Life

On enhancing a home’s appeal

It’s funny what house problems a person will adapt to and not notice anymore.

My brother lived for years with a bare wire sticking out of the wall over his kitchen sink. He kept meaning to install a new light. But the kitchen’s ceiling light lit the room well, and other more urgent jobs kept claiming his time. And soon he didn’t even see that wire anymore, even though it was a foot from his face when he washed his dishes. But then he got the itch to move. Facing putting his condo on the market, he decided it was time to deal with that wire. One thing led to another and he ended up remodeling the whole kitchen. New cabinets, new appliances, the works. He barely got to enjoy it all before he moved out!

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Near the end of the bathroom remodel

I’ve done a lot to improve my house in ten years. Still, I’ve never addressed a couple things that I hardly notice now, but which you’d notice the second you set foot in here. The previous owner did a criminally lousy job of patching holes in the walls before painting them all (and every ceiling) a sad, yellowy beige. Before painting the kitchen, they stripped off some (but not all) of the wallpaper. And the carpet is obviously 20 years old.

When I moved in I had to immediately fix a couple serious problems. I removed a closet to make one tiny bedroom big enough to hold a bed, a job without which this house wouldn’t have worked for us. I also did a quick and cheap remodel to make the bathroom not frighteningly awful.

I also removed some ugly bricks the previous owner inexpertly and inexplicably used to widen the end of the driveway. The asphalt driveway badly needed resealed, and the deck badly needed re-stained, so I did both jobs. (Both need it again already.)

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Hardwoods in my home office

I feel good about the work I’ve done here. Repairing and remodeling some things that truly badly needed it make a bad, boring paint job and worn carpet seem acceptable somehow.

I did finally take up a little of my carpet. My now-departed dog loved to lie in my home office, and thanks to the problems of being elderly she stained the carpet in there so badly it finally wouldn’t come clean anymore. So out it went.

I’ve spent plenty of money on this house: new sump pump, new heat pump, new storm windows, roof repairs, connection to the city sewer, and removal of 21 dead ash trees. The total bill exceeds my equity. But except fot the ash trees, all of this is invisible.

Now that my wife Margaret and I are moving toward living under the same roof, it’s time to make strong progress getting my house ready for sale. I need to make visible improvements that make the house look better.

It’s a modest home. Its modest neighborhood gives people of modest means a way to put their kids into a still-desirable school system. It has that going for it. But in ten years I’ve seen signs of slow decline here. Several homes have gone into foreclosure and a couple have been outright abandoned. More homes are rentals now, probably one in four. Several properties look shabby: chipping paint, sagging gutters, weedy yards. It’s not surprising that home prices in other nearby neighborhoods recovered faster from the housing crisis than those in mine. According to Zillow, for what that’s worth, my home became worth what I paid for it again only about 12 months ago.

So it doesn’t make sense to dump tons of money into the house. I won’t get it back in the selling price. All I want to do is increase curb appeal and remove obvious reasons for buyers to say no.

I actually started work last year, focusing on landscaping. Thanks to the sewer and ash-tree projects the yard was a right mess, full of bare spots. Seed worked in some spots but not in others. So I laid about 70 rolls of sod.

Wagon Full of Sod

Wagon full of sod

One great thing about owning a small, battered station wagon with north of 180,000 miles on it is that I don’t much care how dirty it gets. I had no idea how much sod I would need, so I brought it home one wagonload at a time until I’d completed the job.

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Sod freshly laid in the back yard

For about six weeks this autumn I came home every Tuesday night with another wagonload of sod and laid it. Then I watered that spot twice a day until the next Tuesday.

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Bordered front bed – thanks Mom!

Also, thank heavens for my mother, who’s old enough to have a 49-year-old son but is in good shape and loves to work. She’s done a lot of jobs small and large around my house. Two summers ago she scrapred, reglazed, and repainted all of my exterior windows. Last summer she cut and placed spare landscaping timbers to create definition around all of my front beds, and did a fair amount of planting and replanting in my beds. Everything looked fabulous during blooming season.

And now she’s asking me what jobs I want done around here this year. The first project: scrape my interior windows and get them ready to be painted.

