Property & Finance
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Sell Your Cabin for Top Dollar

Published: March 1, 2009

Our fictional cabin owners, Joe and JoAnne Fishslayer, just discovered that their dream cabin across the lake is on the market. They’ve owned their place for 10 years and decided it’s time to trade up. What will help them sell their cabin more quickly?

A professional appraisal.

With their years of sweat equity and the growth in assessed value during their ownership, it’s best to have an expert set a price in a detailed report that can be shared with potential buyers.

An appraisal will also pave the way for the buyer’s mortgage lender approval, putting Joe and JoAnne one step closer to warming their feet in front of that big fieldstone fireplace in the new cabin.

An appraisal done by a licensed pro typically costs $300 to $500 depending on region. For that fee, you’ll receive a hefty document detailing the value of your land and your improvements – plus comparisons to several similar properties that have sold recently in your area. It’s a very valuable tool that can validate your asking price and hasten the sale.

These tips will help you prepare for a successful appraisal:

Show improvements

Put an information packet together for the appraiser that elaborates on major improvements you’ve made – windows, heating, electrical, roof, etc. – and include receipts for recent work. Include prior appraisals if you have them, the most recent property tax bill, a legal description of the property, details on shared driveways, easements and other written property agreements. These things will hasten the process.

Clean up the property

Especially for waterfront cabins, the setting accounts for much of the appraised value. Shabby isn’t chic in this case; an unkempt property can have a negative impact on a property’s value. We’re not advocating a suburban lawn here; just remove dead limbs hanging over your driveway or cabin, rake debris away from your cabin’s foundation, rent a power washer and clean mildew off the deck, moss off the roof and dirt off your cabin’s siding, and stow all your recreational toys neatly in the garage.

Mind the mechanicals

This is one area where appraisers may break ranks with realtors. An appraiser will take a closer look at mechanical components, like the furnace, AC, plumbing and electrical service box. They will take more than a passing interest in the state of your well and septic system, costly components that aren’t nearly as exciting as a lake view or a new kitchen to a real estate agent or buyer. So have the furnace maintained and the filter changed. Be sure all systems are up to code and easily accessible for inspection.

Ditch the dust bunnies

Nothing says you don’t care quite so much as a roaming herd of dust bunnies. Set a day aside for scrubbing the floors, the cobwebs in the ceiling corners, every nook and cranny on countertops, even behind the toilet. A sparkling cabin says, “I’ve been loved and maintained.”

Turn the screws

If you look closely enough, popped, rusted or loose screws can be found all over the cabin. A warped deck board, a squeaky dock or a wobbly doorknob send out subtle signals of neglect.

Declutter

Go through the cabin with a critical eye, tossing anything that you haven’t used in the past year. That pile of catalogs you meant to pore over on a lazy afternoon; seldom-used recreational equipment; overflow stuff you brought from home to your getaway. Pitch it or pack it. Your place will look bigger and more put together.

Paint, paper, carpet

Quick updating can work wonders to improve the appeal of a property. Replacing threadbare or outdated carpeting, stained or faded wallpaper and throwing a new coat of paint on every room of the cabin could cost as little as a few thousand dollars – but boost the appraiser’s opinion by 5 to 10 times the investment.

Get aromatherapy

A stale odor shouldn’t factor into the appraiser’s value report. But when a place doesn’t smell fresh, it colors anyone’s opinion. Bake some cinammon rolls or plug in air fresheners to help focus attention on your cabin’s assets.

Jim Kneiszel is a cabin owner who’s used his share of Mr. Clean preparing for property appraisals.  

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