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Know when to stop with home improvement

By Marni Jameson
Correspondent

It’s so easy, once you’re in the clutches of home improvement, to keep improving.

The new paint makes the cabinets look bad. The new cabinets make the appliances look bad. The new appliances make the floor look bad. The new kitchen makes the bathroom seem dated. Pretty soon you’re fixing up the neighbor’s house.

Home improvement, like plastic surgery, is a slippery slope. Not enough can backfire. And so can too much.

I contemplated all this as I fixed up my parents’ 50-year-old-and-looked-it house to get it ready to sell. My goal was to hit that happy intersection of spend the least and net the most.

Thankfully, I was working with a good friend. Bill Wood is a real estate agent who knows houses, knows sellers, knows me (so he can protect me from myself) and knows where to draw the line.

When you’re fixing to sell, you must stay focused on the four filters: nice, new, neutral and necessary.

Last week, I told you about the improvements we made at the old homestead. We scraped the shell, and chose new paint, flooring and finishes to give the house a warm but neutral background for a new owner to build on.

As important is what we didn’t do – and why. Besides getting Wood’s thoughts, I canvassed another fix-and-flip friend, Susan Beane of Denver. I folded her advice in with Wood’s and mine for this list of improvements you can skip.

Don’t do too much for the neighborhood: If everyone on the block has a gourmet kitchen and a Jacuzzi, you may need to step up those areas, but if most don’t, don’t add them. I chose fixtures in keeping with the home’s roots – modest and practical.

Don’t replace what doesn’t matter: Focus on entries and main areas, not secondary areas. “If the entry tile looks bad, I replace it,” Beane said.

Don’t replace what can be cleaned: The home’s old shower enclosures were spotted and rickety with calcification. Wood thought a power clean would get rid of the build-up, restore the shine and make the doors slide like new. He was right. Super cleaning dirty grout on tiled areas can also bring sparkle back to an old surface.

Don’t replace what can be embellished: Rather than tear out old baseboards or trim, just beef them up, Beane said. Adding more molding to what exists and painting it often gets the results you want for less.

Don’t replace what you can paint: An ugly brick fireplace is a great example. Same with dated wood paneling. Even old tile can be painted with tile paint.

Don’t replace what can be repaired: Enough said.

Don’t replace what can be staged: If a kitchen backsplash is in good shape, but not special, stage it with plants and a raised cookbook display.

Don’t replace what buyers won’t notice: Replacing this home’s hollow doors with solid ones – a subtle improvement – would not have been worth it.

Don’t keep what’s best omitted: Remove old drapery and leave windows uncovered, or cover them with plain vanilla blinds. Similarly, don’t feel compelled to extensively stage an empty home.

Don’t replace what the new owner would rather buy: The stovetop in this home looked OK, but didn’t work well. Since it didn’t detract, rather than pay to replace it or have it fixed, we decided we’d let the new owner replace it with gas or electric, which is a personal preference best left to them.

Don’t overachieve: Save the Italian marble for your dream house.

Jameson: marnijameson.com
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