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How to Update a Home

How to Update a Home

Real Estate Professionals frequently hear buyers and agents talking about homes with feedback along the lines of “too dated”.

So what dates a home and how do you “update” without breaking the bank?

Some things to consider:

The 1970’s and 1980’s and even the early to mid 1990’s were big on polished brass. It was everywhere. Lighting fixtures, switch plates, faucets, door knobs and hinges, kick plates, you name it and it was polished brass. In the mid 1990’s the oil rubbed bronze look was in. Today the same thing is happening with brushed nickel, also sometimes called brushed stainless steel and a half a dozen other variations.  Replacing door knobs, hinges, cabinet and drawer pulls is quite easy. Personally I think the egg shaped Kwickset Alisa series door knobs are a very nice look and the last kitchen pulls I used were the Euro Bars by GlideRite. Light fixtures and faucets are a little more difficult, but all these things lead to a more modern look. Cut crystal light fixtures are not as popular as you might think they are!

Today’s buyers really don’t want kitchens with formica countertops if the home is valued over $300,000. Granite is the current choice material to install, which also means an under-mounted stainless steel sink and a new brushed nickel faucet. I really like the new hands free kitchen faucets (check out the Moen “Motionsense”) , but it is not main stream yet – though I think it will be in the future. Also a subway tile backsplash really goes a long way too (check out the glass subway tiles!).  Sometimes you can just reuse the old cabinets, but consider new pulls and hardware. If the cabinet fronts and drawer faces are banged up or you have exterior hinges, consider refacing the cabinets. Even if you keep the old cabinets, many times you can retrofit them with aftermarket “soft close” hinges and drawer slides very economically.

Nothing dates a kitchen more than old appliances. I have seen buyers thumb their nose at entire beautiful kitchens just because the appliances are old! The new kitchen ones are pretty sleek and less expensive than you think. The brushed stainless look once again is quite in. Buyers also really like gas ranges, but that may not be feasible. No need to add a propane tank in today’s world just for a kitchen.

Wallpaper is not as popular as it once was. Buyers tend to like neutral painted walls that don’t clash with their furnishings. The dark stained wood trim popular from the 1970's through the late 1980's is no longer the draw it once was. We usually recommend painting walls with Sherwin Williams China Doll with the trim and doors with white semi-gloss when “neutralizing” a room. Ceilings should be a flat ceiling white. If you do the painting yourselves, please be sure to use the blue "painters tape". It helps even the most amateur painter become a Michelangelo! 

If your home has hardwood floors, that is a real plus. Check to see if they need refinishing. May times even a "screen and recoat" (also called buff and coat) is enough to make the floors stand out (but use a satin finish instead of high gloss). This inexpensive process roughens up the surface of a hardwood floor just enough that a new coat of polyurethane will adhere.

If the carpeting is more than 10 years old, or has stains, consider replacing it. Visible raised or separated seams on vinyl floors shreik to potential buyers.

Check your windows. If the insulated glass has broken moisture seals (water between the panes or cloudy that can’t be cleaned), you can replace the glass insert at several places locally. It’s much less expensive than replacing the windows. While you are at it, check the paint on the mullions and window frames. Over time a little moisture can make paint flake.

New LED lighting can update a home. Light and bright sells – consider increasing the wattage if you don’t replace, but if you do replace, remember brushed nickel fixtures. Believe it or not, the sleek plastic outlet and switch covers are now much more popular than the expensive brass and other fancy covers of years past. Even the Decora light switches are giving way back to the toggle switches we grew up with (but please don’t say you still have the old black switches). The most popular are the toggle switches with the dimmer slide on the side. It won’t benefit as yet to pay for the structured wiring the magazines keep advertising.

Outdated ceiling fans can be a problem. If it is old, rusty, or just not in good shape, the rule is that replacing it is better than removing it. But removing is better than leaving it.

Look at your HVAC grills (the heating and cooling vents).Often they are rusting and discolored. New grills are easy to find at Lowes or Home Depot and really easy to install.

If you have the old inexpensive lauan doors, they are sure to date a home as well. New raised panel doors are less expensive than you think.

Not surprising, the old pink, green, yellow and blue 1” tile bathroom floors are not as popular. But the old white and black tile floors still work! Even the 4” square white or off white tiles of the 1980’s and 1990’s are considered dated. Do we need to mention the blue or pink bathtubs? For modern flooring check out the new ceramic and vinyl tiling and remember that you actually can put tile over existing tile – even though your tile man will tell you that he wants to take out the old first. The H20 Vibe or Kohler Moxie showerheads have lit up more than one buyers eye’s – they have Bluetooth speakers in them! (The H20 is less than $40 and the Kohler around $200). And don’t forget the light fixture. Many of the older ceiling vent fans have lights and their plastic covers may have yellowed over the years. You can usually buy new replacement plastic covers that work perfectly.

These are some of the things that Buyers and their associated real estate agents look for when searching for a new home. While it usually doesn’t make sense to do them all, each does add to the impression of the home. Frequently the things you see here are the things that are addressed when someone “flips” a home for profit. Even though we regularly encounter people that don’t want to invest in their “old” home since “we are moving”, others like to treat a home like an investment. This is how you can “increase the return”. Either way can work, but it is smart to know the difference and the market.


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Tucker Robbins
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices
3838 Kennett Pike
Wilmington DE 19807
(302) 777-7744 (direct)