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Improving Property Value - The Secrets of Cosmetic Renovation

When it comes to improving your residential property's value, some of the easiest ways are "cosmetic improvements".  Cosmetic renovation typically seeks to renew dated surfaces, update key rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens, replacing old fixtures with impressive new ones, re-landscaping, and generally improving the appearance and decor of living spaces.  This third part of the Improving Property Value series provides some secrets of cosmetic renovation that can make you a quick profit through value improvement.

The structural improvement components of a structural improvement strategy require professional advice, and professional trade assistance.  They can be a much bigger job than you think and using skills and expertise that have done it many times before is imperative.

If the floor plan of a home is poorly suited to the preferences of the typical prospective buyer in the area it is in, then you may have to think more radically than a cosmetic renewal.  There is no point renewing a house if buyers will be assessing how to remove the structural walls you renewed.  You want to appeal to buyers that will pay a premium for a finished home ready to enjoy.  Think about this before you buy a property as a structural renovation can be a big investment.

The opportunity to maximise value can be significant from adding floor space, add a new bedroom, build a second floor, remove old-fashioned segregated rooms in favour of larger open-living spaces.

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It is impossible to cover all the opportunities, considerations, and risks in this chapter so I recommend that you think about it carefully and get advice.  One of the biggest questions property investors face when they want to improve value on a single storey residential home, is “should I go up?”.  Deciding to put on a second storey is a big decision and often it is not practical to do it later.  My view is that you need to think about what the buyers that are targeting your area want.  If they are rising affluent young families with three kids then they will want four bedrooms and a study.  So if your property has three bedrooms then you should seriously consider the big step up in floor space you get from a second storey.

Below I provide some thought provoking ideas on cosmetic improvements.  These are relevant to any home improvement strategy and will complement any structural changes too.

Implementing cosmetic change

Cosmetic improvements can often be a great way to stick to a budget – as much of it can be done yourself or with the assistance of non-specialist (and less expensive) labour.  And remember that these cosmetic change ideas are all relevant to a structural improvement plan as well.

As I have mentioned above – it is paramount to focus on visible changes.  You want the property to look as new as possible.  You want to try and achieve the perception of high quality and the price per square metre that high-end houses get in your area.  Target an integrated look rather than trying to target different colours and themes in different areas.  Consistency helps minimise cost as you can buy materials for the whole house improving the opportunity for bulk purchase and reducing waste.  An integrated look has a designer planned appearance.

Think about all the surfaces: floors, internal walls, ceilings, exterior cladding or walls, and roof.

h4>Painting is the easiest way to improve value

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Painting internally and externally can be one of the most effective ways to really change the look of a house.  Single colours and neutral tones keep it simple, and more targeted to the majority of the buyer audience.  If you make the architraves, ceilings, walls and cornices all different colours it is a lot more work for painters and a lot more cost for you.  If you paint them all the same colour then the job is simpler and the outcome is arguably more minimalist and contemporary.

The external colour scheme is important for first impressions and street appeal.  Dramatic changes can be achieved with a totally new colour scheme.  It is a good idea to know the new and popular houses in your area, and what appeals to buyers in your area.  Earthen tones and dual colour schemes are popular and effective – consider the services of a colour consultant, but let them know your objective of attracting buyers, rather than making a new colour statement.  The small fee is immaterial compared to the positive change in value perception if you get it right.

Rendering an old brick home can make a huge difference

I am a big fan of rendering an old brick house.  It can incredibly change the appearance of the house and can make it look modern and brand new.  A renderer can finish a standard house in under a week.  Pick a render that can be painted rather than a coloured render.   Its cheaper, and you can leave the painting until you are ready to do the whole house.

The single most important room to improve is the kitchen

The kitchen is now the hub of the modern house.  New design always integrates the kitchen with the key living areas.  In fact many new house designs have a butler’s kitchen (or scullery) behind the kitchen so that the kitchen on show can retain a modern minimalist look and be a pleasant environment, and the mess can be kept in the scullery.  Your budget should include a modern renewed kitchen result.  Think carefully about what you spend as it is not hard to overspend in a kitchen – as soon as you consider custom cabinetry then you are going to get some large bills.

