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The 6 features your luxury seller should upgrade


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The littlest things can make the biggest impressions. When you show a high-end home, it may very well be the small flaws — scratched wood, worn furnishings, old appliances — that stand out in a buyer’s mind, no matter how beautiful the property. That’s why agents invest so much time in encouraging their sellers to look carefully and think critically before putting their properties on the market.

Britt Klein, Associate Broker, Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Fe

“Intimately understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your listing is essential for effective marketing,” says Britt Klein, Associate Broker with Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “You want to place your listing in the strongest possible position for a sale.”

After all, buyers are quick to take things at face value. According to Jon Mand, Broker with Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty in Louisville, it’s crucial for agents be able to see a property from the buyer’s perspective so they know what to change. “The objective of my initial walkthrough is to view the home through the eyes of a potential buyer in order to accurately assess the current condition and marketability of the property,” he says.

Jon Mand, Broker, Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty

What are the first things he looks for? “Is the paint chipping? Is there visible water damage? Deferred maintenance is the first priority for our sellers to tackle. A beautifully staged room will quickly be overshadowed by heavily worn hardwood floors and drywall in need of repair.”

In some markets, what’s outside matters almost as much as the interiors. “My clientele are craving the ultimate indoor-outdoor living experience,” says Klein. “When possible, I encourage sellers to work with interior and staging specialists as well as landscape architects.”

So what are the upgrades agents need to stay on the lookout for? Here are our top six picks:

Take care of the basics

1. Refresh the walls Paint chipping, water damage, and flaws in the drywall can steal the show from even the most elegant homes. Walls are a high priority, and they can be a quick fix — especially if the problem is simply the color. “Whether the home is $200,000 or $2,000,000, painting consistently remains the greatest return offered to sellers out of any pre-listing work or staging I recommend,” says Mand. While rich jewel tones are having a moment in design, for selling a home, neutrals still see the best return on investment in luxury properties: soft gray-blues, warm browns, and beiges create a blank canvas for allowing buyers to picture themselves in a space while conveying a sense of refinement. If the creative urge strikes, kitchen cabinets and bathrooms are places where a bit of color is less likely to deter luxury buyers.

2. Replace flooring “Updating or refinishing flooring is a close second to walls,” continues Mand, “and can make a world of difference to a space.” Floors are a particularly nuanced feature because there are so many types to choose from. Hardwood remains appealing to buyers, although tastes regarding plank width vary between markets; in humid climates, ceramic and granite tile can provide sophistication without the risk of warping. Consistency in flooring throughout a house can matter more than type: sellers are well advised to choose an attractive option for the main rooms of their home in order to keep buyers from identifying flooring as a problem area.

3. Raise ceilings

Luxury Kitchen Interior

Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty

Along with walls and floors, ceilings are an oft-overlooked surface that can be improved in order to lift and lighten a space. Vaulted ceilings are highly sought after, and for luxury condo buyers, ceilings of at least 13 feet are in vogue.

“I once recommended several changes to a home, including a fresh coat of paint throughout, refinishing hardwood floors with a darker stain, and replacing an older dropped ceiling,” recalls Mand. “At that time, the clients decided to move forward with listing without making any improvements. The home sat on the market for several months before they decided to remove it and make the changes originally suggested. Upon reentering the market, we immediately received multiple offers and ultimately sold above ask.”

Brush up on the extras

4. Modernize the kitchen When asked about the upgrades that bring the biggest benefits to sellers, both Klein and Mand are quick to mention kitchens. “As far as significant renovations go, sellers will see the most value for resale in a complete kitchen update,” says Mand.

This is an area of the home that builds up a lot of wear and tear; it’s also a space where buyers are especially concerned about having the latest features, whether it’s energy efficient lighting or a smart refrigerator.

5. Splash out on the master bathroom Unlike the kitchen, homebuyers focus on the master bath as a luxury more than a necessity, but it’s another upgrade that Klein and Mand unanimously agree is one of the most important. It’s also one of the most likely to maximize the seller’s return on investment. Details like radiant in-floor heating, soaker tubs, and open-concept Italian showers can take a master bath from run of the mill to attractive oasis.

6. Design a tranquil outdoor space

Luxury home exterior at night

Sotheby’s International Realty – Santa Fe – 326 Grant Avenue Brokerage

A property’s façade is the first thing buyers see when attending an open house; that’s why, for Klein, curb appeal is non-negotiable. “The exterior experience is among the most important upgrades, and provides a great return on investment,” she notes.

Landscaping, patios, and the indoor-outdoor lifestyle is even more critical in secondary home markets. “In Santa Fe, buying a luxury home is often a choice rather than a necessity,” she says. “Most secondary homebuyers need to emotionally connect with the property, and are willing to pay a premium for a move-in-ready residence that offers an idyllic Southwestern lifestyle.”

On trend or timeless?

When it comes to advising sellers on upgrades, it’s vital agents know what’s current. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to style, as long as you steer away from anything outdated. Mand advises his clients to focus on traditional aesthetics with wide appeal; Klein makes sure to identify and replace any features that have fallen out of fashion and may adversely affect marketability.

“Recently, I worked with a seller who had designed their Santa Fe residence with a dramatic French country theme,” she describes. “The home was exquisite and tastefully decorated; however, the design theme deterred buyers who wanted the Santa Fe experience. My sellers willingly replaced the antique crystal chandeliers with rustic wrought iron fixtures and restaged the home with a neutral theme. This rebranding broadened our audience, which resulted in a significant surge of activity and an immediate sale.”

Ultimately, your sellers are relying on you to tell them what requires an upgrade — whether or not they know the scope of work needing to be done. “Being an objective and knowledgeable third party during an often emotional and tiring process will make all the difference to your seller,” says Mand. In the end, superior service is what counts most in the luxury real estate space.

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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