Translated: Same owner for 30 years

In the real estate business, realtors learn how to read between the lines with listing descriptions written by other agents. We learn not to put too much stock in the pictures accompanying the description because they may or may not accurately represent the home. We know the only way to find out what a home has to offer is to stand inside it.

However, this is not generally true for those not in the business. Phrases in the listing description that make experienced agents cringe may appear to new buyers to mean something positive and encouraging.  Over time buyers figure it out though – especially when they see enough homes that are really promising on paper, but turn out to be far less so in person.

A phrase that gets many new-to-the-search buyers excited over a house is this one: “Same owner for 30 years!” You can go ahead and plug in a different number of years, like 25 or 40, because the implications are usually the same. To eager first time home buyers this phrase is interpreted to mean the home has not changed hands very often and so the owners must have really enjoyed living there, or they think that because the owner has had it so long they know nearly everything there is to know about it. This is in sharp contrast to homes buyers encounter where the owner is someone that flips previously bank-owned properties and then claims they know little about the property’s history. This claim is often true when it comes to foreclosure purchases, but that does not help buyers trying to gather as much information as possible before purchasing a home. This can make the alternative of a home owned by the same person since the Dawn of Time a much more comforting prospect.

Don’t get me wrong… There is definitely value in owning a home for many decades and potentially getting to the point where there is no longer a mortgage. And some very long-term owners do update their homes consistently. Unfortunately, that is not terribly likely to be the case when agents and buyers come across this particular description because if it were there would be no need to emphasize the long-term ownership part. In that case the description would have phrases like, “nothing to do but move in!” or “this home is so much more than move-in ready!”

To an experienced agent “same owner for 30 years” usually means something very specific. It means that upon stepping in the front door you will feel as though you’ve been transported back in time many decades. It is the closest thing to time travel most people will ever experience, and you really do have to see it to fully appreciate the startling impact such an experience has on people. It is both shocking and fascinating in ways that are difficult to articulate.

But here’s the thing… Provided that a home has a solid foundation and the major systems are working properly, the biggest objections buyers have about these homes is that they are “cosmetically challenged”. This is a bigger hurdle than one might think. I have seen buyers pass on such homes that are priced well and have significant potential because the prospect of updating the home seems daunting. I have also seen these kinds of homes sell for considerably lower than they should when considering market conditions at the time. The problem is that it is hard to visualize a room with different flooring, wall colors, and furniture. For some, it is nearly impossible.

For example, here is what I would envision an older home with this description to look like, where the only major updates to the home – in decades – have mainly consisted of light bulb changes and a new appliance here and there (maybe):


It is hard to decide what room is the worst, but I’m going to go with the living room. You can’t see it in the picture, but the walls in the living room consist of wood paneling. Admit it. You’d pass on this house. Many other people would as well because it’s a lost cause, right?

Perhaps not.

To illustrate my point I went ahead and made some basic changes to the flooring, walls, and furniture. The updates I made are basic because realistically someone purchasing their first home is unlikely to have a large chunk of money set aside to completely renovate a home. Any short-term updates buyers make to the home will likely need to be within a smaller budget. Regardless, simple changes make a difference:


The above is the exact same house. I just removed the wood paneling in the living room as well as the wallpaper in the other rooms. I also removed the wall-to-wall black and white tile in the master bathroom. I changed all of the flooring and added hardwood in the dining room. Fairly small and neutral changes made a difference in the appearance of this home.

The lesson here to buyers is this: Before you cross a house off your list, try to visualize whether it would look more appealing with some cosmetic changes. If other aspects of the home are in reasonable condition and you find yourself thinking you would have bought the house if only it didn’t have wallpaper from the 60s or 70s, and unfortunate paint colors, then really challenge yourself to try to see beyond those things. If you still cannot see any promise in the home after doing this then passing it up makes more sense.

The lesson to sellers is this: Cosmetic changes and updates may mean the difference between actually selling your home versus not selling at all; or getting fair market value for your home versus getting offers for $20,000 under asking price. Nothing can make the world a darker place for a seller faster than a low ball offer, and sometimes that scenario can be avoided.

About Melissa Higgins
Client-centered realtor to assist with renting, buying, and selling needs. I work for BHG / The Masiello Group which has a wide range of services to assist in allowing me to help you realize your real estate goals. I serve all of Southern New Hampshire, including Nashua, Merrimack, Bedford, Manchester, Hooksett, Milford, Hollis, Pelham, Brookline, and many others. Contact me to talk about how I may help you.

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