When your home has been on the market for months with no takers, who do you turn to? If dropping your price is too grim a prospect, one solution could be to make a modest investment in refurbishing the property. It can pay dividends when it comes to getting a top price.Alternatively, you might turn to a designer – someone with the expertise to make your property as appealing as possible.
Paul Tobin (paultobin.ie) is an interior designer and estate agent who works with homeowners to improve their properties before putting them on the market.
“The process starts with an AMV (advised minimum value), “he says.” “I give the vendor my professional opinion as to what the property is worth in its current condition. I’ll then give my recommendations on what should be done to improve its appeal and value, how much the cost of improvements might be and how big an increase in value could be achieved in line with market value.”
Every case is different, Tobin says. “A house in poor condition with an AMV of €250,000 might need between €10,000 and €20,000 spent on it to bring it up to an acceptable standard and to achieve market value of €285,000. However, with my knowledge and skills and the same spend, we would typically achieve about €300,000 for the same property. One of Tobin’s most recent projects was a Georgian apartment in Cornmarket, in Dublin south city centre, which had an AMV of €250,000. Tobin spent €11,000 on doing it up, painting the kitchen units, changing light fittings and some flooring, getting the carpets cleaned professionally. The apartment sold for €290,000.
No. 47 Heytesbury Street, in Portobello, in the same area, was well presented before going on the market. It had a beautiful courtyard area and stunning extension. Tobin was still able to make improvements, painting much of the house and adding gravel to the front. the property is under offer, having been on the market for only a few weeks.
“Sometimes [the vendors] will have to carry out structural repairs,”says Tobin, whose typical clients are selling their properties after letting them for years.
Improvements are often made to the home’s energy ratings by adding attic insulation or energy – efficient boilers. Tobin helps homeowners get grants from Sustainable energy Authority of Ireland; the client can also claim back the VAT on the refurbishment through the home renovation Incentive renovation scheme.
Tobin regularly works with the sames teams of people, finding the materials himself and negotiating the cost of fitting on behalf of the client. “I keep all the recipts and charge everything at cost. I get my money from gthe percentage on the value of the eventual property sale. We’re beginning to structure our fees so that we agree a target sale price with the client and get a higher percentage – about 5%- for anything earned beyond that.”
Being a designer and estate agent involves long working days for Tobin, who says he often gets home at 11pm.
“For me it’s about more than making the place look nice; it’s about bringing the property up to an honest standard so that when a person buys it and pays top price, they won’t need to spend any more on it for a few years,” the boiler has been serviced for them and they know it wont break down, the toilets flush, the taps don’t leak and the doors close properly. If buyers are going to pay top price, they need to know they won’t be spending additional money on it.”
Another of Tobin’s tasks is to stage a property to ensure a buyer gets a good impression when walking up to the front door.
“I organise for the driveway, which probably hasn’t been swept in a decade, to be cleaned with a powerhose. The lawn is mown and the hedges are cut. Everything in the front garden looks neat and tidy. the windows are spotless and there’s warm lighting inside; it looks inviting, like somewhere you want to be.”
The walls will have been freshly painted, with Tobin going for a “fresh contemporary” feel.
“I use bright colours, no dark ones, and I am allergic to magnolia and I see so much of it when I view house for the first time. As well as wall paints, I use wallpaper and wall panelling, depending on the circumstances and the budget.”
Tobin often changes all the skirting and the carpet on the stairs. When it comes to selling, the most important rooms to brighten up to standard are the Kitchen and the bathrooms, he says.
“Yet too often these look tatty, with old worn lino and grubby tiling throughout. In the bathrooms I’ll put in a new lavatory, sink and bath, and new fittings. You’ll never get an old bath to look as clean as a bath that has never been used.
“Shop around and you’ll get a three – piece bathroom suite plus fittings for less than €600. You can get a high – quality lavatory and a sink for €150; this market is competitive.”
Hunting for deals is a must, Tobin says. He recently bought a gloss Kitchen on donedeal.ie for €800 and will put it in a house in Castleknock. The client had originally looked at a similar kitchen for €4,000.
“I frequently replace the door between the kitchen and hallway with a glass-panelled one, which really adds to the sense of spaciousness. Seeing the light in the kitchen from the hallway looks more welcoming. “I’ll usually replace the door handles, locks and hinges, and provide new keys for all doors. People aren’t aware of little details such as exposed chrome hinges on doors, but the impression they get is a million times better than the one from hinges that have been painted over roughly. ”Tobin also uses suites of furniture, pictures, lamps, headboards and garden furniture in his refurbishments. He recommends having at least the master bedroom fully furnished for viewing. “It doesn’t have to be a great bed or a great mattress, but it should have a good-sized duvet, with pillows and tasteful bed linen.” Getting the all-important professional photos can do wonders when selling a home – and help to put it in the property pages. Tobin uses professional photographers for marketing brochures and sets up video tours of the home. Property staging is the part Tobin enjoys the most, and there is a touch of the theatrical impresario to that side of his work.
When he spoke to us on a Friday evening, he was driving behind a removal van full of furniture on his way to his next home-staging assignment, for all the world like a touring player heading to his next show. As they say: that’s show business.