Coldwell Banker has expanded RealVitalize, its renovate-before-you-list program

Home Improvement
. Coldwell Banker

For Boston-area sellers whose homes could use sprucing up before the first open house, there’s yet another option to make last-minute renovations and refreshes without spending any upfront cash.

Coldwell Banker recently announced the expansion of its RealVitalize pilot program, which offers sellers an advance on home improvement funds and project management help before or during the listing process. First offered last year through Coldwell Banker’s corporate-owned offices in 29 markets, RealVitalize will soon be available to most of the brokerage’s affiliate offices as well.

The program is part of a growing trend among brokerages. As with Compass Concierge and Raveis Refresh, sellers can use RealVitalize to make cosmetic upgrades or essential repairs to their home before listing it, in hopes of attracting a wider swath of buyers and a higher sale price. There’s no upfront cost to get the work done; sellers simply pay back the brokerage at closing, without any added interest or fees.

And prepping a home for sale can pay off. During Coldwell Banker’s pilot program, homes that used RealVitalize sold more than 25 percent faster than other properties on the market, according to the company’s internal data.

“One of the things that we’re finding with all the buyers that are out there now, most of them want a turnkey property,” said Christine Powers, a Coldwell Banker agent in Cohasset. “So to the extent that you can take away any issues that somebody else might have to solve, or present the property so that it looks like it’s more turnkey, the better off you are.”

Sebastien Grebonval, a Coldwell Banker agent in Brookline, suggested the program to a seller whose home had just one small — and very dated — bathroom. “We knew buyers would come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s nice, but...’ So we had to do something to overcome that challenge,” Grebonval said. He felt the home could probably fetch $310,000 as is, but would attract more interest — and more competitive offers — with a remodeled bath. So he and the seller tapped RealVitalize to invest about $9,000 in a gut renovation of the diminutive washroom. The plan worked. “We sold for $330,000,” Grebonval said, “and we sold the home in four days.”

Other times, something big might come up during the home inspection, Grebonval said, “and not everybody has the money or expertise to fix it.” In those cases, he’s used the program to make repairs and address outstanding issues to ensure a smooth and prompt closing.

Similarly, a young couple Powers worked with had a pre-inspection done on their suburban home and discovered the house had electrical service issues that could turn off some buyers. “It wasn’t anything major, it was like $2,500,” Powers said, “but it was something that would be difficult for them to come up with cash to do. It wasn’t something that they could just put on a credit card and get the house ready to sell.” The couple used RealVitalize to hire an electrician, and didn’t have to pay anything until after the sale closed — for over the asking price and without any inspection hiccups.

Powers also leans on the program for refinishing hardwood floors, painting, and basic staging services. “Even in the hot market that we have, you’re going to get the most money when you present the property in its best light,” she said. “When there’s any work to be done, buyers always think it’s going to cost so much more.”

Unlike Compass Concierge, which allows homeowners to use their own contractors if they’d prefer, RealVitalize projects are managed through the home services platform HomeAdvisor. Sellers sign a contract with RealVitalize, and then a HomeAdvisor project manager solicits bids on their behalf from vetted contractors. Homeowners can then approve or reject the quotes.

Partnering with HomeAdvisor takes some stress off the agent and the seller, Powers said, and she contends that it’s a benefit in its own right. “In this market, with so much going on, and so many people looking to get things done at their house — because everybody’s at home all the time now — it’s really hard to find a contractor. Try calling an electrician and getting their attention,” she said. But because pros know the RealVitalize program offers a steady pipeline of work, Powers said — as opposed to small, one-off jobs — they tend to be extra responsive.

Not every seller wants or needs to make updates before listing their home, Grebonval said — especially in a market with barely a month’s supply of single-family inventory. But for those who do, the combination of project management and upfront funding is a helpful resource. “It allows sellers to do things they either don’t have the expertise or the money to do,” he said. “In some cases, they actually have the money, but they don’t know where to start. Other clients just don’t have the money.”

“It does keep money in your pocket,” Powers said. “And it does help you sell for more, because buyers will pay more for a property that’s more done or finished than one that needs work.”

Jon Gorey blogs about homes at Send comments to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jongorey. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at