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Can he sell his 1950s Woburn cape?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 4, 2012 06:32 AM

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For everyone bemoaning the lack of half-decent homes below $400,000 inside I-495, meet "fishwood."

A regular on the comment board of this blog, fishwood just moved to Connecticut with his wife and children to take a new job.

Now, as he settles into a new $275,000 house down in the Nutmeg State, he's faced with the dilemma of what to do with his 1,400-square-foot, 1950s cape in Woburn.

Fishwood pretty clearly realizes he will have to sell in the below-$400,000 end of the market, but that still leaves a big question: Should he fix it up and try to sell it or simply treat it as a "dump" and slap it on the market as is?

And there's a larger question here, in my view. Are buyers today simply too picky and spoiled to recognize a diamond in the rough in fishwood's Happy Days-era cape?

Without further ado, here's fishwood. His comments came in a bit scrambled, so I have taken some liberties rearranging things here and there to make it more coherent.

From the seller's side, I'm looking very soon whether to treat my old house like a flip or a dump, and I'm not sure what to do. We bought the house in Connecticut (for $275,000) after some last-minute finance issues, got in just in time for the school year here, and I've started my new job. We've got enough in the new place to live here, but still have to vacate the old place. I don't expect to get $400k for 4br/1400sqft/.25acre/1955 in Woburn, even with the new boiler and windows already. So I don't understand the "Nothing under $400k" thing either. (That said), I'm hoping to find that buyer who would rather do the $50k of upgrades.

At at some point I'm going to have to ask a seller's agent, or otherwise figure out, whether to paint (or have painted) in and out, clearcut some overgrowth, put up some missing tiles, replace an inside and an outside door&frame, replace the vinyl floor, and replace the appliances. I've got the line of credit to do it. If we could get past curb appeal I'd think a buyer would rather pay $75k less and get his choice on all that. If it's legit let them pay $25k less and I can rebate them $50k to hire their own contractors before they move in. But if they tell me $50k of work raises the expected price $75k, so be it. I guess I'll be increasing my buyer pool to include people who expect to sell their current home before closing and don't want to live in a rental, and people with strict lenders -- that is, who require move-in condition.

Most of those things there are selections to be made that cost little or nothing (pale blue paint or pale yellow or off-white paint, white or black or stainless appliances, any number of vinyl floor patterns) and if I do it it's going to be very generic. Wouldn't the buyer rather choose? (I see that in the new place we're going to live with the foreclosee's taste for years. I wouldn't have put dimmers on every light switch, or chosen those colors, and I certainly wouldn't have put in the whirlpool bath...)

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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