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First, think about the layout of the kitchen – it should be functional, and allow a flow of traffic.  Most modern kitchens have an island bench as it achieves flowing access, can provide storage, bench space, and be a functional eating area.  Think about changing your kitchen or installing a kitchen island bench.  Flat pack kitchens and standard size benchtops from retailers like IKEA® can be surprising inexpensive if you are willing to put them together yourself.

If the layout of the kitchen is acceptable then think about its surfaces – a renewal of the cupboard doors, and painting or replacing the benchtop, combined with a replacement of the cupboard and drawer handles can make an unbelievable upgrade to a tired or old fashioned kitchen.  Look for specialist benchtop paint and modern cabinetry handles at your local big-box hardware store.

New fixtures are important to provide a defining designer finish

This is of course an area that I know well given I operate Australia’s fastest growing online building fixtures store geared to serve the Smart Renovator!  There is a huge variance in price and quality when it comes to fixtures and fittings for the bathroom, kitchen, door hardware, and lighting.  To make it difficult for the renovator, a higher price does not necessary deliver a higher value.

As I mentioned earlier, go for timeless designs that are simple and consistent with the theme of the house.   Making your fixtures into features, like installing an impressive industrial tap to be the centre-piece of your kitchen, can be value-adding.  However, if it is not likely to appeal to the majority of tastes then go for the timeless simpler design.  Otherwise new buyers will be factoring in the replacement cost as a decrement to the purchase price.

One thing most people do not know about fixtures and fittings is that sometimes many brands come from the same manufacturer.  Often the brand is not the manufacturer as the brand house outsources manufacturing – so if you shop around you can get the same item for dramatically different pricing.  Brands are usually not visible on fixtures like they are on appliances so it is a good way to save thousands on your renovation.  Do not look for replicas, because many of them are not made to last or they really fall short of the real thing - just try to avoid ridiculous brand marketing premiums.

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Shopping online is the best option to get good deals as the cost of showrooms and their staff are not factored into the price, and usually you get the products a lot quicker, rather than waiting for the traditional retailer to order it from their wholesaler when you order it from them.

I really promote that putting in some feature lighting that makes a statement.  Large pendants in the entrance hall, over a dining table or a kitchen island bench can really change a room – and you do not need to spend a lot of money to get some eye-catching lights.  Try to find DIY light options that can replace existing lighting or plug into existing bases, as the cost of getting an electrician is often more than the light itself.

Consistent door hardware throughout the house is usually very noticeable.  Modern brushed stainless steel finishes are popular.  On a newly painted door they look great.  Once again, avoid the premiums of designer door furniture brands – go for the good looks without the price hike.

Bathrooms need to be simple, light and modern

I see a lot of unusual bathrooms.  There are a lot of different tastes out there.  If you are trying to appeal to the majority out there then keep it simple.

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Get some advice if necessary, or just buy a bathroom magazine.  It is important to make the bathrooms as new as possible as it is one of the points that prospective buyers really focus on.  Old bathrooms and bathroom surfaces can detract from value as they cannot picture themselves enjoying the space, and they thinking about the decades of grime built up in the grouting, and the water damage might be lurking beneath.  It is a bit like the feeling you get when the room you were assigned in a hotel has a bathroom from the eighties – everyone prefers the refurbished rooms with the clean modern surfaces and fittings.

To appeal to the most people it is best to re-tile with neutral large format tiles – they do not need to be expensive. Install an open shower with linear shower grate drainage, and a large mirror to create the vision of space.  Avoid brightly coloured tiles or anything out of the ordinary.

Try and maximise light into the room with windows or a skylight.   Even if windows or skylights are not an option or outside your budget look at a new technology – LED powered skylight and windows.  They look and act just like normal frosted windows or skylights and are powered by the sun outside.

A change of bathroom fittings can also make a big difference.  Contemporary styles are best.  Find your preferred style then buy it online – you can really save a lot.  Try to ensure there is consistency across the bathroom so that the fitting match each other and the tapware.  I also think it is best to use the same fittings across all bathrooms in the house – prospective buyers will think you had a professional interior designer!

