In my last post I looked at the things that I often put on a Franklin chart to show the pluses and minuses for a home that I may list. The last post concerned mainly things on the outside of the house, mainly about the property involved. I should have had the condition of the roof on that last list, as it is a major minus if it is in need of replacing. Also things like spalling of brickwork or chimneys should have been on that list as minuses.

This post will focus on the things that I look for inside. I usually advise the would-be seller about the three "C's" of real estate at this point, too – Clutter, cleanliness and condition. Many of the things that would show up on the Franklin chart have to do in one way or another with condition.

So, what am I looking for inside? While you could say that this was an outside item as well, the windows are a major plus or minus. If the house is older and the windows have been updated, that is a plus, otherwise they are usually a minus. Obviously cracked windows or windows with broken seals are a minus. The same is true of the doors. If they are worn or rusty or otherwise in need of replacement they are a minus. Nicer, newer doors, especially decorative entrance doors that may have replaced builder-grade original doors can be a plus. Interior and closet doors are also items that can draw a plus or a minus, depending upon whether they are builder grade or a more upscale style and finish. 

Once inside, I'm normally looking for improvements, updates and upgrades. Homes that are still all original 10-15-20 years (or more) after they were built will be full of minuses. Kitchens and baths are particularly prone to becoming "dated looking", since builders tend to use whatever is in fashion at the time. Entrance halls may have been done in vinyl tile back in the day, but if they haven't been updated to a nice tile they are in the minus column. Lighting fixtures are another component that the builders use whatever is popular at the time and which need to evolve with changing tastes.

The kitchen is usually the biggest minus area, if it has not been updated or upgraded. No matter how nice the Formica still is in the kitchen, it is still Formica and woefully out of date – big minus. The appliances, even if they came with stainless steel finished years ago get out of date in about 5 years. It doesn't matter that they still work fine, old appliances are a minus. Cabinet style and colors tend to change every 3-5 years and sometimes some of the older finished come back into style, but not usually the cabinet style itself. We all know the kitchen countertop story, although it is currently had to say what is "in", one can seldom go wrong with granite tops. The "appliance hutch" of yesterday has given way to the wine racks of today (along with wine coolers). Kitchen designs, colors, cabinetry and tops go out of favor/style with alarming frequency, so I advise customers to budget for a full replacement every 10 years and partial update every 3-5 years.

Bathrooms have the same tendency as kitchens to go out of style. Colors and sink/toilet and fixture styles and finishes change over time, as does the whole tub vs. shower thing (multi-head/multi-person showers are currently the in thing). Homeowners need to look at keeping their bathrooms updated, too.

The mechanicals – heating and cooling system and the water heater and softener (if there is one) are also things that I tend to grade as pluses (if they've been updated or are in great shape and not too old) or minuses (been there unchanged since day one). It is hard to move in with confidence, even if the rest of the house is great, if you are looking at a 15-20 year old HVAc system or an old hot water heater. The appliances often fall under the same age problem, if they have never been replaced either. Older owners tend to come back with the answer, "it was good enough for me; it should be good enough for the buyers." Well, no, it won't be and that will impact your ability to sell and the price that you get.

Inside, as on the exterior, I also look for signs of deferred maintenance or just plain laziness. Worn, chipped or missing switch plates or plug covers are common. I look for such things as chipped or scuffed corners and show molding, worn, soiled or scuffed flooring, missing drawer pulls, blinds with a missing slat or two, or maybe pull cords that no longer work and lights missing covers. Those are all things that the owners have gotten so used to living with that they don't even see them anymore, but potential buyers will and they will wonder what other things the owners have let slide.

I also give pluses and minuses for things like the number of bathrooms and lavatories, especially in comparison to the norm in the neighborhood. Other things that can earn a plus are a first floor laundry (or even second floor in a colonial) rather than a basement laundry; a mudroom off the garage with an exterior door; a nice entrance with a coat closet; French doors on the study/office (if there is one); a large, step-in pantry off the kitchen; and a fireplace in the living room, family room or great room (extra plus if it is a natural fireplace).

I haven't mentioned paint and paint colors yet, because much has been written about that topic; however, you will likely not get pluses for strong or dramatic colors unless they really fit the house. More modern homes were done in fairly neutral colors because they depend more on the style than the colors; however a few dramatic accent walls can add to the style, without becoming overpowering. If you choose to leave your teenage son's room black or deep purple, give yourself a minus. If you think that the stars and wall mural of the rainbow and Unicorn in your daughter's Princess room is just too cute to disturb, give yourself another minus. And if your man has turned your basement into his man-cave with team colors for the walls, chalk up yet another minus. These are just "in-your-face" redecorating challenges that you are hurling at potential buyers and not the precious moments that you think you are preserving.

Basements may earn some extra pluses, if they are finished properly. Big, empty, unfinished basements don't necessarily rate a minus, but they get no pluses unless they are a daylight or walkout and then only a little plus, since they are unfinished. A well finished basement will actually add quite a bit of value in the mind of the buyer and can add real value to the appraisal. A well-finished basement is one in which the materials and finish of the basement match the other floors of the house. That means drywall on the walls and ceiling and good flooring. It is not one that someone put a quick dropped ceiling in and added a carpet remnant to the floor before putting in a flat screen TV and all of the old furniture from the last redecorating effort upstairs. It is also not a "man cave." Basements in which a 6'2" man will be bumping his head al the time are not going to get pluses no matter what.

So, now you have an idea of how a Realtor may look at your house. Go back through your list and make your Franklin chart. If you start to see many more minuses than pluses you will know that you have some issues that need attention. We see your house as a product that we have to market and you must start to look at it that way, too. Sometimes it is hard to give an honest answer to the obvious question, would you want to buy a house that looks like this one? Don't wait for 4-5 months on the market for that light bulb to come on. Take the time to get the place ready, as a product that you would buy and that you will be proud to have someone else buy from you. If the projects are too big or too expensive to tackle now that you're ready to sell, at least be realistic about the impact that they will have on the buyer perceived value for your house and set the price accordingly. No one is going to offer you top dollar if they end up with a long and expensive project list in mind after visiting your home. That list will grow out of the Franklin chart.

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