To get a prime pay­off, ren­o­vate strate­gi­cally

Be­fore shov­els hit the ground, con­sider prop­erty as a whole: the struc­ture, liv­able space


When it comes time to sell a home, be smart about which fixer-up­per projects you un­der­take.

Some up­dates will add ex­tra value to a prop­erty come list­ing day, but oth­ers might fail to of­fer a re­turn on in­vest­ment.

“When you’re do­ing ren­o­va­tions, a lot of the time they’re for your­self and your own en­joy­ment, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into some­thing that’s good for re­sale,” says Bren­dan Pow­ell, a Toronto real­tor with the Brel Team.

“Yes, bath­rooms and kitchens are al­ways where you get the big­gest bang for your buck, but you don’t al­ways get more than you spend. Ask your­self, is it just an ugly kitchen or is it a com­plete dis­as­ter? You have to look at the house as a to­tal­ity. If you’re go­ing to put in a brand new kitchen but the rest of the house looks like a dis­as­ter, you can’t just do the kitchen. It’s a slip­pery slope. Some­times it’s best to leave ugly things be. There’s no point do­ing a lip­stick makeover.”

Mis­sis­sauga home­owner Sharon Giraud, 49, re­cently be­gan prep­ping her prop­erty for re­sale, to be listed this month. Giraud and her hus­band will be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what it’s like to live in other parts of the world, be­gin­ning with Malaysia.

“Our home-reno plans started a cou­ple of years ago be­cause we knew our exit date from Canada,” she says. “We did things with that in mind.”

The cou­ple hopes to fetch top dol­lar for the house they’ve lived in for 16 years to help fund the next chap­ter of their lives as semi-re­tired, glob­al­trot­ting renters.

“In do­ing the bath­room I raised the height of the cab­i­nets,” Giraud says. “We up­graded the cab­i­net and counter for bet­ter re­sale and are at­tack­ing the gar­den next for bet­ter curb ap­peal. We’re do­ing daily fixes, even lit­tle things that I could live with like switch plates are be­ing fixed or changed for a bet­ter look. It’s like get­ting all cleaned up for a hot date.”

The touch-ups are mi­nor, with the goal of ac­cent­ing a unique prop­erty tai­lored to pro­fes­sion­als in­stead of fam­i­lies, as it fea­tures home of­fices, low-main­te­nance gar­dens, mod­ern bath­room fix­tures, and plenty of space for en­ter­tain­ing friends, in­clud­ing a pool.

“Over time liv­ing in a place you get com­fort­able and just stop see­ing things,” Giraud says.

“But when you are ready to sell they now be­come im­por­tant and you are look­ing at things with a more crit­i­cal eye. You can ei­ther just put lip­stick on a pig or go for the long haul. For us, be­cause of the unique­ness of the house, the long-haul think­ing and ar­chi­tec­tural aware­ness was al­ways nec­es­sary. From ma­te­ri­als to style, we felt we were pre­serv­ing some­thing sig­nif­i­cant and ren­o­vated based on that.” Small im­prove­ments can work won­ders to­ward mak­ing a good first im­pres­sion, says pro­fes­sional Toronto-based stager and in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor Red Bar­rin­uevo, of Redesign4­more.

“Fix the scratches and leaky faucets, the cracked tiles and the grout is­sues,” Bar­rin­uevo says.

“Those things make a big dif­fer­ence. You don’t want to be hand­ing your to-do list to the new own­ers. They can al­ways go some­where else with noth­ing to do.”

Some­times the big­gest pay­offs are fast and cheap.

“Paint­ing is al­most al­ways worth it,” says Pow­ell. “Paint is cheap, easy and quick.”

For yards in need of a makeover, bring in in­ex­pen­sive mulch for a clean look.

“Make it as easy as pos­si­ble for peo­ple to see what the space is,” says Pow­ell.

“De-clut­ter so that the rooms look big and they can see past the stuff.”

Pow­ell re­cently worked with a client who’d in­her­ited a big, old Park­dale house that would have taken six months to over­haul at a cost of $200,000. Ren­o­vat­ing for re­sale didn’t make any fi­nan­cial sense, plus, leav­ing it un­touched would give the buyer the chance to style it their own way.

“Do­ing part of a house doesn’t make any sense,” says Pow­ell. “If there’s old knob and tube and the base­ment’s leak­ing, it doesn’t mat­ter that you put in a nice new bath­room if the rest of the house needs to be torn out.”

He also warns ren­o­va­tors to con­sider the area and de­mo­graphic be­fore em­bark­ing on a project. “Think about what’s ap­pro­pri­ate for the house and the neigh­bour­hood,” he says.

“If you over-ren­o­vate, there’s a di­min­ish­ing re­turn. No­body wants to be the most ex­pen­sive house on the street. If you did a Rosedale reno in Corso Italia, there’s di­min­ish­ing re- turn. To flip it around, if you’re in Rosedale and you do an Ikea ren­o­va­tion, it’s go­ing to back­fire. Some­body who’s mov­ing to Rosedale and buy­ing a $2-mil­lion house, you have to keep in the style and price bracket to your tar­get buyer. Ren­o­vate ap­pro­pri­ately.”

“You don’t want to be hand­ing your to-do list to the new own­ers.”



Be­fore knock­ing down walls and rip­ping up hard­wood, make sure the ren­o­va­tion is worth the ex­pense.

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