Buy a dirty home, pay a dirt-cheap price

Woman washing window

I once bought a house inhabited by a chain-smoking woman who rarely cleaned her cat’s litter box.

The combination odor that arose from the overflowing cat box and ashtrays created an unbelievably offensive stench that drove down the value of that house by tens of thousands of dollars.

After ejecting her, the cat, the cat box, the ashtrays, the carpets and the furniture, the odor remained strong enough to make my eyes water -- and I’m not allergic to cats.

I opened the windows, painted every surface of the home that could be painted and scrubbed anything too expensive to paint or replace, such as the kitchen cabinets.

A week later, the smell was gone and those tens of thousands of dollars in home value were back.

The moral of this story: Bad odors, overgrown lawns, unfortunate paint colors and any other cosmetic challenges are a home buyer’s best friend. They drive away your competition (other buyers) and leave the property open to your discounted offer.

To find out how much less you can pay for a house with an overgrown lawn, you can use a tool like the Top 10 DIY Home Improvements for Sellers survey from HomeGain.com, a marketing website for the real estate industry.

The survey asked real estate agents how much home value a seller could add by doing certain repairs and tasks. The No. 1 task the agents recommended was decluttering and cleaning, which cost $402 and returned $2,024 on average.

As a buyer, you can turn it around and see that you can bid $2,024 less for a cluttered home than a decluttered one.

Getting rid of clutter is definitely the easiest home improvement a buyer can make.

When you do your walk-through of the home the day before closing, you check to make the owners took their clutter with them. If they didn’t, you tell them you’re not closing until they clear out their stuff.

HomeGain also has a local calculator that sellers can use to find out how much it’s going to cost to touch up the interior paint on their home before they put it on the market (only $875 in Beverly Hills 90210!).

While the HomeGain calculator is fun to play with, in the real world getting an estimate from the contractor you’d hire to do the work is a much more accurate way to figure out how much to discount your purchase offer for an overgrown lawn or some other problem with your dream home.

If it turns out the online calculator shows a higher price, you can always print that out to share with the seller and keep the real bid to yourself.

Would you buy a house that smells like cats and cigarettes? What would absolutely prevent you from buying a home -- knee-high grass, peeling exterior pain, rats?