I’ve known a lot of people who have lost money when they sold their homes. In fact, I’m one of those people, and it’s happened to me more than once.
There are a number of factors can cause a financial loss when you sell your house, including the need to sell at the wrong time due to divorce or an impending foreclosure, or a downturn in the local real estate market. However, it’s also common to lose money simply by making too many expensive changes to the house before putting it on the market. This is how I lost money on real estate, before I wised up.
My most resounding failure in the fix it and flip it market was a house I bought in Spokane, Washington. Knowing what I know now, I would have restricted myself to replacing the carpets and the kitchen and bathroom fixtures, painting inside and out, and buying new appliances. I probably would have replaced the old-style windows, too, to make the place look nicer and appeal to the energy-conscious buyer. These fixes could have been done easily within the two years I needed to live there to avoid capital gains taxes.
Since I didn’t know what I know now, I made major renovations, which included moving the bathroom. I did most of the work myself, but the materials alone cost more than I could get back when the house was sold. With the exception of repairs done to the house to make it eligible for an FHA loan and watering the grass, I doubt that any of my major projects really helped me sell the house or increased its value.
If a house is actually sound, with no structural damage or insect problems, the biggest reason it will sell for less than its worth is usually cosmetic. This was certainly true of the house I bought in Spokane. Dirty carpeting, and a wall in the living room covered with mirror tiles, kept most buyers from going any further into the house. I could see past the cosmetic problems and see the home’s full potential – but my imagination went a bit too far.
The floor plan was odd, and slightly inconvenient, but leaving the bathroom where it was would have been far more rational, financially. Why didn’t I do that? Because my emotions and my nesting instincts took over, pushing aside all thought of future gain or loss.
Let’s face it – most people don’t buy their own homes with the intention of making a profit, although they certainly hope the house will be a good investment. In fact, the emotional stress caused by the process of buying a house and moving into it can be enough to completely erase any thought of moving again a few years later. However, I know several families who have made a very good living by buying underpriced homes, living in them and fixing them up, and then selling them when the IRS will allow them to do …