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Overcoming the sales hurdles of outdated design


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Properties with dated design can be a challenge for luxury real estate agents, but they can also present exciting opportunities for agents willing to think creatively. Whether you’re reenvisioning a space from the studs up or staging a home to play off of unique features, even the most eclectic property has appeal for the right buyer. The trick is identifying a home’s hurdles and keeping lines of communication open with your sellers and buyers.

Outdated homes may mean taking on a larger design or restoration project than you’re accustomed to, but they don’t have to be daunting. Here are some of the steps I take to minimize complications and achieve results when an out-of-fashion listing comes across my desk.

Find the treasures amongst the tasks

Photo courtesy of Artazum / Shutterstock Inc

Many of the homes in my Lake Tahoe market have generations of history behind them — and though they tend to age with grace, their architecture and décor do get dated. As with any listing, preparing the home for sale begins with a process of decluttering — but be mindful of what you opt to set aside.

Are you selling a home that vividly invokes the 1970s? Don’t be afraid to lean into that. Yes, contemporary design dictates that you’ll have to turf the Formica in the kitchen and the valances on the windows, but the modernist lighting fixtures and shag carpet might just be the wow factor that sets your property apart.

When a home is antiquated, that just speaks to its staying power. When was your listing built? Turn that impressive age into a selling point, and as you declutter, show buyers that the home has good bones and genuine handcrafted appeal. Is your property from the 1920s, but was poorly renovated in the 1960s? Replace the now-obsolete renovations with beautiful new furnishings, but leave the authentic, century-old details intact.

Go the extra mile to understand your buyers

Lake Tahoe largely caters to clients from the Bay Area who are looking to purchase a second home. These buyers already have contemporary primary residences in places like Palo Alto, and they’re looking for something different: a cabin or cottage where they can unwind with a meditation retreat, a digital detox, or an outdoor adventure.

These buyers will often see the value of one-of-a-kind, vintage properties that retain their original charm, and I prepare my listings accordingly. The reality is that not all buyers want the vaulted ceilings and smooth white surfaces you see in magazines — rather, they want a genuine piece of design history whose authenticity makes the home timeless. Stage to sell

Sierra Sotheby’s International Realty

Staging a property has always served me well. A new paint job and tasteful pops of color enable clients to envision what’s possible in the space. Even when a property is a teardown, beautifying it can elevate the price point and make all the difference when closing a deal.

But many buyers aren’t looking to sink time into establishing a new home — in a vacation market like mine, they want a turnkey property that they can enjoy tomorrow. There have been numerous cases where my buyers have purchased the staging décor along with the property.

There are also certain must-haves that today’s buyers are looking for, and it won’t matter how much character and charm your older properties have if they lack these types of features. Have a practical conversation with your sellers — accompanied by contractors and designers, where possible — about how basic structural changes, such as widening the windows or removing dated archways, can decrease time on market and yield a high return on investment. When casting a vision, augmented reality tools can help you show a client what isn’t yet in place.

Seek inspiration from your networks

Agents have access to a wide range of social and professional networks to keep ourselves sharp. I like to scour Pinterest and Instagram to see what is possible for bringing challenging spaces up to date, and I stay in touch with other agents. If I’m at a loss as to how to remodel an older property, for example, I look to Shay Millheiser of Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty in Austin, Texas, whose social media channels are full of fresh perspectives on renovation and design.

Selling a home with an outdated design is a real estate challenge that even luxury agents face on a regular basis. Prepare unique homes in a way that modernizes the interiors while turning its deep history into its most marketable asset. The demand is there — now it’s up to us as luxury agents to leverage our knowledge, contacts, and creativity to connect clients with features they didn’t even know where available to them.

Katherina Haug

Katherina Haug is a luxury real estate advisor at Lake Tahoe with Sierra Sotheby’s International Realty. Licensed in both Nevada and California, as the Lake is split between the two states, she has a comprehensive understanding of the special care it takes to handle her clients’ assets from listing to sale. With a history in sales and marketing, Katherina is proactive with regards to her business and the interests of her clients, and loves the variables and daily nuances of the business. Katherina is dedicated to representing herself and her clients to the highest degree of professionalism. Katherina services the Lake markets along the west and north shores of Tahoe, as well as Truckee, and the ski communities of Squaw Valley, Sugarbowl, and Northstar.

About Sotheby’s International Realty

Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in 1976 as a real estate service for discerning clients of Sotheby’s auction house. Today, the company’s global footprint spans 990 offices located in 72 countries and territories worldwide, including 43 company-owned brokerage offices in key metropolitan and resort markets. In February 2004, Realogy entered into a long-term strategic alliance with Sotheby’s, the operator of the auction house. The agreement provided for the licensing of the Sotheby’s International Realty name and the development of a franchise system. The franchise system is comprised of an affiliate network, where each office is independently owned and operated. Sotheby’s International Realty supports its affiliates and agents with a host of operational, marketing, recruiting, educational and business development resources. Affiliates and agents also benefit from an association with the venerable Sotheby’s auction house, established in 1744. For more information, visit

The affiliate network is operated by Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, and the company owned brokerages are operated by Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc. Both entities are subsidiaries of Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY) a global leader in real estate franchising and provider of real estate brokerage, relocation and settlement services. Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC and Sotheby’s International Realty Inc., both fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.

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