Beyond Cosmetics: 6 Ways to Focus on a Property’s Best Assets

Have you ever visited a property and been immediately turned off by what awaited you inside–think ratty old carpet, dated décor, ancient appliances and wood panelling as far as the eye can see? If so, you're not alone. But instead of driving right by a home that hasn't seen a design upgrade in decades, why not look past the far-from-perfect cosmetic elements and see the good bones of a property that could be perfect for you. Here's how to do it.

Focus on a property's location

“If we’re going into a house that needs some work, I have clients prepped before walking in,” says Laurie Gillis, a REALTOR® and real estate agent with Team Kerr at Stilhavn Real Estate Services.

“We talk about finding locations they like, because no matter how nice a renovation is, if you hate the location, you can’t do anything about it. Plus, being on a great block fosters a sense of community.”  

Be sure to check out our neighbourhood guides to find the perfect location for you and your family.

Think about loving the layout

Changing a home's flow and layout is really expensive, so if a property you're touring features high ceilings, original hardwood floors in terrific condition under all that gross pink carpeting and an open-concept living space, try to imagine that not-so-gorgeous granny wallpaper and flowered sofas out on the curb, suggests Gillis.

“If the layout works, and it feels like a solid home with no big red flags, then the rest can be dealt with over time,” she says. “If your kitchen is dated or you’re using a pink toilet for the first couple of years, but the layout works for your family, it’s probably a good buy.”

Appreciate a home's best features

Pay attention to how much sunlight fills the space, suggests Gillis. If there are plenty of lovely floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, overlook the super-ugly draperies that frame them.

“If a house isn’t getting good light, it’s difficult and pricey to change window placements,” she cautions.

Don't fixate on newly-done renovations that may have been slapped on to sell the house quickly, Gillis adds. It's actually better to buy a blank canvas. 

“You just don’t know what’s underneath, and it may not have been renovated to the standard you would have chosen had you been doing it yourself, so you’re paying for somebody else’s reno,” she explains. “I'd much rather see people buy homes that haven’t been tampered with too much.”

Look ahead at what your family's needs might be

Gillis says many clients are fixated on having three bedrooms upstairs. However, she encourages home buyers to consider how long they plan on being in their dream house, and whether their preferences might change over time. 

“I have teenagers, and believe me, in a couple of years, many of these homeowners are going to want some separation of space. Plus, somebody's kid is going to really love a bedroom downstairs,” says Gillis. 

Take advantage of below-market prices

Often, a dated home with tired décor and no wow factor comes at a lower cost, making it a great purchase for first-time home buyers, notes Gillis. 

“These types of homes are always priced better, so if you can see past of those little things such as ugly paint colours on the walls or dark cabinets that you can easily get sprayed out, you will get a better buy,” she says.

Plan for some temporary design fixes

Big on design dreams but short on cash? When Gillis moved her family into a 1980s home, she knew the major renos would have to wait, but she instantly improved the overall look of her new home with some imaginative and affordable upgrades.

“I ripped out my carpet and painted my cement floors white until I could open up the whole place, and we received tons of compliments,” she says. 

“You can do a lot of stuff to make your space cool on a limited budget, provided that the house as a whole works for you.”

So if you use your imagination and see a property's true potential, you can pick up the house of your dreams.

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