While the continuing coronavirus pandemic has thrown the economy into turmoil and many sectors struggle to find their footing and adapt, one segment of the population is doing unexpectedly well: real estate agents and home sellers, who are pressed to keep up with booming demand for homes.
While it may seem counterintuitive amid the economic uncertainty, a number of factors have created, after a slight dip, a true seller’s market. There’s high demand for small and starter homes in suburbs and smaller cities as, anecdotally, buyers escape crowded metro areas amid social distancing orders. A scarcity of existing homes — housing inventory was 27 percent lower than last year, according to Realtor.com, official site of the National Association of Realtors — and construction stopped on new homes for COVID-related reasons have driven prices up against that high demand.
Historically low mortgage rates and an economy that seems, at least for now, to be showing signs of recovery, are also drawing potential buyers in; those with the means will pay a pretty penny for a home that’s suited to their changing needs. After a few months of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, uncertainty about the upcoming school year, and with many people working from home with no end in sight, many have had more than enough time to soak in the shortcomings of their current digs.
Buyers want home offices and more space
Home offices, more privacy, more space, and versatile outdoor spaces are among the amenities homebuyers consider essential as they adjust to more time at home; aside from these, there are some simpler, cost-effective improvements sellers can make to be sure they get top dollar for their home. We spoke with a few local experts about which home improvements are worth the money — and which to avoid.
Alyssa Hermann, Red Yucca Group, Keller Williams Realty, works with sellers and buyers — including yours truly, thanking her and my lucky stars I left my 300-square-foot apartment pre-pandemic — to find their perfect home (or ranch) in El Paso, Las Cruces, and surrounding areas.
“Don’t overdo it for your neighborhood”
According to Alyssa, “The biggest thing to remember when doing renovations to add value to your home is that you don’t want to overdo it for your neighborhood. If everyone in your neighborhood has granite countertops except you, or at least half do, that’s a good idea for an upgrade, but if you are the only one who has it, then you definitely won’t get your money back.”
Alyssa’s other top tips for sellers to make the most of a home improvement investment? For starters, paint!
“Keep it simple and bright,” Alyssa recommends. “Very light grey, beige, or white are definitely the way to go. If you do grey or white, I would pair this with daylight light bulbs. Also, if you don’t know which color to choose, look at your flooring and match it to that. It is much more cost-effective to match your paint to the floor than the other way around.”
If you can’t afford to add a room, paint can help that, too.
“A bright room gives the feeling of a larger space,” Alyssa said. “One big no-no that I see people do a lot is to paint the ceiling a darker color. This makes the ceiling look low. Right now, people are looking for tall ceilings, so paint it a lighter color to give the illusion of tall ceilings.”
Update the kitchen and bath
With many restaurants closed and the remainder at partial capacity, and takeout and delivery quickly losing their luster after months of quarantine, many are finding themselves spending more time in the kitchen — ideally cooking, but maybe just grazing from the fridge. While searching for the perfect snack, sellers should look around and consider an updated kitchen to get the most bang for their home improvement buck.
To get started, Alyssa recommends checking out the kitchens in the rest of the neighborhood; if, for the most part, your neighborhood is fully updated, it may be worth it to get entirely new cabinets, she explained. Joe Sandino of Cabinet Specialties in Mesilla Park offers services ranging from complete remodels with new cabinets to updates with improvements such as pull-outs, new drawers, or countertops, or just a fresh coat of paint.
Once a home’s curb appeal draws potential buyers through the door, Joe said, “The rooms that get the most attention and consideration are the kitchen and bathroom. If the home is out-of-date or rundown in these two rooms, the buyer will try to assess their cost to remedy, should they consider buying.”
When it comes to remodels, Joe says, work done in the kitchen and the bathroom nets the highest average return; he recommends sellers view the annual cost vs. value report — at remodeling.hw.net — which analyzes the value of 25 major and minor remodels and what they cost by region.
Countertops, too, are an option for update. “Granite and quartz are a good choice,” according to Alyssa, but just like other improvements, it’s about just keeping up with, not exceeding, the Joneses. “If no one or very few homes in the neighborhood have it, then just go get a nice Formica. Also, try to keep your countertop color as close to a solid as possible. This is what is trending right now.”
To keep those updated kitchens uncluttered and cooking, Kathe Pass, of Las Cruces’ Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate — Steinborn & Associates, recommends sellers look into expanding a home’s storage space.
