Homeowners say doing own remodeling saves money, helps them sell the house

With some do-it-yourself books and a little advice from the experts, Grand Junction resident John Horton saved 20 grand.

Aside from installing wood floors in his own home, Horton learned how to lay tile and perform electrical work, among other projects, in his stepson’s home. He said contractors in town offered him a $30,000 price tag for the work on his stepson’s home, but he did the work himself for $10,000 to $12,000.

“It’s cheaper than having someone else do it,” Horton said.

Watching a few neighbors get high estimates from contractors for work that turned out to be subpar also convinced Horton doing the work himself was the way to go. He and his wife, Wendey, were back at Lowe’s on Tuesday afternoon to explore some landscaping ideas.

Lowe’s operations manager Chris Frazier said he’s seen a “big increase” in shoppers looking to fix up homes without hiring help since the recession hit home.

“I can tell you more and more people are doing it themselves than ever, or at least since I’ve been in this business the last 10 years,” Frazier said.

The most popular projects Frazier hears about include landscaping, flooring changes, installing ceiling fans and replacing plumbing fixtures. Some people want to spruce up their homes to help them sell in a tough real estate market, while others want to make their homes more attractive, either to please themselves or please future buyers.

Wendey Horton’s son is waiting for the market to thaw before presenting his newly remodeled home to buyers.

“He’s going to sell his house eventually, but not in this market,” Horton said.

Joshua Harris, an agent with Harris Group at Keller Realtors, said he knows homeowners who failed to sell their homes, then resorted to remodeling. Sales at home-repair stores reflect this trend.

Sales dipped 2 percent at Lowe’s from February through April 2009 compared to the same months in 2008, but they have increased in recent weeks, and the store expects a 1 percent sales increase this May, June and July.

Home Depot reported its sales increased 10 percent from its fiscal fourth quarter of 2008 to its first quarter of 2009.

It’s not a bad idea to renovate for a sale now, or later, Harris said.

“In this market, you want to be in the best condition and at the best price,” Harris said.

“If there’s a budget there to fix the place up, we encourage that.”

Scott Teetsel hopes a fresh coat of paint and new windows will help him sell a home that isn’t one of the more popular buys on the market right now. He owns a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in northeast Grand Junction. Most people that respond to his yard sign or online listing are looking for something smaller as their bank balance shrinks.

“The renovations helped increase the value, and it does set it apart, too,” Teetsel said.

While some start their remodeling projects to impress home shoppers, others are wagering that home construction performed in recent years will help nab a higher, or at least “fair,” asking price.

Josh Shepardson installed new windows and insulation in his north Grand Junction abode and hired a contractor to put a new roof on the house. Renovation of his home began a few years ago, before it became a rental property. He figured the changes would attract an energy-conscious renter or buyer. If the house doesn’t sell for $230,000, he’ll probably make it a rental again.

“I think everyone’s in the mode of trying to get the most for their dollar. They appreciate they don’t have to move in and spend money right away” sprucing up a house, Shepardson said.

He has received positive feedback, but not every person who tours the home likes the upgrades.

“Some people say they’d rather buy cheaper and put some elbow grease into it,” Shepardson said.

There are two ways to sell a home these days, according to Coldwell Banker real estate agent Steve Schiff: Present a clean, updated house, or drop the asking price.

Two years ago, Schiff could sell any house in Grand Junction just because it was on the market, he said. Now, he urges homeowners to act on his suggestions to paint, recarpet or just pick up after themselves.

“Nothing grosses people out like dirty houses and odors,” Schiff said. “I tell them I want to be able to perform surgery in your bathroom.”

People two years ago were happy just to get the house.

“Now,” he said, “buyers want more.”

As manager of a mobile home park in Montrose, Lynn Reed regularly renovates mobile homes to help them sell. She has 10 on the market right now. Many have new carpet and vinyl and other upgrades.

“It’s costly, but it almost looks new when you’re through,” she said.

Homeowner Kyle Brannon remodeled his Grand Junction home with new floors, cabinets and appliances before he ever knew he wanted to sell it. He believes the repairs will set his home above other comparable homes on the market because it doesn’t show its age.

“Even though it’s a smaller home, the condition of it is amazing,” Brannon said. “For the right person, I think they’d select this over a larger home that needs a lot of work.”

Although shining up a home helps it sell in any market, these extra moves are especially important now, said John Crawford of Bray Real Estate. Sales have dropped considerably, he said, and any action that sets a home apart from competitors is key to wrapping up a sale.

“There’s a lot of competition, and there’s no guaranteeing it will sell, but it has to show well to have a chance to sell,” Crawford said.

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