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To Sell an Apartment, No Detail Is Too Small

The Appraisal

To Sell an Apartment, No Detail Is Too Small

Donna Alberico for The New York Times

Jamella Swift, a broker at Citi Habitats, setting up an apartment to show in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

On a recent Thursday morning, Jamella Swift, a Citi Habitats broker, was trying to anticipate every detail that would prevent a buyer from purchasing the two-bedroom condo she was selling in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She put a full-size bed in the bedroom so buyers wouldn’t think the room was too small. She dragged in a Lucite coffee table to create the illusion of a larger living space and set up three floor lamps to supplement the recessed lighting. Ms. Swift hoped that the $5,000 she had spent would help her land $395,000 to $425,000 for the apartment.

Donna Alberico for The New York Times

Jamella Swift, a broker, sets up a model apartment to show in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.





Donna Alberico for The New York Times

Jamella Swift, a broker, sets up an apartment for sale in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Ms. Swift learned how much details could detract from the value after representing a couple who was ready to buy an apartment for more than $7 million. The apartment had a rainy, musty smell that Ms. Swift thought the selling broker could have fixed by buying a dehumidifier. Ms. Swift’s client backed out.

“It could have been a done deal,” Ms. Swift said. Brokers say small moves can alter the ultimate sales price of an apartment by 5 to 10 percent. The calculations are irrational, and buyers are usually unaware they are doing it. But chipped plaster or broken bathroom tiles can knock $500 to $5,000 off an offer, $1,500 floating walls can add $50,000 to $70,000, and a $10,000 paint job easily adds $50,000 to the price, according to an informal survey of city brokers.

Some more recent examples they provided of real estate math:

Clutter: Subtract 5 to 15 percent. Douglas Heddings, founder of the brokerage Heddings Property Group, watched two West End Avenue apartments that were exactly the same come up for sale at the same time. One apartment, where the sellers cleared out all of their spare toys and books, sold quickly. The second, more cluttered apartment lingered on the market for more than a year and sold for 15 percent less.

Fresh towels and throw pillows: add $25,000. Geraldine Onorato represented a client selling a two-bedroom where the buyers received offers for no more than $450,000. Ms. Onorato spent $700 on a fresh bath mat and fluffy white towels and brought in an offer for $475,000.

Dirty rugs: subtract $5,000. Before Ivy Paterni, an agent with City Connections Realty, brought to market a one-bedroom apartment at 5 Tudor City, she knew buyers would focus on the off-white living room rug that had grayed with time. “Nobody wants to buy a home that at any point in its history was dirty,” Ms. Paterni said. She bought a sandy white $400 rug at Northeast Floor Covering, bought some extra plants and had the seller repaint the apartment neutral cream. She is listing it for $499,000 and estimates that without these changes she would have had to list it for $494,000.

Regrouting tile: add $100,000 (to a $3 million apartment, that is). Deanna Kory, a Corcoran broker, advised the seller of an eight-room apartment in the West 80s to spend a few hundred dollars on regrouting. “If you see a bathroom that needs a lot of grouting, you think it needs to be ripped up,” she said. She estimates that grouting, along with moving around furniture and adding lighting, will bring in at least $100,000 more for a $3 million apartment.

New fixtures and appliances: add $250 in rent. Chris Mercogliano, a local landlord, was shopping for a tenant for his $1,800-a-month two-bedroom apartment at 508 East 78th Street. He spent about $1,600: new outlets and light switches ($100), tiles for the kitchen and dining area ($500), four new light fixtures ($40), blinds for three windows ($75) and a new stainless steel stove, microwave and refrigerator ($1,000). It rented for $2,050 a month.

New lights: add $32,500. Michael Akerly of Rutenberg Realty had been trying to sell his two-bedroom apartment at 15 Broad Street for a year for $949,000. He received an all-cash offer for about $800,000 and a second offer for $885,000. He took it off the market, rented it for a year and paid a professional lighting designer $150 for advice. He spent $2,000 replacing his chandelier and ceiling fan with two large drum lights. In two weeks he had an offer for $917,500.

Replacing cabinets: add $107,000. Frances Katzen was recently selling a one-bedroom apartment in Murray Hill, at 245 East 35th Street, that she advised her client to list for no more than $310,000. After he spent $20,000 on new kitchen cabinets and paint, she listed it for $429,000, and it went to contract for $417,000.

An expensive shoe closet: worth every dollar. Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier has found that when buyers walk into a closet filled with Christian Louboutins, they are likely to pay more of a premium than what the seller spent on her shoe collection. She advises sellers, “You can buy 25 pairs of designer shoes, put them in your closet, and they’re going to get more than you spent on them.” That’s because, Ms. Kleier said, “people want to step into your life.”