The housing market is snapping back – prices of single-family homes rose 9.3 percent over the past 12 months, according to the S&P Case-Shiller index.
But that doesn’t mean boomers hoping to sell their houses have it made.
Homeowners who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s face both short-term and long-term challenges if they want to hook Millennial buyers in their 20s and 30s (who are also known as members of Generation Y and echo boomers).
How to Make More Money When You Sell
Shell out a few bucks (OK, more than a few) to reel them in, though, and you’ll likely get a better price and a faster sale. “If you spend $15,000 now, you might make an extra $30,000 to $40,000,” says Brendon DeSimone, a real estate agent who blogs for the Zillow.com website.
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“Millennials and Gen Xers [roughly age 36 to 49] expect to walk into homes that are straight out of HGTV and look like they’re falling out of a magazine page, with modern colors and furniture styles,” real estate columnist and talk show host Ilyce Glink says. “Homes that don’t look like that may sell, but their owners could get hurt on price.”
Before I tell you how the experts recommend making your home more fetching, let me get the potential long-term threat out of the way. It’s actually more of a mismatch.
The Long-Term Concern Facing Boomer Homeowners
“The great senior sell-off” later this decade could cause the nation’s next housing crisis, Arthur C. Nelson of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah says.
Nelson told The Atlantic's Emily Badger: “If there’s 1.5 to 2 million homes coming on the market every year at the end of this decade from senior households selling off, who’s behind them to buy? My guess is not enough.”
If Nelson’s right, there’s not a whole lot you can do other than prepare for depressed prices if you’ll be putting your house on the market in five to 10 years.
But if you plan to sell within the next few years, there are a few things you can – and probably should – do to make your house more alluring to prospective buyers, namely the 95 million members of the Millennial generation.
“You want them to think they’re walking into their potential home,” DeSimone says. “A house is an emotional buy and you want to suck them in.”
That means facing head-on the disconnects between typical boomer houses and the homes Millennials want.
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Boomer Home Features That Irk Millennials
After speaking and emailing with Sherry Chris, president and chief executive officer of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate; Fred Ehle, vice president of brand management at the national homebuilder PulteGroup; Glink and DeSimone, here's what I learned that Millennial buyers don’t want:
Separate living rooms and dining rooms Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate recently released a survey of 1,000 Millennials and found that 1 in 5 said “home office” is a more appropriate name for the space boomers used as a dining room; 43 percent would like to transform living rooms into home theaters.
“Millennials want to use living rooms as rooms where people actually live,” Glick says.
That means using the rooms for the full range of life's activities, including entertaining friends and watching TV. Says Ehle: “They want their home to allow for easy entertaining." In a PulteGroup survey, 76 percent of Millennials said “TV, movie and sports watching” was extremely or very important to them in a new home. (Presumably, it would be important in an older home, too.)
Neutral walls “There’s been a popular belief over the years that painting your walls a neutral, off-white is the best thing to do for home buyers, but our research tells us differently,” Chris says. “We find that bold colors work very well.”
Carpeted floors “Younger buyers want hardwood floors,” DeSimone says. “Carpets feel dirty. They have stains.”
Homes located far from public transit and poor for “walkability” A new study by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors found that home values performed 42 percent better between 2006 and 2011, on average, when the properties were located near public transportation.
Walkability is the buzzword that describes how easy it is to walk to stores, schools, work or public transportation. In a Zillow blog post, DeSimone called walkability one of the “10 things that make a home a good home.” Some buyers check out a home or neighborhood’s Walk Score at a site called Walkscore.com to decide whether to put the place on their list of possibilities.
“I’m a boomer and for my generation, it was a badge of honor to get your first car and drive everywhere,” Chris says. “Millennials are used to living in urban environments and many don’t have cars.”
Poor cell and wireless service “If it’s not easy to get a cell or wireless connection, that would be a definite turn-off for this generation,” Chris says.
How to Make Your Home More Alluring to Millennials
You can’t move your house, of course, so if it’s located far from mass transit, scores low for walkability and is far from cell towers, you’ll just have to live with that and hope to find a buyer who’ll accept the drawback.
But if your home has any of the other flaws cited, here’s what to do:
Visit nearby homes for sale to see how yours compares. That’ll let you know whether you need to launch a minor renovation to make your house look like the competition.
You might also learn that although your house looks a little dated, so do your neighbors’ homes. “If the other houses for sale have old kitchens like yours, you may be OK,” Glink says.
Hire a home stager. This pro, who Chris says could cost between a few thousand dollars and $50,000, will swoop in and make your house look more presentable to would-be buyers. “Everybody talks about getting their house staged these days,” Glink says.
The expert who stages your home might put some of your dining and living room furniture into storage, so prospects could imagine their own tables and chairs there. Or the stager could replace what you have with contemporary, rented tables and chairs from the company’s warehouse.
Most younger buyers “don’t have a keen sense of imagination when they walk into a home,” Chris says. “If they go into a house with a lot of outdated stuff, it can be difficult for them to see through the clutter and picture what they’ll do with those rooms.”
DeSimone adds, “Buyers feel more connected to a house when it’s staged.”
You can start hunting for a stager by searching the directory at the website of the Association of Home Staging Professionals.
Persuade buyers that your dining room could be something else entirely. Chris suggests putting tent cards in your dining room that say “Dining Room or Office.” Alternatively, Chris says, you or your real estate agent could draw up floor plans for the dining room and other spaces that show potential furniture arrangements that differ from your layout and suggest other possible uses.
If your house doesn’t have a home office, real estate pros say, it's important to indicate where prospects could set one up.
Repaint the walls to add some zing. If yours are white or off-white, add some color. You don't have to paint all four walls in a room; even one bold wall can attract younger buyers. “They want more personality,” Glink says. The Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate website has videos offering advice about paint colors that help sell homes.
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Pull up the carpet and spruce up your flooring. “If you have the energy and the time, take out the carpet and refinish your hardwood floors,” DeSimone says. “That and a coat of paint will go such a long way.”
Freshen up the kitchen. “If you have old-fashioned, inexpensive countertops, make an investment of a couple of thousand dollars to upgrade them,” Chris says. DeSimone suggests springing for granite countertops, which cost about $100 to $225 per square foot.
If you have knotty pine cabinets from the '70s, he says, paint their facades to make them look more up to date.
Consider buying quiet, energy-efficient appliances. Surprisingly, Millennials surveyed by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate said energy-saving washers and dryers were their most sought-after type of technology. “They’re very conscious of being green,” Chris says.
When selling your house, you’ll be thinking about another type of green, so making your home Millennial-friendly will be worth the expense.