Savvy "Buyers" Search Out 'Visual Disasters'

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Real Estate

Instead of shopping for your dream home, why not search out your dream discount?

First-time buyers can be distracted by the superficial. They can be enticed to pay for dream-home fantasies or, alternatively, encouraged to walk away from a hidden gem—a visual disaster.

Buy a home that was cleverly staged and marketed to make buyers rush to put in an offer, and you may be paying for more for hype and distracting "veneer."
Dismiss a property because it's a visual disaster, without assessing its true value to you, and you may lose a lot more.
Visual disaster is my label for a solid, well-located home that is structurally sound and in relatively good condition, but—and it's a big but—it looks (and possibly smells) awful— but sells at a significant discount.

Smart sellers and their real estate professionals know the magic of fresh paint, the allure of professionally-staged interiors, and the appeal of cosmetic make-overs.

They understand which current "hot" features local buyers are willing to pay more for.
Generating multiple offers has become commonplace, pitting buyer against the buyer to drive purchase prices higher.
A few thousand dollars worth of touch-ups and problem solving by sellers can convert into tens of thousands more paid by buyers. Great for sellers, but is this really how you want to spend your hard-earned dollars?

Buyers who would prefer to invest their money in the best possible location and a solid, sound structure—not superficial trimmings and flash is done to someone else's taste and standards—may benefit from shopping for a visual disaster.

Caution: Thorough home inspection, ideally by a structural engineer, is essential to verify the home is structurally sound without any super-expensive repair necessary. Search out a reputable, skilled inspection firm before you start looking at properties. Other experienced "eyes"&mdesign; contractors, designers, renovation-experienced property owners, your real estate professional—will also be helpful when viewing visual disasters.

Tasteless decor, scary color schemes, extreme pet-smells, overwhelming clutter...these are just a few ugly turnoffs that discourage buyers. For savvy home buyers, these negatives may signal hidden value and money-saving opportunities.

A house, townhome, or condominium unit that does not look like something out of a magazine—has not had the benefit of professional repainting, staging, or cosmetic overhaul—will sell for some markets, considerably less. These properties may also take longer to sell, so there can be more room for negotiation.

Buyers who are ready to contribute "sweat equity" to their purchase can end up thousands and thousands of dollars ahead. "Sweat equity" involves getting your hands dirty to uncover "good bones" and hidden

value, paying a professional to do the necessary design or physical work, or a combination of both approaches.

Depending on what the superficial "disaster" problems are, buyers have choices once they become owners:

They can overhaul the "visual disaster" themselves before moving in or hire professionals to tackle the more difficult aspects and then take on the rest.
New owners can decide to live with some or all of the "visual disaster" for a while. Then, hire professionals to make the necessary changes. Having lived in the home a while, owners discover what will really work for them.
If new owners have friends or family with renovation skills and knowledge, learning how to cost-effectively uncover the value in their hidden gem can be less daunting.
Here are a few common visual disasters to keep an eye out for:

Color Me Crazy: Many listed homes are painted white or in pale neutrals to make it easier for buyers to visualize the property with their own furnishings. Loud, clashing, or just plain "wrong" color schemes can make rooms seem smaller, darker, and less appealing. Many buyers can't think past strong colors to consider the true potential of spaces. Learn to visualize beyond crazy decor to discover value.
Tired and Severely Dated: If an older home is wall-to-wall "original everything," that may be a buyer turn-off. But scrape away the dust and grime, deal with wood paneling overkill, paint with your color choices, and refinish floors or add new carpeting, and the refreshed property will sparkle. Your cost should be significantly less than what you'd pay for the seller's version of their "for sale" make-over.
Stinky Premises Animal smells (cat urine is a killer) and discoloration from long-term smoking are two definite buyer turn-offs. Many can't get past a dirty property. Remove the broadloom and have the building professionally sanitized or tackle some cleaning yourself. There's value under all of that ugh.
"What Were You Thinking" Design: What odd personal improvement or layout change has the seller made that is a total turn-off to everyone else? Badly installed spiral staircase? Transformed the dining room into a bedroom? If it's one bad feature and the home is otherwise sound, get a couple of quotes on fixing this problem. Your real estate professional will understand how your offer to purchase can reflect this extra cost—either a lower offer price and you pay for it or ask the seller to make the repair or at least share the cost.
Street De-faced: If the yard is a mess and the property is unappealing from the curb, many buyers will stay in their cars. Concentrate on where the value lies: location and structural soundness. Get a quote or two on improving landscaping or correcting the street face to back up your offer price. Later you can decide how much to do yourself.
Talk to your real estate professional, friends, family, and local contractors to get a feel for what may work in your area. Collect a few ballpark quotes for painting, cleaning, and other possible undertakings to get an accurate feel for costs before you start looking at properties. Pull together a team of experienced people you can call on for knowledgeable input, so you'll be ready when a possible "visual disaster" appears.

Do your homework and you can turn a visual disaster into your dream home at a great price!