Larry and Sara White's real estate agent had suggested they replace their laminate kitchen countertops with granite before they list it for sale this month.
The Whites will be asking more than $500,000 for their 16-year-old, five-bedroom, three-bath farmhouse in Lowhill Township
''And you can't sell a $500,000 home with Formica,'' says their agent, Andrea Decker of Coldwell Banker Heritage Real Estate in South Whitehall Township. ''It's tough.''
The countertops and a stainless steel sink cost about $6,000.
The White's situation raises the question: Should you invest in upgrades before listing your home for sale or do you try to sell it as-is?
Sam Ruta, manager of Coldwell Banker Heritage in Hanover Township, Northampton County, says it is a question he hears more often from sellers now that homes aren't selling as quickly as they had been for the last few years.
Area real estate agents are divided over the answer.
Some say it could be worth spending $5,000 to $10,000, perhaps more, on upgrades, especially as the market begins to slow and more upscale homes are built in the Valley.
Says Ruta: ''It's no longer: Stick a sign in the front yard and sit back and wait for the offers to come in. You have to get the house 'dealer-prepped.'''
Others say the rule-of-thumb is the same regardless of market conditions: Price the house as-is and let the buyers renovate it to their tastes, if it needs it. ''I've never seen it pay off to have people undertake major renovations and get back what they put into it,'' says Cathy Kocsis of Century 21 Pinnacle in Bethlehem Township. ''If you're going to do anything, adjust the price.''
Some real estate agents believe upgrading is necessary because it is getting harder to compete with the many new homes being built in the area.
''There is so much new construction it makes it very competitive,'' Decker says.
Many of the features that were once upgrades in newly built homes now are standard, especially in higher-priced homes. Solid surface or granite countertops in the kitchen, ceramic tile in the bathrooms, and hardwood floors are either included or buyers willingly pay extra for them.
Similar-sized homes that were built in the 1970s, '80s and '90s might not have those luxury upgrades unless the homeowners added them on their own. Ruta believes sellers with 10- to 20-year old homes ''probably need to spend $4,000 to $5,000 and make them more competitive with all the new homes going up.'' Renovations can help ''your house stand out a little bit better in this new market,'' he says.
Decker says upgrades may be necessary in some price ranges. ''If you're going to invest $5,000, $6,000 in countertops to get your price on a $500,000 house, it's absolutely worth it,'' she says.
Sara White says although black is popular, she chose a very neutral color for her granite — beige with specs — so that it would have wide appeal to potential buyers.
The Whites realize they may not get their entire investment back, ''but it should help sell the home a lot faster,'' Sara says.
Krista and Kevin Rodowicz have invested about $60,000 in their 3,000-square-foot home in Orefield since buying it two years ago. They added irrigation and water conditioning systems, a deck and lighting as well as other upgrades. In January, they listed the home for sale for $679,900.
''We don't expect to get every penny we put in upgrades back,'' Krista says. But she figures: ''Where this house is located and with the neighborhood it's in, we expect that whoever is interested will appreciate the upgrades.''