How to Make Your Home More Attractive to Buyers, According to Calgary Real Estate Pros

Using archetypical homes found in the Calgary market, local real estate agents share their insights on what you should and shouldn’t do before listing if you want to get top dollar.

Photo by Cass Sarazin, courtesy of The Tanya Eklund Group.

The decision to sell your home can feel overwhelming, especially when you start wondering what you might need to do to make it more attractive to potential buyers. Kitchen renovations are all over HGTV, so does that mean your home needs one if you want to get top dollar? Should you replace the garage door that’s all dented from driveway ball-hockey games? Should you plant a tree? Finish the basement? Build a new garden shed? Paint?

It turns out that, depending on the type of home, the answers may vary. So we asked the pros — local real estate agents — to weigh in on what you should and shouldn’t do, based on a variety of home types that are common in our city.

 

Inner-City Century Home

Photo by Urban Measure.

Buyers: Families, couples, downsizers.

Core Appeal: History, charm, location.

Think of these types of homes as “a piece of history,” says Cody Battershill, a realtor with RE/MAX House of Real Estate who has nearly 20 years of experience. Century homes were built during Calgary’s first building boom, from 1904 to 1914, as well as in the decade following the First World War. In addition to being living history, century homes are located in Calgary’s oldest and most walkable neighbourhoods, making them highly attractive to buyers who want easy access to dining and cultural amenities, as well as boutique shopping.

“With century homes, people are buying for the character,” says Battershill, but, he warns, that doesn’t mean leaving the house in the past. “There are ways to do certain updates that don’t lose that character,” he says. Updating plumbing or electrical systems, or upgrading an old stove (whether replacing or outfitting it with modern parts) will bring a century home into the modern era without sacrificing its uniqueness. Doing so also helps appeal to the greatest number of buyers looking for that balance of contemporary amenities and historic features.

It’s also important to work with a realtor who has experience with century homes, Battershill says. A realtor who specializes in century homes will know how to market the home in a way that targets the most buyers and can help discover and present the home’s history.

 

Suburban Detached Home

Photo by Cass Sarazin, courtesy of The Tanya Eklund Group.

Buyers: Young families with young kids.

Core Appeal: Greater value for greater square-footage.

Suburban detached homes offer “more bang for your buck,” says Tanya Eklund, principal of The Tanya Eklund Group, with 23 years of experience selling homes. There’s no need for an extensive renovation to make a suburban home even more appealing. If anything, says Eklund, a little refresh can go the furthest, by updating the lighting or flooring, and updating paint colours in trendy shades like white, light grey or green.

While full home renovations are having their moment in popular culture, Eklund says that it isn’t something she pushes sellers to do unless they plan to stay in their home for another two or three years. A major renovation is tied to the real estate market, meaning any downward swing in the market risks losing that investment. Likewise, another common belief is that a new roof or furnace will add value, but Eklund says, that’s not necessarily true, unless either is at the end of its lifespan. Rather, she recommends following the old adage: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!”

If you do start a renovation on a suburban home, don’t leave it half-finished, warns Kripa Patel, a realtor with RE/MAX Real Estate, now in her second year. With these homes mainly appealing to young families, it’s a major deterrent if the home is not a safe environment for kids.

Another way to spruce up a suburban detached home without turning to extensive renovations is to bring in an interior designer to help stage furniture in a way that will maximize appeal.

“You want to depersonalize as much as possible and put away any clutter so that another family can imagine themselves in the same space,” Patel says.

 

Exurban/Rural Acreage

Photo by Kevin Shapkin/Real Estate Solutions.

Buyers: Growing families, aspiring horse-owners.

Core Appeal: Privacy, nature, self-sufficiency.

For many urban dwellers, the lockdown experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a desire for more space, privacy and autonomy. Having enough room to grow vegetables or raise chickens, or even join the horsey set, has made rural acreage homes a hot commodity in the past three years, especially among families with children.

But the rustic charm and appeal of more space only goes so far; if you want to make an acreage property appealing to buyers, it’s paramount that the home and grounds display pride of ownership and are well-kempt, says Rebecca Chamberlain, a real estate agent with Real Broker and team lead of The Chamberlain Group, which she and her husband started in 2004. While acreage buyers are, for the most part, aware that these kinds of properties require a significant investment of time and funds for upkeep, a property that presents an endless “honey-to-do” list right off the bat will be less desirable. “I think sellers are mistaken because the acreage market has been so hot they think they don’t have to do those projects, but they are still so important,” Chamberlain says.

Water management is one of the key aspects of acreage life. Prior to listing an acreage, it’s important to get the septic tank cleaned and to have the well water tested. Chamberlain recommends making sure that, as a seller, you can provide information about the water flow rate and, if applicable, have your water co-op papers organized and at the ready to answer any questions.

While the land is going to be the main draw for most acreage buyers, Chamberlain says, if sellers are wondering where to invest in improving the property, they should focus on areas of the home “where people live” — such as the kitchen and bathrooms — rather than on rooms or structures that hold machinery or are for hobbies.

She also suggests having the home staged to clear out clutter. “You sell and live in a property differently,” she says.

 

High-Rise Condominium

Photo by Jillian Desroches/Digital Marketing Media.

Buyers: Young professionals, investors.

Core Appeal: Amenities, view, construction style.

