Buying For Resale

By VALERIE FINHOLM | Special to The Courant | April 12, 2009

When Joseph Grabicki and his wife started looking for a house, they had a list of what they wanted. One of the most important things: How easy would it be to resell?

"We didn't know how long we were going to be here," said Grabicki, who is a physical therapist. "You never know."

The couple ended up buying a 2,100-square-foot four-bedroom colonial in the Buena Vista neighborhood of West Hartford. The house has four bedrooms, a den, 2 1/2 baths and an attached two-car garage.

In today's shaky economy and slow housing market, buying a house that can be sold easily and at a profit has taken on more importance than falling in love with a particular house, area real estate agents say.

Grabicki is confident that his new house would be easy to sell if the couple had to move within the next few years.

What makes a house marketable?

"Buy a house that appeals to everybody," said Karen Conniff, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Old Lyme.

"We call these mainstream homes," said Grabicki's agent, Rob Giuffria, a broker with Prudential Premier Homes who specializes in homes in Greater Hartford.

Grabicki's house fits the description of what Giuffria and Conniff say is the "safest" house to buy in Connecticut: A colonial-style house with three to four bedrooms, 2 to 2 1/2 baths, and 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.

"That's what 70 percent of the buyers want," Giuffria said.

Outside The Mainstream

Buyers unsure of how long they will stay in a house should steer away from homes outside the mainstream, agents say.

For instance, one- or two-bedroom houses are difficult to sell, because they appeal primarily to single people or couples without children. Also, houses with five or more bedrooms are often considered too big for an average-sized family and raise concerns about the costs of heating and cooling. Houses with bedrooms in the basement are also a hard sell because families tend to want bedrooms on the same floor.

Style makes a difference, too. In Connecticut, colonials rule, although ranches are popular with empty-nesters, agents say.

Location trumps everything else that makes a house highly marketable. Buyers often overlook negatives in a house if it has a great location, particularly if it is in a town with good schools.

"It's always safer for resale to buy a smaller house in a good location than a larger house in a bad location," Giuffria said.

It also is important for a house to be comparable to houses nearby, said Norman Kilcomons, owner of Property Consultants, an appraisal company based in Farmington.

"You never want to [have] the most expensive house in a neighborhood unless you want to die there," he said.

Garages Matter

Other characteristics that help with marketability, agents say, include a two-car garage, a level lot, a quiet street, a dry basement and energy efficiency.

Garages are important. Most home buyers want a two-car attached garage. For an older home, a two-car detached garage will do.

Houses with one-car garages or no garages sell for less, Giuffria said. Adds Conniff: "If a house doesn't have a garage, it's a big deal."

A house on a busy road will be harder to sell than a house on a quiet street.

"If you can hear the cars inside the house it devalues the property," Conniff said.

Conniff knows of a couple who fell in love with an antique house near the shoreline that is within 200 feet of a busy road.

"They did a beautiful job of restoring it," she said, but now they are having trouble selling the house because of its location. Despite price cuts, it has lingered on the market for 10 months without any offers.

If the same house were situated on a quiet, winding road, it would have been sold by now, Conniff said.

She advises buyers to think of a house as an investment as well as a home.

"You can't fool yourself and say, 'I don't hear the noise,' from a busy road, because everybody else does."

She also said that many people don't want to buy a house on a steep lot below a road. "They think of water running into their basement."

As for that basement, buyers want one, but they want it to be full-size and dry so they can use it for storage, she said.

Conniff has found that overall, buyers want "a relatively mainstream house they can upgrade."

She said most of her clients describe themselves as "colonial people." They're not interested in contemporary homes, she says.

But what if you're trying to sell a house outside the mainstream?

"The best thing you can do is make it really 'wow' inside," Conniff says. "Upgrade the kitchens and bathrooms, make it as appealing to everybody as possible. That includes landscaping. And don't paint it a weird color."

She said buyers today feel empowered - and they are picky. Landscaping should be mature and well thought-out. Everything down to the quality of the paving on the driveway is examined.

"If they have to think twice [about a house], they'll go for another," she said. "Buyers are not willing to compromise anymore. "There are lots of things to look at - they can get exactly what they want."