Update your façade and street appeal

The façade is important – it is the first impression of your property and starts to influence what value perception the prospective buyer might develop.  My points on painting, colour and rendering are all important here – in fact, if painting is not required, even a professional clean of the façade can make it look much better.  There is likely to be decades of dust and dirt dulling the front of the property that can be removed.

The entrance can really be enhanced with a path, lighting, landscape borders – there is too much to list in a short chapter.  The front fence, gate, hedge or whatever it is should be scrutinised heavily.  It is the cover of your book and it has to be impressive.  Do not complete a fantastic cosmetic renovation and leave no budget for the front of your house – it has to be something you stand back and look at and be proud of.  Make it one of the best in the street, because that is how a prospective buyer judges it.

Consider an attic

Older houses with roof cavities I believe an attic strategy is a no brainer.  Storage space is in such high demand these days that if you can show an easily accessible space that is clean, well lit, and oozes potential you will be well rewarded in value.  What is best about the strategy is that the space is already there – sometime up to 50% of your exiting floor space!  You just need to install a quality attic ladder that makes accessibility easy, make any required safety and support changes in the roof space, and finish it off with some cheap bamboo flooring and wall panelling.  It is best to seal the space so dust from outside cannot enter.

attic storage design

It can result in some impressive new square metres of floor space.  Yes it is not technically allowed to be used as a living area (although that is another possible strategy if you want to make the changes to comply with living spaces) but it provides extremely valuable storage space or hobby space.   Let the prospective buyers see it and they suddenly see the solution to their festering storage problem, or their growing train set hobby, or whatever it is.  I have seen prospective buyers get really excited about attic spaces that only cost $5000 or so to set up as they are starting see the valuable solution it provides for their own current storage and space problems.

For every bit of storage space you create in your attic you save storage space in your house.  That means less storage furniture and less clutter, and a more minimalist house.

Don’t forget that you should get some advice about how to fit off an attic and installing an attic ladder.  These can also be purchased online which will save you money.

Create an outdoor haven

In Australia home-owners are obsessed with creating an outdoor haven – an outdoor living space where family and friends can enjoy their outdoor space.  Think about layout and zoning – I think it is important that there are distinct zones so prospective buyers recognise the purpose and attribute value to it.  It could be an outdoor table and kitchen area on a raised patio, or a sunken pebble zone bordered by a hedge with outdoor chairs around a firepit.  Even a stand-alone pergola over a table and chairs in the garden creates a zone – it is far more effective than just putting a table on a lawn.  The pergola highlights that is an outdoor room, and it is far more likely to attract attention and be attributed value by the prospective buyer.  Just like a pool area is visually zoned by the coping and surface around the pool, think of how you can present each zone in your outdoor space.

Landscaping and outdoor living spaces have to be designed together and integrated well.  I think landscaping is very important and has to look planned rather than look like a random assortment of plants that have managed to grow over the years.

Treasure any mature trees that are part of your land if you can, and do what you can to present consistency and the perception that you got a professional garden designer to create your space.  It is a topic that deserves another whole chapter – or even a book.  So I just recommend that you plan it well, seek information and advice, and make sure you spend your money wisely as when you shop for plants, outdoor features, and landscaping services it is amazing how variable the pricing is.  For example, it is a great idea to frame your front entrance with feature items – say two big stone urns.  However, rather than use stone, buy fibreglass urns that look exactly like stone.  They are much cheaper and when they are full of water they look exactly the same.

Enjoy your success

Finally, do not forget why you are pursuing the improvement of the property.  Of course you might get the benefit of it along the way if you reside in the property, but the primary purpose on an investment property is to improve it for ultimate profit.  Put yourself in the average prospective buyer’s shoes in your area.  Be aware of what they want and who they typically are (young families or retired couples?) and that will really assist you refine your strategy and make decisions.  Be a Smart Renovator and spend your time and money wisely.

It can be a lot of fun improving a home, and it is very rewarding to stand back and admire the final results – especially when they transform into a great selling price for your investment property!

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