Weighed down

Weighed down

I got one other job done last year. I’ve never liked the giant overgrown evergreen bush/tree right outside my front door. The thing had to be 20 feet tall and it looked terrible. It was trussed up inside to keep it from splaying under its own weight. It did splay every time we got a heavy snow.

While I stopped seeing my yellow-beige walls and my worn carpet, I noticed — and grumbled under my breath about — that tree every time I exited or entered my home. The only good thing about it was that it blocked the view of my front door, hiding any packages UPS or FedEx drivers left on my stoop. But I’ve always wanted that tree gone. But it looked like such an ugly job to remove it that I kept putting it off.

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Going, going…

And then one day last summer when I was working from home, someone knocked on the door. A fellow covered in what were obviously prison tattoos, weilding a chainsaw, wanted to know if I had any trees I wanted removed.

I almost never hire people who knock on my door looking for work. I appreciate their eagerness and drive, but I don’t like the risks. What if they get injured or damage my home? There’s no way they’re bonded and insured. And what if they’re quietly casing the joint while they work? No, I’ll research and find an established contractor or company to do any needed work, thanks.

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…gone.

But I thought this might be my chance to be rid of that tree at a good price. And it should be a straightforward enough job, and it’s not like felling that tree could cause it to land on anything valuable. I decided to take the risk, and we quickly struck a deal.

He husled hard and within 30 minutes had the tree down, cut into pieces, and loaded into the back of his truck. I was thrilled to hand him his cash and watch him drive away.

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Filling in the space

I wondered what I would put in the empty space until I happened to be at the Home Depot one day late in the autumn when they were clearing everything out of their garden center at fire-sale prices. For next to nothing I picked up three little bushes that ought to grow in a couple years to fill this space and even probably hide the old tree’s stump.

I think I’ve done enough on my home’s landscaping. There are a few jobs left to do out front, including fixing some serious cracks in my driveway and resealing it, and painting my front stoop to hide its surprisingly unattractive concrete.

But otherwise, it’s time to turn my focus to my home’s interior. It’s finally going to get that coat of paint and a few other cosmetic improvements.

But a couple big jobs loom. One is to repair a water-damaged spot in my bathroom floor and put down a new floor covering. Another is to do something (I’m not sure what yet) about challenges with my tub and surround, some of which led to the water-damaged floor. I jury rigged a solution to prevent further damage, but I need something permanent and attractive. Finally, I would like to strip the painted wallpaper off the kitchen walls, re-mud, and repaint.

I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, my mom and Margaret both are waiting for instructions from me about when and where they can pitch in.

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4 thoughts on “On enhancing a home’s appeal

  1. Jason Shafer says:

    Having umpteen projects to do around a house, particularly one that needs to be sold, is a problem I identify with.

    It’s amazing what a little landscaping and paint can do to improve the looks of a place; and, in the big scheme of things, paint likely has one of the better rates of (visual) return.

    One you might consider on your bathroom floor is going to a Habitat For Humanity store or even a surplus shop of some variety to see what remnants or other material might be available for a pittance. I did that once in a master bath; a $5 roll of rather nice vinyl did a spectacular job of updating.

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  2. We have been in our house for over 23 years. I have done several things to it, but have lived with a lot too. And things that were fine when we moved in are definitely not fine now, but we are used to them. I have concluded that there are only 2 viable ways to keep a house long term: constant rolling remodelings or do nothing but maintenance and wait for the original style to become cool again. I am closer to the second, but a prior owner did some 1980s remodels to my 1950s house that are like ugly scars now.
    I too had a good experience hiring a guy who knocked on my door to cut down a dead tree. He worked until dark and when I thought he was coming to the door to collect his money, he instead asked for a rake to do more cleanup. I later hired him to do another. But like you, only contractors with a certificate of insurance touched any tree near the house.

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    • There are a few things here that need updated but that I’m not doing. The kitchen countertops are out of date and worn. And the family room is covered in straight-outta-1969 wood paneling. If I were staying, I’d eventually replace both. But they will become the next owner’s to deal with!

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