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Neither luxury nor total gut job: 4 ways to honor the in-between home


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It’s no secret that the word luxury is egregiously overused in the real estate community.

While the definition may vary from market to market, agents and marketing professionals use the term so loosely that it has become practically devoid of meaning. But no one seems to be discussing how the same can be said on the other end of the spectrum with “the gut renovation.”

I cannot tell you the number of houses and apartments I’ve toured that the agents misrepresented as a “total gut job.” Truthfully, many of these properties were totally acceptable and livable. They just weren’t perfect.

With these buzzwords floating around, we’ve lost sight of the “in-between house” — properties that aren’t 100 percent pristine, perhaps a little dated, but are otherwise full of potential and more than suitable for living.

Before we blame our clients for this conundrum, we need to take some accountability.

The real estate community created a superficial need for perfection. Our listing descriptions, presentations and attitudes have caused a shift in consumer behavior where it seems nothing less than modern, turnkey and flawless will do.

Here are four ways to reverse course and get back to the heart of the deal:

1. Redefine ‘deal-breakers’

Contrary to popular belief, Formica is not the end of the world. Dated countertops should not be a deal-breaker, and agents should recognize and communicate details like this. Fixtures can be easily replaced, walls repainted and floors re-stained.

Small renovations are part of owning a home, and it’s up to real estate agents to help their clients see the reality as well as the potential.

2. Reevaluate what’s important

For most people, a home is much more than a monetary investment. It’s a sentimental and tangible embodiment of family, love and the foundation upon which memories are made.

Of course, money matters and a house is a significant purchase for most buyers. But this is a greater opportunity to discuss with your clients why an imperfect kitchen or a funky living room layout shouldn’t be a strong deterrent.

3. Take a step back and ask the right questions

Don’t let the glossy magazine spreads of coiffed homes and flashy amenities turn you off from showing your clients a more understated yet perfectly wonderful home.

Maybe the property is old. Maybe the appliances need a complete overhaul. But could you see yourself living there? Could you be comfortable? Could you slow down just a tad and build this space into something that you’ve always wanted?

The best stuff in life takes time, and a house is no exception. Emphasize these points with your buyers.

4. Choose your words carefully

Only use “luxury” and “total renovation” when you mean it.

To restore definitions to their former glory, we need to stop overusing them in our descriptions and everyday banter. Fast food may be good, but you wouldn’t qualify it as fine dining.

A modest one-bedroom with nice natural light may be charming, but can you honestly claim it’s luxury? A prewar home may have some wear and tear, but do you really need to go through with a wrecking ball if it’s in a wonderful location and the price is right?

If you want to talk numbers and appreciation, it’s better to buy the worst house on the best block versus the best most renovated house on the worst block.

We’ve thrown the pendulum so far to the extremes that the middle has all but lost its luster, and there is such fabulous inventory in between.

Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan is the President of Stribling & Associates, a family-run business and New York City’s premiere boutique residential brokerage specializing in the sales and marketing of exceptional resale properties as well as new developments.

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