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Home improvements: Help buyers see a property's true potential

Getting potential buyers to imagine possible opportunities in a property can be difficult. Most real estate agents are well versed in how to make small changes to increase the chance of a speedy sale: painting walls a neutral tone, replacing carpets and modernising kitchens, for example.

These are great, simple fixes that appeal to a range of buyers, but it’s beyond these surface changes where home improvement becomes more of a challenge.

Form and function

Functionality is an architect’s first and most fundamental design principle, not aesthetics. If you consider this, look at the property you are selling and ask yourself: Does this house really ‘work’ as somewhere to live, relax and entertain? Often it’s a poor layout that alerts buyers to a sense that something is not feeling right.

Could the floor plan be easily adjusted to better reflect how people now wish to live?

Consider these points:

  • Would opening up walls between an adjoining kitchen and dining room and/or lounge room be better for entertaining and watching over the kids?
  • Would a formal living room at the front of the house be better swapped with the bedroom beside the backyard? Could French, sliding or concertina doors then be put in to provide even better connectivity?
  • Would an overly large bedroom be better if made slightly smaller and an ensuite added?

The functionality of a home, however, is that it has to be suited to the needs of the occupants. If the property is about to become someone’s ‘forever’ home, they need to make changes that are designed specifically to suit them.

Let there be light

Natural light is another key factor in designing a space that feels right. An obvious start is more or larger windows – but the location of these is just as important. Ideally, large windows should face north and east, where the sun is at its coolest. Eaves will also make a huge difference to windows in terms of controlling the temperature of a space. In summer, eaves block out direct sunlight, while in winter they allow sun in to help warm up the house.

Other simple ways to let light into a building include installing skylights, or even replacing solid doors with ones made of frosted glass. Reflective and glossy surfaces will also bounce light around. For example, choose polished floors instead of carpet and gloss kitchen cupboards over matte ones. Look out for deep floor plates – light is at its best within eight metres of its source (a window), so a 24-metre deep floor plate that is lit from both sides will be left with eight metres of dark space in the middle of the building. This is often a problem in older apartments.

A more extensive change for a house of this type could involve putting a courtyard or winter garden part way through the side of a house and therefore reducing the floor plate depth while also creating a larger perimeter for light to penetrate.

Other fixes

Do noise or uncomfortable temperatures plague the house? If a house is cold in winter, it’s often also hot in summer. Treating an insulation problem will fix both of these issues and assist in reducing external noise entering the house. It could just need better insulation underfloor or in the ceiling. Large windows are best dressed with thick curtains in winter to keep heat in at night.

These ideas will give buyers some positive food for thought.

You can also tell your clients that they are best advised to live in a place for at least a year before attempting any major renovations. It allows them to really understand the quality of the space, the noise, winds and sun patterns – and their own needs and behaviours.

Given time, residents will usually figure out what they are truly looking for in that specific house, as well as identify the opportunities to maximise its potential.

What’s best about this is they don’t have to add the cost of an exhaustive renovation to the sale price of the property. Instead, it could be deferred and staged to meet their budget requirements.

This article was first published in the April 2013 edition of the REINSW Real Estate Journal.