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The Mortgage Professor: Should You Fix Up a Home before Selling It?

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By Jack Guttentag

But note that fixing structural defects before sale takes more time, which a seller may or may not have. In addition, depending on the type of defect, the value to a buyer may be less than the cost to the seller if the “fix” involves questions of taste.

I sold my house as is because I had already committed to a new one and wanted detachment from the old one as soon as possible. Furthermore, the buyer who fell in love with my old house had the financial capacity to pay for all needed improvements. She didn’t need the larger mortgage that would have been obtainable if I had made the improvements. In addition, one of the required improvements to my old house was to a deck, which could be done in a variety of ways based on individual taste, and it made no sense to do it according to my taste.

If a house has significant defects, the smart seller will order his or her own inspection, and in some cases, solicit estimates of the cost of required fix-ups. This will help in deciding whether the best arrangement is pre-sale fix-up, sale as is, or some combination of the two.

In addition, a seller-ordered inspection will tend to equalize the negotiating power of the two parties. I discovered this the hard way when the buyer used her report to drive down the price. Buyer-ordered inspections are designed, consciously or unconsciously, to provide bargaining ammunition for the buyer by exposing everything that is wrong or might go wrong. I did not have my own inspection, which would have emphasized the trivial nature of most alleged defects and the small cost of fixing them. That was a costly mistake.

Jack Guttentag is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

©2013 Jack Guttentag
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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