There are Fixer Uppers, and There are Real Fixer Uppers!

June 28, 2021


Over the past few years, real estate professionals have been spoiling our buyers.  When a house goes on the market today, it’s almost always gone through a pre-listing transformation that’s turned it into true buyer bait.  And homes that are listed looking like normal human beings live in them?  They can be wonderful opportunities to avoid bidding wars, pay a fair price, and you can turn them into exactly what you want.

First, you need to be able to make distinctions between a house with questionable cosmetic choices, like worn carpeting or dated paint colors, and those that have issues involving the structure and the basic systems, like the roof, plumbing, electrical and HVAC.  And keep in mind that often, when sellers have addressed all of their cosmetic issues before listing the house, you might make some assumptions – like that everything in the house works the way it’s supposed to. And there will be a good chance that you are mistaken.

Another mistake some buyers make is thinking that newer is better.  That is especially an issue here in the DC market, because so much of our housing stock is over 100 years old.  But even houses built within the last 20 years can be ticking time bombs, as many of the systems and appliances have a life expectancy of someplace around, oh, 15 to 20 years.

Lately, however, it’s been my experience that most buyers focus on professionally staged homes that have been carefully prepared and then professionally photographed before going on the market.  There might be a “soft” kitchen renovation, with new counters and cabinet doors and neutral paint to provide an attractive backdrop for staging props.  And these fix ups will certainly bring the sellers a higher price and maybe even a hard fought bidding war.  But these “improvements” will not add nearly as much actual value for buyers, especially if they move in to discover expensive non-cosmetic issues they will have to address.

My advice to my sellers is to make your house look wonderful and to use all of the tricks of the trade that will make prospective buyers salivate.  But my advice to my buyers?  Most of what you are reacting to, like perfect furniture and staging props, will be gone by settlement. It’s good to keep an open mind for all of the dated homes with great bones.

If there is a move in your future, I’d be honored to help.  Please call or text me at 202-549-5167 or email me at  If you’d like to see some Monday Morning Coffee archives, please visit my website at