above: Ellen Mosher – Photograph: contributed
You remember what happened to real estate during Covid in 2020. You blinked and—boom!—the house down the road sold for more than you imagined possible. Then you blinked again, and— boom!—another house, then another…
Was your house in for-sale shape?
“I am constantly telling people, don’t wait until you want to sell to do an improvement on your house. Do it as soon as you are able. It’s all about keeping your home current,” says Ellen Mosher, a real estate agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Greenwich. “Sellers who did that when Covid came along and there was limited inventory, those houses were primed and ready.”
Mosher is the top-selling residential real estate agent in Connecticut, according to industry tracker RealTrends, so her advice is borne of experience. It’s also what she does in her own home. “I practice what I preach,” says Mosher, who has lived in Old Greenwich for almost thirty years. “Every year I do one or two projects to my house. The key is to stay on top of everything.”
While they can be costly, investments you make in your house today can pay you back down the road. “Buyers across Fairfield County are paying a premium for used homes that have been updated, upgraded and redesigned. Even if you have a 100-year-old house that you’ve completely freshened and updated, they’re selling at a premium. Buyers want the instant house,” Mosher says. “You walk in and you don’t have to do any work—insta-house, insta-life.”
Unless you’re planning on staying in your house for the next twenty years, you don’t need a full tear-down and build back to make your house appealing. What, then, makes for a smart upgrade? Assess your house as a potential buyer would to determine what needs attention. Start at the curb, beginning with, yes, the mailbox. Hopefully that “is interesting,” Mosher says. From there, how is your walkway looking? “Great shape,” should be the answer. Next, do you see tidy, low-maintenance landscaping that affords privacy? A recent paint job on the millwork? Good garage doors? Energy-efficient windows? If any of these seem wanting, you know where to start. Before a buyer even enters a house, these first impressions set the tone for what happens next.
Once inside, head to the kitchen and bathrooms. Stainless steel appliances, cabinetry that is “classic with a nod to modern,” and decor in “neutral tones with pops of color” might be all that you need. And don’t forget to look down. Says Mosher, “A lot of people are updating the floors with wide planks. That’s very in right now.”
Upgrades should be in line with the other homes in your neighborhood. Luxury buyers might expect a home theater, wine cellar and full outdoor kitchen, with bonus points for a generator and electric car chargers. But those costs could be hard to recoup in a neighborhood with a lower price point, Mosher says. No matter. A tidy firepit and outdoor grill area will show buyers that they can enjoy the yard. In the basement, sheet-rocked walls and a finished floor nearly always pays for itself. Should this be a workout space? A gaming room? An office? You don’t need to dictate that, so long as it’s wired and heated. Says Mosher, “People can envision how to use it. You don’t need to do this for them.”
A DEEPER LOOK
Before you spend time and money making changes to what potential buyers will see,
find out what’s lurking out of view. Cracks in your foundation, electrical issues, hidden mold, drainage problems, invisible radon and more can sink a sale (and compromise your health) without warning. To be on the safe side, hire a certified home inspector—even if you’re not selling—to assess your home’s health. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to fix small problems before they get worse.