It was a horror show. The condo kitchen was fitted with expensive cabinets by the high-end Italian company Scavolini – coloured hot pink. In another condo, the back splash behind the stove top was made of a metal – impossible to clean.
These are disasters for condo owners looking to sell. They are upgrades so bad, they downgrade the property's value. And while most owners obviously want to maintain their condos' worth, there are differing views on how to do so.
Here are tips on what to concentrate on when investing in condo renos.
(For house renos, see Step away from the hammer – when a reno is a good investment and when it's not.)
For people buying new condos with the expectation of reselling only a few years from now, Leslie Richardson, a real estate agent in downtown Toronto with Property.ca Realty Inc., recommends selecting the best package of appliances and fixtures right off the bat from the builder. This goes both for people buying a condo to live in and those buying it as an investment to rent out.
“You want to be purchasing from a quality builder. And when you’re doing that, your standard package that’s included in the price should be fairly decent and require very few, if no, upgrades,” she said.
However, “if you’re buying from a builder where we’re still seeing carpeted bedrooms and laminate counter tops, in that situation we would want to spend money on upgrades,” she adds.
Some, though, believe a condo should be continually upgraded. Even for condos only two or three years old, upgrading is key in order to keep pace with the market, said Renee Didiano, a Toronto agent with Condos.ca and also affiliated with the brokerage Property.ca. “I think now more than ever people need to be upgrading, and I’ll tell you why.
“When I bring people around and show them different spaces, you’ll find that there have been a lot of new buildings coming up,” she said. “[Builders] have been able to get better appliances, more state of the art. Because of that, you’ll find that condos built only three years ago will start to look dated.
“There are things you can do to change the look, but on a decent budget,” she added.
1. Hardwood floors throughout
Modern condo aesthetics are pretty uniform, and hardwood floors are most consistently seen as a must, although that’s changing.
Laminate flooring used to be a no-no, but it’s true that some laminates with faux-wood finishes are durable enough and are accepted as a good alternative to hardwood, even if hardwood flooring is still the gold standard.
“The higher quality laminates now are fantastic and extremely durable. Most developers are now offering that as a basic. If they’re not, that’s where I’d be spending my money, on the floors,” Ms. Richardson said.
Carpets are out
Carpet wear-and-tear is one reason buyers prefer solid surfaces. (iStockphoto)
Still, an engineered hardwood floor is preferred. This is typically wood flooring composed of real hardwood planks on top and a core layer below, often made of particle board.
And the flipside is stay away from carpets. Carpets suffer wear and tear. They especially are frowned upon in the bedroom, wear they wear out around the bed and dresser, and are (like wallpaper) so dependent on one’s personal tastes.
Carpeting in one condo, but not other condos in the building can also be a problem. If a few condos are all up for sale in the same building, and have a consistent look, the one with carpet can be the outlier and suffer a lower value.
“I’m honest with people about what everyone else is doing, because that sets the mark for that building,” says Marlene Card, an interior design with MC2 Design. “Everyone has personal preferences with the bedroom, carpet or hardwood. But I would say that the norm right now is all solid surfaces.”
2. Granite or quartz counter tops
Granite or quartz is de rigueur, and durability is key. A laminate counter top is possible, but unlike laminate floors, it’s generally not seen as favourably. Neither is cheaper stone. “Some of the granites, they mark up a little bit. Or your laminate counter tops are going to be a disaster,” Ms. Richardson said.
Price is a consideration, however, and doesn’t always translate into a better market value for the whole condo. The highest-end quartz by the most upscale suppliers may not do much for property value, said Ms. Card, the interior designer. What’s most important is the look and durability that a condo buyer sees when inspecting the surface. The price of the counter top isn’t a major plus.
“Whether you spent the lowest amount or the highest amount, I think it’s all: ‘Does everything go well? Does everything look really appealing? Is the quality there? And is it a timeless look?’” Ms. Card said.
3. Storage shelving
There’s never enough storage space in condo. But big, empty closets can actually look smaller to buyers, compared with closets divided up with built-in shelving and areas cordoned off for linen, shoes, and other things. Simple custom shelves or a basic IKEA shelving system can make a big difference, realtors say.
And although some may see organizing closet space like this as overly fastidious, Ms. Didiano sees it as a big advantage in creating the illusion of order and more space.
“You can even do that in every single drawer. You can have little organizers to keep things together, so it doesn’t look like a bunch of clutter,” Ms. Didiano said. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been with clients, and when they’re deciding between two spaces, the one with the most storage wins.”
Lighting chosen by builders is notoriously bland, but owners should wait until after moving in or until after making other upgrades before buying new lighting fixtures. “The problem is that people get really excited about lighting. And before they even look at the space … they buy a light fixture because they like it. That’s a big mistake,” Ms. Didiano said.
“Lighting should be the last thing that you put into a room. Because it’s a permanent fixture, it needs to complement the look, the feel, the style, the colour scheme. [And] it needs to match the hardware that you’re using in the space. Because in a lot of condos, the living space is shared with the kitchen space, so we want it all to flow,” she said.
Putting in recessed pot lighting, however, can be more expensive if done through the builder. You’re paying extra for the convenience.
Good handles and knobs on cabinets only cost a few dollars apiece, but are the easiest way to make the most ordinary fittings suddenly look custom built, Ms. Didiano said.
“If you get oversized handles it really makes things look luxurious,” she said. “And that makes such a big difference. It’s really worth doing because it doesn’t cost that much. If you have the storage, the lighting and the hardware, all together, that makes a world of difference. It just feels more luxurious.”
And that’s what helps buoy market value.