03 February, 2009

10 Ways to Hike Up Your Homestead

The Realm of Home Improvement is a special level of hell reserved for masochists and wide eyed dreamers. You fix and change, renovate and re-do, and you always find more waiting on the horizon. But my, how we love it! The scent of sawdust is a near aphrodisiac and nothing beats the instant gratification of a splotched, hopeless wall suddenly gleaming to life with fresh paint.

If, like us, you have some outstanding credit card debt, or perhaps a devil-loan that seemed a good idea at the time, a few small upgrades to your home can raise the value and boost your budget more than even years of gardening and preserving. With even less done than the suggestions in this post, we increased our property value by over 30%, inspite of slow home sales and falling prices, from our last valuation two years ago. The subsequent equity line paid off 86% of our high-interest debt and gave us a financial buffer to get us through any unforeseen hard times.

1. Paint it Red: Okay, maybe not red, but a fresh coat of paint can't be beat for bringing new life to tired walls. Strip off that 70's wallpaper and add some neutral favorites, but don't be afraid of a splash of color! A red wall in a bright room can be a beautiful touch. If you work in a trade, see if the boss will let you keep paint leftovers, or try to mix a few colors from previous home paint jobs. Just make sure the bases are compatible! No free paint? $40-50 for a quality can of your favorite hue will make a world of difference.

2. From the Floor Up: With a little money and a bit of time, you can update your floors to their previous farmhouse splendor. It may not go perfectly—We met with un-aged wood in stripes beneath sticky carpet adhesive—but even a slightly splotchy wood floor outranks an aging carpet or, heaven forbid, dated vinyl. You'll need a hired sander, an edging sander, sandpaper (in grits of 40, 80, and 100 or 120), spirits for clean-up, and a stain/sealant of your choosing. All totalled, the investment is around $200 for two midsized rooms and a hallway.

3. Kitchen Re-Do: Kitchens and bathrooms make up, perhaps, the largest segment of a home's sale value. They are the rooms we rely on for our most basic of needs and we like 'em pretty! Unless you are blessed with original wood cabinetry and shiny Wolf ovens, you might want to kick up the kitchen with a little bit of work and very little money. Plan ahead and find a friend who is re-doing their own better-than-yours kitchen. Offer to take the old stuff off their hands! You may have to make some adjustments, and you'll likely have to put off your new kitchen awhile as you hunt for the friend in question, but it will save you hundreds and earn you thousands in equity.

4. Organization is Key: A few well placed shelves, as well as orderly, clean appliances, tidy nick-knack displays, and removal of all yard debris will give the heads up to any appraiser that this home is well maintained. It also can't hurt your own personal peace of mind. Check out flea markets, op shops, and yard sales for secondhand shelving solutions, or build your own! Speaking of yard sales, why not have one? You'll clear the unneeded clutter and make some spare renovation funds along the way.

5. Garden Quick Fix: Mow the lawns, water as much as you're able, and then trim, trim, trim, shaving those hedges, trees, and roses into clean shapes. Rip out old, clunky or unruly plants, replace with potted color, such as pansies, or decorative grasses for hotter climes, or edible beauties like red cabbages, berry bushes, and curly lettuce. "Re-purpose" your bulbs from hidden nooks of the garden to simple driveway borders and garden wall liners. Put a fresh layer of mulch on everything, and weed those veggie beds. Remember, the goal is to have a clean garden that is attractive and appears low-maintenance, even if you know better.

6. Space it Out: One might think furnishings have nought to do with house value. This couldn't be further from the truth! While it's fact that your favorite sofa will never be packaged in a sale price, the location of that sofa can change everything. We Plotters are the (not so) proud owners of a huge L-shaped purple, overstuffed, micro-suede sofa. This monster used to sit with one end protruding into the dining area. A bit of effort in moving it to the opposite corner and it's a whole new room! Visually, the floorspace is doubled. So get to rearranging! Even if you change it back after the inspection is done.

7. Cleanliness and Godliness: I've no doubt that the majority of 'steaders out there keep a lovely house, but one final wipe-down can do wonders for perception. Wash the front windows, give the floors a shine with a bit of oil and lemon, scrub the sinks until they gleam using baking soda and muscle, and don't forget the baseboards and corner cobwebs too. It brightens the whole place, and light is a big factor in the value of your space.

8. Community Investment: Your house is well squared away but the neighborhood leaves a bit to be desired. This, unfortunately, affects everyone's property value. So, if your neighbor has a worn out yard, or clearly didn't make it past "Go" on their last clean-up day, offer to lend a hand. This is a good idea for any reason, but it will only serve to boost your appraisal when the bank (wo)man comes a-callin'.

9. Mother Nature Knows Best: In a hot climate? Don't schedule that valuation for the dry, dead season. Same goes for the winter-woes. Make Mother Nature work for you and try to squeeze in those appraisals while your yard is at it's best. We Plotters narrowly escaped drought disaster, having our valuation only weeks before the current record-smashing heatwave. The appraiser would've been met with wilted vines and shriveled shrubs instead of a lovely, green yard.

10. Common Scents: The nose is our most aware and evocative sensory tool. Your valuer isn't immune! Schedule your weekly bread-bake for the hours before inspection, or just simmer up a pot of spiced water on the stove. Aromas such as baked goods and warm cinnamon are known to inspire thoughts of hearth and home.

You only get 10-20 minutes of the bank valuer's time. Make the biggest impact you can! But please do your research before trekking this path. Housing prices have suffered only somewhat in Australia, but greatly in the Northern lands (US, UK) so know your neighborhood. Look at comparable houses that are actually selling, talk to your mortgage broker, and get ideas from friends. We all have learned our lessons and know debt-free is the way to be. I hope these tips help you on the road to freedom.


Margo said...

Wow - you have been busy beavers. You must be so proud of your achievements. I can't relate to the painting though - one of the joys of a mud brick home is those paint and decorate days are over :)

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Busy, indeed! But it's definitely paid off and I'm a lot less nervous about being a single income family in this icky economy now that we have a buffer.

Mud brick? I'd love to see what that looks like! I have a vague concept. Have you posted any pics of the house?