Real Estate Q&A |

Real Estate Q&A

Doug Van Etten
Free Press Real Estate Columnist

Q. My husband and I have been looking at homes for sale and have been very surprised that many are so outdated. How can owners really expect these homes to sell with gold shag carpet, pink bath tubs and avocado green electric coil kitchen ranges?

A. That is an interesting observation you have made about some of the homes for sale.

Like you, many times buyers are taken aback by older décor and fixtures in a home, as well as by homes that do not seem to be in a “showing-ready” state of cleanliness and order.

Over the years I, too, have seen many “dated” home interiors and even exteriors sometimes. Not always, though often, the owner has lived in this home for many years. If that is the case and the stove, tub, blinds, carpet or other dated features work, some owners may not even think about replacing them. That is sort of an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” way of looking at things.

Sometimes a home owner wants to replace or update items to get a home more ready for sale and they run into the thought, “what if I put in this kind and color of appliance and the buyer wants something different?” Other times, a seller may look at updating a bathroom then realize changing out that one room may make other parts of the home appear even more dated. Sellers may also think if they update some things or rooms it locks the buyer into a style that the buyer may or may not want to follow with.

So, you can see there are many ifs, ands, or maybes that may be going through a seller’s mind as they prepare the home for sale.

More often than any other allowance, a seller is sometimes willing to offer a “carpet allowance.” However, in this age of 10-50 photos of the home on the Internet, a buyer cannot “see” a carpet allowance. They can see the worn or dated carpet.

My advice to sellers who know their carpet needs to be replaced is to go to a flooring store and find out what the best-selling contractor-grade carpet or other flooring costs. Another way a seller can get a good idea of what to actually replace the carpet with before putting the house up for sale is to visit a few new construction open houses.

The National Home Builders Association (NHBA), like the women’s fashion industry, spends large sums of money each year researching trends and buyer behavior. As a result, builders know what to put in the house that will appeal this year that may not have been “in” two or three or five years ago. I encourage sellers to take advantage of that NHBA research.

The day-to-day condition of homes you look at may be a bit more “lived in” than you would expect, too. Many owners are selling their homes because the family has become too crowded in it and as such; they just do not have the room to put away day-to-day living items, especially things related to the children. Renters can have similar impacts to the look of a home, as they may have little or no vested interest in the house selling.

When, or if, you find a home that meets many of your wants and needs, in preparing a purchase offer you, or a Realtor you are working with, may want to write a cover letter to accompany your purchase offer. In that letter it can be stated “this purchase offer is for less than the asking price because we see a need for extensive upgrading.” Some sellers may be relieved that you have acknowledged the house is outdated and you are still willing to make an offer to purchase. Others may have other emotional or financial responses. However, I think it is better to make this effort toward understanding rather than just hitting the seller cold with a low offer or passing the house by if it, in many ways, is the right house for you.

As in any aspect of life, it takes all kinds of people to make up the population of home sellers. Not all of them will look at preparation to sell in the same way and not all of them will have the same opportunities or motivations to make the home show its best.

Do your best to overlook some of the immediate repair or replaceable items to see the bigger picture. If it meets your most important wants and needs, write the purchase offer knowing there may be some projects or purchases for you to enjoy on your way into home ownership.

To contact Doug Van Etten regarding this article, to suggest questions or topics for future articles; or for help with your real estate needs, email

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