, with fancy granite countertops and shiny new appliances.

But not so fast. Buyers are more selective than ever, brokers say, and even a wobbly stair rail or a squeaky floorboard can scuttle a potential sale — let alone an outdated kitchen, a funky bathroom or an awkward layout.

So before the first open house, it is often a wise idea to renovate. That can be as extensive as a full gut job, or as limited as painting cabinets and replacing appliances.

The notion that a property for sale needs to be blemish-free represents a sharp change from the real estate boom years, when buyers felt pressure to snap up apartments at first sight, harvest-gold fridges and all, or lose them.

It may also seem counterintuitive to invest in a place you’re about to leave behind for good. But buyers in today’s market are often seriously considering eight, nine, maybe even a dozen listings, so any way of separating yourself from the pack is key, brokers said.

“You don’t want the buyer to be like, ‘We kind of like that place, I don’t know,’ ” said Michael Garr of the CORE Group NYC. Instead, the reaction should be, “Wow, this is so beautiful.”

Mr. Garr said two of his six current listings had been renovated to sell, at his urging, and so had another, on West 22nd Street, that sold this fall.

In general, money spent on new dishwashers, fresh coats of paint and stone bathroom tile will come out of the seller’s pocket and can’t be tacked onto the list price. But brokers say that type of spending is preferable to chopping the list price, which can convey to buyers that something is wrong with the property.

Mr. Garr, for example, said that the offers he had received on a renovated two-bedroom condo on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea were higher after he persuaded the seller to do some work, even though the asking price didn’t change.

What also may come as a surprise is that buyers, with all due respect, often do not have a lot of imagination when it comes to decorating, no matter how many design magazines they may have flipped through.

Instead of presenting them with a blank canvas, it’s better to put forward a finished, up-to-date space with things like high-quality light fixtures, embedded computer cables and fresh bathroom vanities, said Nic Bottero, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens.

“It’s much harder to sell a raw space,” Mr. Bottero said, “because they just can’t visualize it.”

And while many listings — perhaps even the majority — include the word “renovated,” even a change made as far back as the Clinton administration can qualify an apartment as renovated. The work listed in six apartments in this interactive feature was done after the decision to sell was made.

To be fair, a costly renovation does not always make sense. While a fresh coat of paint is generally worth the cost, a $50,000 kitchen-and-bathroom replacement probably won’t be recouped in a $300,000 studio.

But for a million-dollar-plus apartment, spending the money may be a sound investment.

After buyers walk through your door for the first time, Mr. Garr said, “ you don’t want them going someplace else.”