Preparing A Home To Sell For Top Dollar: A Case Study

My “Tale of the Sale” Series

Front exterior shot of 21 Underhill Road

21 Underhill Road in Mill Valley – A Success Story

Properly preparing a home for sale can make a big difference in how that home is received by buyers and ultimately how much they are willing to pay for it. Even in a sellers’ market like Marin County where there is a great deal of competition for homes, this is still a wise investment and can yield large dividends. Given my background in design and marketing, this is one of my specialties and I thought I would share a recent case study to illustrate my point.

21 Underhill Road in Mill Valley sold in one day for $315,000 over the asking price of $1,895,000. The amazing response to the property both delighted and surprised the sellers as well as other real estate agents in the area. Did we underprice it, some wondered? As I helped the sellers come up with a list price, we looked at comparable homes (“comps”) nearby that had sold recently, and I had a few other top agents specializing in the neighborhood tour the home and provide their input on pricing. We landed at $1,895,000 based on these comps, taking into account the kitchen and baths were somewhat dated.

I always tell my sellers “Don’t underprice a home to inspire a bidding war — instead price the home at a fair market price and where you would be comfortable selling.” They followed my advice on pricing and then mentioned they would be willing to make some improvements to command top dollar in the market.

A Dated Home Can Dampen Buyer Enthusiasm

As I performed my initial walkthrough, I saw that the home had been lovingly cared for over the years and was in good condition with a good floor plan and great light, but was a bit dated. I told the sellers that buyers respond to a home that looks current and that they can see themselves moving into and living for a while “as is” until they can remodel. These sellers were wise and wanted to maximize their return on their investment, and agreed not only to stage the home but also to make some minor cosmetic updates. (If you are wondering why one would stage a home in a sellers’ market, please check out my article “Marin Home Staging | Should You Stage Your Home?“)

The first step was to tackle the kitchen, which felt very 1980s with the dark cabinets, older appliances and a big hole in a cabinet where a microwave had once been. If you have been reading real estate home improvement articles (such as my article “8 Home Improvement Ideas To Sell Your House”,) you know that the kitchen is one of the most important homes in the house when it comes to selling a home. I proposed paint colors for the walls and cabinets, found new stainless appliances including a microwave that was the perfect fit for the existing space.  We changed some of the light fixtures and the cabinet hardware. These were not expensive changes — for example we decided to leave the tile countertop — but as you will see in the slideshow below the kitchen looked gorgeous when we were through. It was bright and airy and looked very current even with the older countertop.

New Paint, New Light Switches, New Carpeting Can Make a Big Difference

In the rest of the home I recommend the sellers refinish the floors, change dated light switches to more current models, repaint rooms including painting over old dark paneling, remove all carpeting and exposing the hardwood underneath, replace towel bars and some light fixtures both inside and out. We also painted the exterior of the home and replaced the mailbox and house numbers. The sellers considered having an estate sale to empty the home but instead decided to donate most of the contents, which I was happy to help coordinate.

As a former landscape designer, I know that the “outdoor rooms” are almost as important as the indoor rooms, so I recommended that we create seating areas in various areas outside. These encouraged buyers to walk through the yard instead of just gazing at it from the back door, which is what they likely would have done if there were not engaging areas to explore. We also changed out some plants and laid mulch down, freshening the outdoor spaces.

Staging was the finishing touch that elevated the whole house and made the photography “sing” which helped drive traffic to the showings. My stagers did a phenomenal job as you can see in the 21 Underhill Road Video.

My Clients Were Very Happy

“Working with Thomas was a pleasure. He was extremely professional and knowledgable about the market and made recommendations that helped us sell the house in 1 day and substantially over the asking price. Not only did he help with the sale of the house, but also all of the pre-work to get the house ready. He organized the work that needed to be done to help to increase the value of the house. He even went so far as to pick out colors for both internal and external paint, ordered new fixtures, managed work done in the yard, and all of the staging requirements. His design eye was extremely helpful and he only had us spend on improvements that directly impacted the sale of the house. If we are ever in the market to buy or sell another property, we’ll definitely be giving him a call.” 

Craig and Lori Tomimatsu, Sellers of 21 Underhill Road

Before and After Photos

Please feel free to scroll through the slide show. You will notice the house looks much brighter with most of the dark cabinetry and wood paneling painted over. You may click on the images and to control the speed of the slide show, or if on mobile swipe from photo to photo.

I would be happy to provide tips on preparing your home for sale, even if you’re thinking of selling down the road. Please call or text me at 415-847-5584 to schedule an appointment, or complete the contact form below. You may also want to read my article “Selling a Home in Marin” for more advice on how to best handle the sale one of your most important assets. Sometimes all that’s required to update a home and command top dollar is some elbow grease and imagination. I am happy to help!

Let’s tell the next success story.™

12 replies
  1. Marinda Parks
    Marinda Parks says:

    The kitchen looks a lot better but still needs new appliances and counters. I liked reading this and seeing the photos before and after.

  2. Judy LeMarr
    Judy LeMarr says:

    Not surprised to learn you have a background in marketing and design, this is wonderfully apparent in your work. This is a fantastic point to make, couldn’t agree more! “Don’t underprice a home to inspire a bidding war — instead price the home at a fair market price and where you would be comfortable selling.”


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