If you plan to sell your house and your wood floors look worn out, listing agents offer this advice, almost universally: Have them refinished.
"Having those gleaming hardwood floors is almost always a plus when presenting a house for sale," said Gary Segal, of Keller Williams Realty in Blue Bell.
Floors probably have "the single most powerful impact on the look and feel of a home," said Chris Somers, of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties.
"Hands down, hardwood floors is what the majority of people want," Somers said.
Noting that more buyers than sellers end up refinishing floors, S. Clark Kendus, of D. Patrick Welsh Real Estate in Swarthmore, said, "I do not recall buyers ever saying, 'Wow, that carpet is nice!' but often, when hardwood floors are in good condition, it elicits positive comment."
Somers agreed that buyers are more likely to do the refinishing. But he said sellers "benefit greatly by removing carpets to reveal hardwood or refinish the floors, to stand above competitors."
Refinishing floors before putting a house on the market brings "more bang for the buck," Segal said.
"If it waits until the buyer moved in, it would require getting estimates, agreeing on a credit [to the buyer], and the seller gets no benefit," he said.
These days, "buying a house is not selection, but the process of elimination," said Barbara Mastronardo, of Weichert Realtors in Media. "Gleaming hardwood floors can be an antidote to ugly purple walls in the kitchen."
Sometimes, a seller really has no choice but to address the floors beforehand.
"I have a client with Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators," Mastronardo said. Since that flooring reportedly contains high levels of formaldehyde, "we are replacing it with Pergo [flooring]."
Lenore Spinelli, an agent with Century 21 Alliance in Moorestown as well as a residential interior designer and "virtual stager," advises sellers to "always be proactive and do what can be done for a smoother and faster sale."
If sellers refinish the floors, "it will help with presentation," Spinelli said. "It won't always add to the selling price, but it should reduce low bid offers because there is less costly and obvious work to be done."
Because many buyers - including often-hard-to-please millennials - get their first look at a house for sale online, one picture can be worth a thousand rejections.
"Good photographers can actually hide the bad floors," Mastronardo said, "but that doesn't help when buyers visit the house and see them."
If area rugs are used for staging (actual or virtual), "any damage or stained areas should be disclosed," Spinelli said. "Otherwise, when the buyers do the walk-through, the unwelcome surprise will cost the seller."
The cost of refinishing is hard for some real estate agents to pin down.
Patricia Settar, of Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach Realtors in Mullica Hill, estimated $1,200 to $1,500 for foyer, living room, and dining room, while Segal said $3.50 a square foot is generally the case.
Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association, warns against going cheap, not professional.
"If the consumer is paying $1.50 a square foot, and high-quality finish costs $1 a square foot, the refinisher is not doing the job for 50 cents a square foot," Miller cautioned.
There are health issues better handled by professionally trained and certified refinishers, including dust containment and use of safer, water-based finishes. (Find trained and certified refinishers at http://woodfloors.org/find-installer.aspx)
Depending on how floors are sanded, "they can be refinished as few as four times and as many as 12 times," Miller said, adding that the purpose of sanding is to remove the old finish and flatten the floor.
With today's higher-quality finishes, he said, "a refinishing job can last five to 10 years, depending on how well the consumer maintains them."