Compared to rural properties, high-rise condominiums offer views of a different nature. These types of properties mostly tend to be located in and around desirable urban locations in the city, such as the Beltline communities, the Downtown Core, East Village or Bridgeland.

For most buyers of these types of homes, the focus is on convenience, amenities and lifestyle, says Jordan Helwerda, a realtor with RE/MAX House of Real Estate, with just over 10 years of experience. He says buyers for high-rise condominiums are primarily young professionals seeking to balance work with lifestyle, and investors who see the condo market as less volatile and highly appealing to renters.

As a seller, a key thing to avoid is having a long-term lease, Helwerda says. The reason is twofold: “[Long-term leases] limit the buyer pool to other investors and exclude, for the most part, a buyer looking to personally live in the unit,” he says. The rental market is also moving fast, with rental prices rising, making long-term leases less appealing, even to other investors. “Long-term leases will be looked at as a negative to an investor-buyer because they could likely rent [the unit] for more per month than for the long-term lease they would be inheriting,” Helwerda adds.

When selling to buyers who plan to live in the home, Helwerda says it’s important to ensure the condo is a blank canvas so that a new buyer can envision making it their own. He says avoid changing or updating spaces unless the home has “out-of-the-box” characteristics that may deter a buyer.

Costlier renovations to areas such as the kitchen, bathroom or floors are only worth doing if the property is outdated and there is enough data for the area or building to suggest the cost will be worthwhile. A realtor with knowledge of the area and knowledge of the boards and corporations that are involved in high-rise condominium ownership will be able to help with deciding on whether to proceed with making big-ticket changes.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all high-rise condo buildings are the same, Patel says. “Before selling, list all the ideal features of your building, like safety, security, amenities and overall experience,” she says. Amenities are especially appealing to young professionals who are looking for access to things like a gym or a games/common room to host friends and family.

 

Mid-century Bungalow

Photo by Plintz Real Estate/Urban Measure.

Buyers: Empty nesters, new homebuyers with younger children.

Core Appeal: Vintage design, large lots, single-level floorplans.

“Mid-century bungalows have so much character — which is now back in style — so it is important to highlight and maintain these characteristics,” says Kirandeep Sandhu, a realtor with Plintz Real Estate for the past two years. “Removing old wallpaper and painting the home a neutral colour will help brighten and highlight the natural wood finishes and design, as well as emphasize the open floorplan.”

As mid-century homes are typically on spacious lots, Sandhu recommends keeping the landscaping clean and creating outdoor spaces where a buyer would want to spend their time. “Think firepits, outdoor lighting and gardens,” he says. Painting the exterior trim can also freshen the appearance without incurring a big cost or losing the traditional charm of these homes.

Sandhu also cautions against drastically changing the home’s architectural style. Instead, sellers should aim to update, while “preserving vintage vibes,” as buyers seeking a mid-century home like the design of that era (thank you, Mad Men).

“Avoid over-modernizing your home [including] furnishings, decor or finishings. You do not want to dilute the mid-century style and appeal with anything that is too modern,” Sandhu says. Ultimately, it comes down to “striking a balance between preserving the authentic features and making strategic updates to make your mid-century bungalow more attractive without overdoing it.”

 

Modern Mansion

Photo by Zoom Media, courtesy of The Tanya Eklund Group.

Buyers: Upwardly mobile professionals, growing families, migrants from more expensive cities.

Core Appeal: Extra room, contemporary design.

Contemporary homes priced above $1 million are appealing to buyers who want something shiny and new, so it’s important not to waste that first chance to make a great first impression, says Spencer Stupka, a part-owner and associate broker at Charles Group.

“You really want the experience for those buyers to start the moment they step out of their car and they’re looking at it from the street,” Stupka says. “That’s when they’re going to start trying to picture themselves in that home, and you want to make sure the outside of that property is looking like it should for a $1 million-plus home.” While the need for curb appeal extends across all styles of landscaping, Stupka says he is noticing more and more of these types of homes embracing xeriscaping — a style of landscaping that requires minimal effort and resources to maintain and is a more environmentally sustainable option, which appeals to younger buyers. That said, he wouldn’t advocate for a total landscape renovation prior to listing. “Landscaping is one thing I find is extremely subjective,” Stupka says. “It’s going to be really hard to satisfy everybody. So the biggest thing is, whatever is out in the front yard at that time, just put some love and attention into that and make it present as best as possible.”

For the same reason, Stupka also recommends holding off on investing in stylized design upgrades. “You’ll get some people who ask about swapping out a light fixture or hardware, but, as long as it’s in good working order, and it shows well and fits the space, I don’t believe there’s much gain in changing those items prior to listing, because you might just miss the mark for your buyer,” he says. “You want to try as best you can to keep things relatively generalist and not go out on a limb with an extravagant feature that speaks to maybe two per cent of the buyers out there.”

What is definitely worth the investment, however, is staging. For higher-priced homes, Stupka works with an interior designer to edit and stage the home for optimum appeal. “[The designer] helps with decluttering and de-personalizing a little bit without making it feel too sterile; gives the [homeowners] a to-do list to maximalize how the property is going to show,” he says.

“If a property is coming to market and it’s presented well and it’s priced appropriately, in most cases you’re going to have a fair amount of interest right away.”

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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