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August 30, 2011

Mastermind #13 August 24th, 2011

by mark mclean

Better late than never. Sorry about that. It was a busy week and I didn’t get a chance to write about Mastermind. So, if you didn’t make it, you missed an interesting conversation about renovated and unrenovated houses as well as listing houses with questionable design decisions. Of course there is always the obligatory discussion about the financial implications of each. So, where do we start?

First of all, let’s talk about renovated vs unrenovated houses and the “other” category of the older or ugly renovated house.  In today’s market well renovated houses seem to fly off the shelf. People are quiet happy to buy a house where they can just move in, unpack and enjoy. I have seen it countless times, good houses attract multiple bids. Then there is the other extreme, original homes, untouched for decades. These houses are, in Toronto, few and far between and because they are so rare they also attract multiple bids usually by end users who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, or the contractor or “flipper” who will either do a stellar renovation or just enough to make a few bucks. The final category, the older renovation, really created the most debate. The majority of homes in Toronto are well over 60 years old so chances are you will come across those homes that have been updated or renovated in the last 10 to 20 years ago. These homes usually have adequate plumbing, heating and electrical systems and while they may be in good working order, generally they are dated in their appearance. Often big-ticket items like bathrooms and kitchens need to be updated, and as with any renovation, after a number of years, other key elements of the house start to break down; like the roof or water proofing or major appliances. All expensive items. It became obvious that we, as agents, should have a solid understanding of what home upgrades should cost. One agent felt that he needed to increase his estimate on things like underpinning and additions.

So the question arises. An agent goes on an appointment. The house is impeccable. It was built as part of a planned neighbourhood in the early eighties. Inside, the owners installed dark green marble floors. The living room is double height and there is a gold trimmed elevator. Separating the living room and dining room there is a huge planted tree. The kitchen has dark brown oak cabinets with brass handles. When the house was built, it was admired by all. Now, it is like you are in a time warp. The owners are very proud of their house and you sense that any comments about the house being ‘dated’ are not going to be well received. How do you deal with the situation? Many years ago, this exact scenario happened to me. I said the wrong thing and lost the listing. 

We all agreed that no matter what, you must compliment the owners on the incredible job they have done at maintaining the home. In the example above that is exactly what I did. My failing came by suggesting that there would be a lot of push back from potential buyers and that the best way to overcome this was to have a well-known designer come in and do some renderings of what the house could look like if it were updated. Then I would provide quotes from a reputable contractor.  The owners were quiet offended by my suggestion.

The truth of the matter is that most people make design decisions that work for them. When it is time to sell the home, we have to broach the subject carefully. State clearly that while the owners have enjoyed the blood-red walls in the living room, in your expert opinion, a change in colour (to something a little more neutral) might actually appeal to a broader audience. Paint is a simple and inexpensive solution but what about something a little more permanent? A fifties pink and turquoise bathroom? My suggestion, do as much as you possibly can at the least cost. Clean the house, declutter, paint where needed and stage the home accordingly. Chances are, the potential owner will walk out thinking that they will only need to update a few things.

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