7 tips for agents navigating home upgrades
Holland builds relationships with utilities and contractors whenever possible to make life easier for her clients — things move faster if you know someone on the other end of the phone. Connect with propane providers near you with our Where to Buy tool.
Of the many hats a real estate agent wears, acting as a consultant on upgrades is one of the most complex. An agent must combine the skills of a contractor, interior designer, and fortune teller to understand which potential projects will provide the most value for the client or future buyer.
But for Sara Holland, owner and broker of Sara Holland & Company, an independent real estate firm in central New Hampshire, consulting on upgrades is an opportunity to demonstrate her expertise and provide additional value to her clients. Here’s how Holland handles the upgrades conversation with both buyers and sellers to ensure she’s providing an outstanding client service experience.
1. Be a part of their team.
Whether or not her clients are actively selling their home, Holland wants to be on their homeownership team when they’re making important decisions about their home. So when they have a question — “Hey, our water heater is getting to the end of its life. What should we do?” — she can share her experience and help them look toward their future goals, whether that’s simply enhancing the home, improving resale value, or reducing energy costs.
2. Don’t wait for emergencies.
When she’s included on the team, Holland can help her clients make decisions ahead of time to preempt emergency scenarios that limit their options. She recalls that when her own water heater failed unexpectedly, she missed out on her preferred upgrade to a gas tankless water heater because of the time it would take the contractor to get the needed supplies. She suggests making an upgrade before it becomes an emergency. “So you’re not forced into a direction that you didn’t necessarily want to go out of immediate need,” she says.
3. Consider selective presale upgrades.
In a red hot real estate market, sellers might not see return on investment from extensive upgrades prior to selling. So Holland says any proactive upgrades before a sale should consider the property and the surrounding market. If a home is missing an amenity that all the neighbors have, or if an upgrade could really transform a space, it might be a conversation worth having. “Like if you remove the oil tank and you use a tiny tankless water heater on the wall, now you just gained all of that floor space back for your seasonal items or your decorations,” she says.
4. Price out changes you don’t make.
If the ROI for an upgrade isn’t there, pricing it out with a contractor can make a home more appealing to buyers. If a seller is thinking they would have upgraded the floors or added a hard line for a propane grill on the patio, get a quote from a contractor and present it to potential buyers. “If you don’t have numbers in front of you, you tend to assume installation costs are much higher than they are in real life,” Holland says. You can let the buyer know the purchase price reflects the cost of the buyer making those upgrades after purchase.
5. Educate your buyers about tankless water heaters.
Holland gets excited to tout the benefits of tankless water heaters, which generate hot water on demand so they never run out. “Tankless water heaters are fantastic for families with kids,” she says. “You’ve never had a hot shower as a mom, right? It’s a super easy upgrade so you can say, ‘You don’t have to worry about it anymore.’”
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6. Price out additional gas upgrades.
If Holland is pricing out upgrades to propane systems such as tankless water heaters, she’ll get quotes to upgrade other amenities around the house, too. Electric ranges and electric dryers are frequent candidates for propane conversion, and permanent gas grill connections are a bonus amenity buyers love but frequently don’t know about. Holland also lets customers know about the option for propane fireplaces. “It’s really nice for someone to just come in and flick a switch and have your fire going because you have a propane fireplace,” she says. Propane standby generators are another amenity her brokers bring up to avoid the worry of potential power outages.
7. Communicate the environmental and efficiency benefits.
Holland’s client base in the New England region is focused on the environment, so she makes sure she has those talking points ready when clients ask about the difference between heating oil and propane systems. “Those buzzwords — clean, efficient — those are at the top of the list for sure,” she says. Similarly, buyers will start to see dollar signs in their head when they see electric heat in a home. “Houses that have electric heat create an immense opportunity for discussion about upgrades,” she says. “Because our electric costs here in New England are super high.”
Holland’s market extends from central and northern New Hampshire into Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut, and much of the area is fairly rural and lacking natural gas service. That means when her clients are evaluating upgrade options, they’re generally considering kerosene, oil, electricity, or propane. And for versatility, cleanliness, and efficiency? Most clients land on propane.
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