'Dream homes' vary by generation
Target buyers — carefully
You can harness all this info to make your home more attractive to homebuyers. But do proceed with caution: Just because you live in a neighborhood that's hot with the Gen-Y crowd doesn't mean you should run out and install a Jacuzzi, say real estate agents; a hot tub is a bad return on investment now and forever. (Pools aren't much better. Read more about their financial pitfalls here and more on backyard improvements that pay off here.)
David Hehman, president of EscapeHomes.com, cautions not to make dramatic changes in your home just in hopes of attracting buyers. "What's most important is having a nice, clean property in an in-demand area," Hehman says.
Yet there are some situations in which you might consider targeting your home renovations -- say, if you live in one of those increasingly popular 55-and-over communities, or in an area that's getting hot with young professionals.
To gauge the type of buyer you're likely to attract, pay attention to your surroundings: Are you in a high-dollar district of Boca Raton, Fla., or some areas of Scottsdale, Ariz.? Chances are good you'll have a boomer buyer. Gen-Y buyers, meanwhile, often want to be closer to the social scene and public transportation in young cities like Denver -- or else out on the fringes where new homes are cheapest. You should know basic facts about your neighborhood, such as whether you're in a good school district and the general ages of people who've recently bought in the area. Contact a local real estate agent for help or use online tools, such as Sperling's Best Places.
"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pick up the phone and call around … and you've done a little bit of market research," says Ashley Christofferson-Cunningham, president of Brass Brick Homes in Oklahoma, which focuses on younger homebuyers. She is a co-author of the book, "Marketing and Selling to Generation X."
For those of you comfortable with targeting specific buyers, here are some expert tips for luring boomers, Gen X-ers and the Gen-Y crowd (that fall well short of installing a Jacuzzi).
Luring Gen Y
• Don't fear color. The age-old rule is to banish any hue from a house about to be sold. But plain-Jane white is often too drab for Gen Y, says Justin Juarez, who at 28 is the youngest broker/owner of Metro Brokers-Liberty Home Group in the Denver area, and who oversees many Gen-Y agents. "I've had clients who see plain white walls and they say, 'Man, that just sucks, because now we’ve got to come in and paint.'"
Instead, Juarez recommends home owners repaint in what the industry calls "builder's beige." "It adds a lot to the house; it's better than just solid white," he says, and "they can live with the beige for a while."
• Get unconventional. This generation likes untraditional floor plans, informality and flexibility in a layout, says Burdick. Anything that a homeowner can do to emphasize that -- adding furniture that moves around on rollers, putting the formal dining set in a shed out back when the house is being shown -- may add appeal, she says. Also, get creative with what personal property you're willing to include in the listing price. Instead of the typical washer and dryer, on several occasions Juarez has negotiated for the previous owner's elaborate, built-in home theater system to be included in a full-price offer.
• Get wired. Gen Y is plugged in to the Web, all the time. Your home better be, too -- and with a fast connection, even if it's an older home, says Angela Burdick of Metro Brokers Angela Burdick Real Estate in Littleton, Colo., who often deals with Gen-Y buyers. And if your home isn't plugged in, you'd better explain why not. Burdick recalls one owner who left articles in a binder on the home's breakfast bar explaining what could be done to improve Web access at the house. That helped sell the house, she believes.
• Add an office. Transform someplace in the home (even a nook) into an office -- even if it's just a few shelves and a desktop, advises Burdick. Everyone works from home these days. Show a Gen-Y homebuyer where he or she can, too.
Grabbing the Gen-X buyer
• Think kitchen. Because the kitchen is the focal point of the Gen-X home, you should spend your remodeling money there before, say, the bedrooms, advises GfK Roper Reports' Sheehan. One way to freshen up a kitchen without spending thousands is to refinish the cabinets, suggests Christofferson-Cunningham. Popular treatments, she says, are glazing, crackling and sand-through finishing that gives furniture a worn appearance. It's "minimal cost but gives that home an updated look," she says. Just look at a catalog like Pottery Barn for evidence of its popularity. (Read more about refacing cupboards here.)
• Color (again). Gen X-ers like "a lot of color, a little bit of bling, a little bit of pizzazz," says Christofferson-Cunningham. That doesn't mean you should paint your bedroom purple, but Christofferson-Cunningham proudly shows a cheetah carpet on her Web site as an example of something intriguing that will make a room memorable for a younger visitor.
On the other hand, hide your own mementos, such as personal photos. "The biggest mistake that people can make," she says, "is that they've got all their family pictures in there, and their kids' picture in there, and (a homebuyer) can't imagine themselves in there."
• Peel your walls. "Even just taking down the wallpaper that's been there for 10 years and replacing it with something that's more hip" will help, Christofferson-Cunningham says. "Wallpaper is like fashion. It changes."
Hooking the boomer buyer
• Think about art. Since boomers often have fine items and this generation is often big on display, ask yourself where and how you can create a space -- perhaps in the living room or entrance -- where a future homeowner could show a piece of artwork, suggests Sheehan.
• Update with care. Boomers do love grand kitchens and bathrooms. But "it's very tricky -- how are you going to pick out the right tile?" asks EscapeHomes.com's Hehman. So proceed with caution if you must update those areas in anticipation of selling your home, he says. Make somewhat neutral choices among luxury items -- white Carrera marble in the bathroom, for example.
• Consider universal access: As you renovate your bathroom, add touches that seniors will notice and need when they look at the house later -- grab bars in the bathtub, a higher toilet, a step-in shower rather than a bathtub, suggests Suzanne Matlos, a broker who represents the Links Estates, a gated senior community in Queen Creek, Ariz., near Phoenix. More ideas: Lever door handles (easier for arthritic hands to handle than knobs) when you replace door fixtures, and pull-out shelves in places like the pantry (easier for bad backs to reach), Matlos says.