by David Barca
If last year was any indication, 2014 should be another exceptional year for home sellers across the Bay Area. In the Palo Alto market, 2013 was an amazingly strong year, with the median sales price averaging $2.1 million. In Menlo Park, the median sales price averaged $1.6 million.
Inventory was slim in both cities throughout the year as eager buyers jumped on the region's most desirable homes.
A home's price, size, floor plan, neighborhood and school district are clearly the primary factors by which a buyer will judge its attractiveness. Still, it's important not to lose sight of smaller details that you can control: Some home-improvement projects will go a long way to helping your property stand out above others.
These seven upgrades have the most influence on buyers -- and can help your home sell more quickly.
1. High-end kitchen appliances.
One trend we've noticed across our region is that buyers gravitate toward homes with modern kitchens. In particular, stainless-steel cooktops, dishwashers and refrigerators from high-end manufacturers are quite popular these days. Pacific Union's real-estate professionals in Silicon Valley also report that gas stoves with at least six burners are a must-have kitchen feature for many home shoppers.
2. Natural stone countertops.
While you're renovating your kitchen, you might also take a look at upgrading the countertops with a stone-like material. Although granite remains a popular and cost-effective countertop option, limestone and marble are among the most desirable materials today and will help imbue kitchens with a sense of luxury.
3. Fine-tuned details.
Although updating faucets, light fixtures and cabinet knobs in kitchens and bathrooms might slip below the radar of some home sellers, a local interior designer has assured me that such renovations definitely add value.
4. Lighter, brighter floors.
In terms of replacing worn-out hardwood floors, our real-estate professionals have noted that some sellers are bypassing traditional, darker stains in favor of lighter and brighter shades of oak, walnut and pecan. In an even newer trend, some homeowners are opting for matte flooring materials, albeit those with a natural appearance.
5. A garage that's more than a warehouse.
While buyers will likely pay the most attention to the living spaces of homes they are touring, the condition of a property's garage is becoming an increasingly important concern.
Many people will use a garage for its intended purpose, but others may employ the space as an extra room for living, working or recreational activities. As such, you might consider installing a coated, lightly textured surface on top of the standard concrete floor. Finishing a garage with Sheetrock is yet another improvement that can make the space feel more livable. Custom-built garage cabinetry can also add resale value to a home, particularly if the cabinets are built on the walls to help maximize space.
6. Improved curb appeal and landscaping.
Hiring a landscape architect to reinvigorate your home's yard could also help you receive the best offer when the time comes to sell. If your neighbors' homes are quite close by, you might be able to create a sense of greater privacy by adding plants or trees that act as screens.
Our real-estate professionals in Silicon Valley have also seen increasing use of manicured, artificial turf rather than grass. Such turf-based lawns don't require as much maintenance as grass, and they will keep an aesthetically pleasing appearance year-round -- even when there's a drought.
7. A new coat of paint.
Last but not least, remember that giving your home a new paint job is another way to add value to your property and offers perhaps the biggest bang for your improvement buck. If you don't have any experience with interior design, you might choose to retain the services of a professional to assist you with color selection.
Knowing what appeals to homebuyers in the current local real-estate market can go a long way to helping you decide what improvements will carry the most weight and net you the largest offer. And the more money you make on your current home, the more options you'll have when you buy your next.
David Barca is vice president of Pacific Union's Silicon Valley Region.