Features that sell homes - and those that keep them sitting on the market

It’s almost impossible to believe nowadays, but in the not-too-distant past avocado-coloured kitchens, carpeted bathrooms and sponge-painted walls were the height of stylish interior design and would have been deal-sealing features for most home buyers, possibly even prompting the odd bidding war.

These days tastes and trends are a little different and certainly more varied, but what hasn’t changed is that the appearance of a property can greatly influence the speed and the final price achieved in sale.

Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa, says: “Historically we have progressed from basic caves and simple huts through ornate castles to high rise living, and nowadays it’s possible to find literally any type of home your imagination can conjure.

“There is a very close correlation, though, between a property’s uniqueness and the size of the potential buyer pool, which shrinks substantially the higher the property rates on the “interesting” scale, and this can impact both return on investment and length of time needed to sell.

“That said unusual features can have great appeal, especially when the general characteristics of the home are in line with current trends.”

Kobus Venter and Marc Maron, Area Specialists for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Johannesburg’s Waveryley, Oaklands and Norwood, agree, saying buyers often look for that touch of uniqueness.

“People want something that sets a home apart from just an average box like hundreds of others, so details like bay windows or perfectly placed balconies can be very attractive to buyers.

“The most popular Norwood home listing averaged 300 internet views per month and it sold because of the volume and feeling of lightness and space added by extra-high ceilings.”

Grahame Diedericks, Manager Principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand, says: “We have seen some amazing features clinch deals in recent years including hidden wine cellars, state-of-the-art smart home automation systems, exquisite entertainment areas and luxurious spa bathrooms.

“However, there are also more common features that can sway buyers and one of the most noticeable trends in our area at the moment is fold-back patio doors because they allow for more spacious living and entertainment areas and create an open flow through the property.”

In Pretoria, though, it’s what’s inside that counts most.

“We are currently seeing more emphasis placed on quality kitchen counter tops and cupboards with solid wood in minimalist contemporary lines being most popular,” says Juanita du Plessis, Estate Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Pretoria East, “and marble tops have made a strong comeback, but they’re pricey and not for all budgets.

“Bathrooms are equally important to buyers, who mostly also prefer minimalistic designs. Vanities in solid wood are very trendy and monochrome colour schemes are most popular.”

Du Plessis adds that energy efficiency is also becoming a key aspect for buyers in her area, with LED lighting, solar geysers and water tanks being the most commonly requested and installed.

“While green living is by no means a new idea it is certainly gaining in popularity, especially in new builds when it’s easier to install most of the systems.”

Steve Thomas, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Franchise Manager for False Bay and Noordhoek, says that in Cape Town trends are much the same.

“The features most commonly at the top of prospective buyers’ wish lists are open-plan living areas, lots of natural light and, increasingly, eco-friendly systems that save water and reduce the cost of energy,” he says.

“In Cape Town people also prefer to live north-facing, which is largely related to the two main weather influences: warmth and sunshine and protection against the south-east wind.”

On a practical note, the realtors all agree that low maintenance and convenience are now priorities for a growing number of buyers.

Say Venter and Maron: “Low maintenance gardens top the list of outdoor space requests and many buyers now even prefer bore-holes to pools in today’s economy.

“Large gardens used to be strong selling points, but buyers are increasingly seeking more compact gardens that need less attention, use less water and offer more security.

“People are also becoming more averse to long commutes in the growing traffic congestion and first prize is to be within easy driving distance of their places of worship, regular shops, work place and children’s schools.”

However, while there are current trends with undeniably broad appeal, there are also features that can make homes very difficult to sell.

Maron and Venter are finding that facebrick homes now often remain on the market for up to twice as long as other properties and those with red-tiled roofs are even harder to move.

“We have noticed that grey has become a very popular paint colour for roofs, as old red tiles really date a home.”

Du Plessis agrees, adding that even when facebrick homes have beautifully renovated interiors they are still a hard sell because many buyers are influenced by kerb appeal – or lack thereof.

Thomas adds that with security at the forefront of most buyers minds, it can be a problem if the garage is situated too far from the house and also if basic security features are not in place.

Geffen adds that bright wall colours like yellow and red that were once so popular can also put off buyers, so it’s advisable to repaint in neutral tones before putting a home on the market.

“Another big no-no is wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in living areas, as most buyers prefer hardwood floors, and some people even consider carpeting unsanitary.

“And unless it’s a contemporary feature wall, rooms decorated with traditional wall paper are likely to have the same negative effect on potential buyers.”

While some features are certainly a lot more difficult and costly to change, Geffen advises that owners of older properties looking to sell would do well to seek advice from their realtors on inexpensive quick fixes and do a little research about current trends before putting their homes on the market.

“Simple measures like a fresh coat of paint and replacing dated taps and cupboard handles could make a significant difference to the final sale price as well as how long a property remains on the market.

“Weigh up the investment against the potential return; if it’s likely to push up the sale price by a few thousand more than you spend, it’s worth the time and effort.”

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