At Home

At Home: Investing $14,257 in hope of a $50,000 return

CorrespondentApril 5, 2013 

  • The tally

    Paint, remove wallpaper, scrape ceilings$ 7,150

    Laminate floors, carpet, 4-inch baseboard$3,835

    Floor tile$106

    Wood blinds$695

    Six can lights$175

    Stovetop vent hood$240

    Bathroom light fixture$100

    Bath counter materials$150

    Two bath sinks$80

    Two nickel faucets$60

    Towel bars$40

    Two toilets$196

    Café doors$150

    GFI protected outlets$40

    New wall plates throughout$40

    Handyman six days$1,200


Everything must go. That thought drove me as I cleared out my parents’ home of 50 years. Little did I know that once everything was gone, the real work would begin.

The goal was to get the 1,700-square-foot California ranch house on the market. I had a lot to do in four weeks.

Empty, the old homestead looked even more tired than before. The furnishings had buffered the facts that the carpet had seen more miles than a foot army and the wallpaper was more dated than Betty Crocker’s hairdo.

I looked around the home I grew up in, and instead of seeing a refuge where I once tanked up on food, sleep, clean clothes and abundant parental love and advice, played hide-and-seek and blew out lots of birthday candles, I tried to see it through a buyer’s eyes.

I called my good friend Bill Wood, who not only owns a couple dozen rental houses and can fix places up in his sleep, but also has his real estate license.

Unlike other Realtors who encouraged me to sell the property “as is,” Bill said if we updated the place and didn’t overspend we’d net more and sell faster.

“What would it take?” I asked.

“One month and $15,000.”

“How much more would we get?”

“Probably $50,000 more than if you sold it as is.”

Bill lined up painters, flooring crews and a handyman to do tile, electric and plumbing work. One month later, we were ready for market.

Here’s what we did and what we spent:

Goodbye, wallpaper: The flowered wallpaper throughout was cozy, quaint and just right for its time; that is, when Doris Day was hot and Elvis was cool. But today’s buyers want a fresh, neutral, but not-boring palette to build on. We stripped the paper, retextured the walls and painted them Sherwin Williams Boutique Beige, and wepainted doors and trim Whisper white.

See ya, cellulite ceilings: I heard the heavens sing the Hallelujah Chorus when this stuff that looks like curdled cream came down. Best improvement ever.

Farewell, floors: The floors were a patchwork – blue carpet in the master, yellow in my old room, green in my brother’s, light brown in the living areas. The kitchen had the same linoleum as the Egyptian tombs. I had all the flooring torn out. We installed engineered wood laminate, 4-inch planks of Antique Teak in the entry, living room, family room, kitchen and laundry. (I love real wood floors, but their much-higher cost would have cut too far into profits.) Then we put a low-pile carpet in a light shade called Flax Seed in the bedrooms, and tiled the two previously carpeted (ick) bathroom floors. We replaced the very underwhelming baseboards with four-inch moldings painted in Whisper.

Cover those cabinets: Replacing the cabinets would have also blown the budget, but the dark, grainy wood cabinets and crusty bronze hardware looked better when Nixon was in the White House. We sanded and painted them inside and out. Because the freshly painted cabinets made the tired, rusty vent hood over the stovetop look even worse, we replaced it.

Hinging on hardware: I replaced all the old antique bronze knobs, pulls, hinges and handles with hardware in brushed nickel.

Catch up those counters: Now that the main bath had new paint, knobs and tile flooring, the Formica counter and original sinks cried, “Replace me.” We tiled the counter, put in new nickel faucets and towel bars and replaced sinks and toilets in both baths. In the master, we traded out a rickety glass and aluminum door to the commode with café doors.

Can the lights: We swapped the large fluorescent kitchen light for six can lights, and the brass bathroom light fixture for one in brushed nickel.

Ditch the drapes: After removing the dowdy drapery, we left the wood-paned windows undressed, which let in light and garden views. Over the aluminum windows, we hung 2-inch white wood blinds. They finish the windows, provide privacy and light control, but will let new owners add drapes if they like.


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