“With more and more people stocking up for the days ahead, consider making larger pantries or insulated food storage areas off the garage or inside the house; insulated because garages get hot,” said Kathe, who said insulating the whole garage is another option to beat the heat and keep things cool.
Consider expanding garage size to fit trucks
Speaking of garages, Kathe also said sellers can make a garage longer so that it accepts a larger truck — a standard of Southwestern living. “As it stands today,” she said, “most trucks have to be parked in the driveway, under threat of hail damage in storms or stealth robberies from thieves. Garage space is quite cheap to build, as opposed to other space in the home, and should not add too much more to the price.”
Preparedness-minded sellers might also invest in a backup generator for a home, in case of emergency. After all, in a power outage or other emergency, what good is a brand-new freezer full of spoiled food?
Flooring can bring a good ROI
Flooring is another area in which sellers can find a good return on their investment.
“Everyone in the Southwest loves tile,” Alyssa said. “Right now, the larger tiles are in, and so is the wood look. One thing I do notice is that once you get above $200K to $250K, the wood look tile is not as loved as it is in lower price points.”
If you do opt for tile, Alyssa stresses to sellers they use different sized ones, leaning toward real wood, rectangle, or large square tile. In the bedrooms, go for wood, tile, or a plush carpet.
“One big no-no that I see a lot is having a lot of different tiles around the house,” said Alyssa, something she said she considers a top-of-the-list project. “After about three tile changes throughout the house, the buyer starts to count.”
Another flooring option to consider comes from Dennean Dyer, also with Steinborn, who had inspiration strike as she helped calm a frustrated, overwhelmed seller. “As she was having to redo many items in a pre-rental property, she pondered over replacing much-needed carpeting,” said Dennean. “I told her to pull up the carpet and leave that portion of the flooring down to the concrete; then let the buyer pick their own flooring for a predetermined cost. She was so relieved!”
This option cuts down on the seller’s stress, and allows the buyer to customize their new home before they even move in — a win-win! Furthermore, Dennean suggests that overwhelmed sellers can sometimes “get in their own minds too much [and the] easiest of suggestions can flip a switch!”
Elsewhere, a quick facelift to the bathrooms goes a long way. Alyssa recommends changing the tile in the shower or counter or a fresh coat of bright paint. Much like the appliance-heavy kitchen, Alyssa said, bathrooms seem daunting to a buyer, “so any effort put into these areas can really go a long way.” For a master bath, Alyssa said a double sink is almost “a must” in today’s market.
Focus on outdoor spaces
“El Paso and Las Cruces have amazing weather pretty much year-round, so people love to be outside,” Alyssa said. With outdoor spaces in high demand, she encourages sellers to “make [their] backyard a place people will want to be.”
“If you don’t have the money to put in an outdoor pool or to totally deck it out — which I don’t recommend because most likely you won’t get all your money back — just clean it up,” Alyssa continued. “If you have patchy grass, get some seed or sod. Fill in the empty rock areas and pull those weeds. Adding a few plants will really help as well — just make it look inviting.” Nothing like a little elbow grease, after all.
Along with that beautified backyard, sellers can take advantage of all Mother Nature offers us here along the border; in Las Cruces, the vistas of the Organ Mountains; in El Paso, the broad ranges of the Franklin Mountains and the vast, twinkling sea of lights that makes up the El Paso-Juarez Borderplex. “Always maximize views, and add large windows to catch views,” Kathe recommends. Simply put, “people buy views.”
Major updates aside, Alyssa said, “It’s all in the details.”
“There are little tiny things that can go a long way too,” she said. “Things like painting your front door red or blue, potted plants, scraping any peeling paint and changing doorknobs and fixtures will go a long way.”
Whatever you do, though, Alyssa offers this all-caps warning: “DON’T GIVE YOUR HOME AN IDENTITY CRISIS!”
“Whatever style you choose, make sure you stick to it,” she said. “You may have chosen to do multiple areas of your home, but if it doesn’t flow, you will not capitalize on your investment. When you choose the color, stick to the same tone throughout. When you choose a style like modern, midcentury, rustic, Mediterranean or traditional, have that same theme throughout the whole house. This is a mistake us as realtors see people make over and over again.”
Dennean Dyer, Associate Broker
Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate — Steinborn & Associates
Alyssa Hermann, Realtor
Red Yucca Group, Keller Williams El Paso
Kathe Pass, Realtor
Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate — Steinborn & Associates
Written by Zak Hansen • Courtesy photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | Sept/Oct 2020
Posted by LasCruces.com