Condo Living

Keep Your Unit's Value High, Even if Prices Start Dropping

Lynn Thorne
Friday, October 28, 2005; 2:12 PM

Thump. Stomp. crash! You hear them: the unmistakable sounds of your neighbors as they carry boxes down to the moving truck. You're gloating about your smart investment, knowing their condo next door just sold for thousands more than yours cost. cha-ching! How can you ensure that your condo keeps its value even if the real-estate bubble bursts? Knowing what to do and not to do can have a big impact on your bottom dollar down the road.

Upgrade. The place to start is where all good parties end up: the kitchen. "dollar for dollar, you will recoup more of your money by updating your kitchen," said Peter Greeves, president of EJF Real Estate Services in Northwest D.C. "At a minimum, consider upgrading to stainless-steel appliances and installing new countertops." Experts say microwave ovens are now almost a necessity for resale value. Installing them above the stove maximizes counter space. Dual-fuel (gas and electric) cooking appliances and wine chillers are also popular.

If you're upgrading your larger appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators, remember that extra bells and whistles (multiple cycle options, for instance) don't always add value, though they can increase your purchase price significantly.

Granite is the preferred countertop these days. Stone seems to be the benchmark of a quality kitchen and that extends, in a buyer's mind, to the entire home. Replacing mica countertops with stone or synthetic surfaces should add resale value to any condo, but experts say don't bother replacing mica with mica.

There is also the ripple effect to consider. "You may find once you replace the countertops and appliances, [the] outdated cabinets and flooring look terrible by contrast and you'll want to update the whole kitchen," Greeves cautioned. Fortunately, increasing eye appeal doesn't have to be expensive. "Even the most outdated kitchen may not need an entire overhaul," said Larry Schaffert of Kitchen Solvers in Myersville, Md. "Simply refacing the cabinets even just painting them and updating the hardware can freshen the look without draining the budget."

Fixing up your bathroom is the second smartest investment; as experts agree; you'll likely recoup your cash come closing time. It doesn't take much to have your floor retiled and change an outdated mirror or lighting fixture. If space allows, add a vanity for extra storage. otherwise, a new pedestal sink offers a fresh look.

Eyeing a new tub? Greeves said don't splurge on a soaking tub or Jacuzzi unless you're really in the mood for a lot of bubble baths. "It's nice to have but it won't increase your sale price too much."

Style. Your own personal style may make your unit noticeable, and not necessarily in a good way. Experts warn not to overspend on highly stylized kitchens or baths. "When in doubt, go neutral," advised Kathy Braddock, author of How to Live the Good Life in New York. "While your own taste may be highly ornate, you need to keep an eye on the improvements that'll [make your property attractive] to the widest possible spectrum of people." Braddock suggested staying away from changes that are difficult to undo.

For instance, if you're thinking you'll only be in your condo a few years, hold off on that gorgeous glaze on the wall or funky tiling in the bathroom. It may look great to you, but a prospective buyer might take one look and decide redoing it is too much work. That's not to say you can't make your space your own. "Put your stamp on it," Braddock said, "but maybe not in the most permanent or expensive way. Choose a fabulous light fixture that speaks to you but that you can take with you."

Say you want an extra large room for entertaining and you're considering moving walls. Braddock suggested, "do it with folding doors that create the space you desire but enable someone else to close them off if the space is too large for them."

Compete. With so many new units being built these days, how do older condos compete? They often offer more space and charm, and are noted for their character. But that appeal may also make them outdated.

If your older floors are not up to par with newer units, experts recommend not just refinishing, but completely replacing them. The floor of choice today? Hands down, it's hardwood.

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