Making the most of the 5 second rule for the bathroom


Most buyers don’t spend much time looking at the bathroom. The experts say that a bathroom has a 3- 5 second capture time. That being said it is still an important room and buyers want it to be move-in ready and current. Depending on how much your bathroom needs, it can be a great DIY winter project especially during a pandemic.

Before jumping head first into this endeavor, think about what it is that bothers you most about your existing bathroom. Do you have frustrating sliding doors on the closet that keep coming off the track? Do you need more storage? How is this bathroom being used? Is it for guests or a heavily used family bathroom? Spend some time on Pinterest for some solutions and a look at current trends.

Step back and take a look at the big picture. Are there closets nearby that could be annexed for use in the bathroom. Is your cabinetry the right amount and the right depth? Would a stack of drawers be of better use? Use your budget as a guide for making your plan. The National Kitchen and Bath Association suggests to allot 20% of your budget for installation, 16% for cabinetry and hardware and 15% for fixtures.

Step 1: clean, clean and then clean

Regardless of the amount of updating you are considering, start by decluttering.  Get a couple of baskets and get everything out.  Under the sink is a great place to start.  Go through each item tossing items that are expired or haven’t been used for years.  I just found a bottle of cleaning product that had solidified.  Check for current plumbing leaks.  Repair and paint any signs of previous plumbing leaks.  Follow this same process in the linen closet and counter tops.  Get rid of old “yellowed and frayed” towels.

This paragraph motivated me.  I just spent an hour going through my make-up cart.  Yikes the dust that was on its shelves.  I’m so proud though.  I actually threw some of the “hasn’t been used in five years” in the trash wondering why I ever bought it in the first place.  Mind you, it is not staged.  It’s just reorganized for every day living.

Now that you have decluttered, let’s make a list of maintenance items: is the toilet running and or leaking, is the caulking around the tub mildewed, how about the grout in the flooring. These can be DIY projects.

Is it better to replace or repair? Should you buy one of the new elongated toilets? Is your mirror dated? What about the light fixtures, are they dated? Then take a look at all of the hardware. Swapping out the bathroom faucets and fixtures making sure the metal finishes match is a sure-fire improvement.

Shown below is a small bathroom that was recently redone for the sale of a house. It was the family bathroom and the only full bath in the home. The budget was very, very tight. After analyzing the needs and strictly adhering to a budget it was decided to save the floor. The floor didn’t have any cracks but needed deep, deep cleaning of the grout. The shower doors were taken down (they were plastic). The sink was replaced with a floating sink with a fifties look. The mirror was also replaced. Of course new matching faucets and a new light fixture. The walls were painted gray. The re-glazing was $1400 for the tile and tub. The sink was $500. The mirror was $50, light fixture was $120 and faucets and shower head were $350. The before and after show that elbow grease and wise replacements really make a difference. Also take a look at the “less is more” staging.

Finished product

To take advantage of the 5 second rule, make the bathroom sparkle from top to bottom. After you have determined what is staying or being replaced, use the list below and elbow grease:

Get rid of mold and mildewWash covers from light fixtures vents and fans
Replace light bulbs with highest wattage suggested*Remove prescriptions and personal items from the medicine cabinet
Throw out frayed or outdated rugs and towelsScrape and paint any areas that have peeling paint
Get rid of outdated and peeling wallpaperRemove soap grim and residue from shower doors
Fix any leaky or dripping plumbingReplace weathered knobs and pulls
Shine fixtures and drainsScour the tile grout
Scrub stains and tub ringsReplace shower curtains and liners
Caulk shower and tubClean windows

*Light is extremely important when you are selling your home. Natural light is the best but making sure you have the right color bulbs is also very important. If you have a light fixture with several bulbs, turn it on and see what a difference there is in the color and luminance of the bulb. Check out this article for more information on choosing your light bulbs – don’t treat this lightly (groan!). As an adjunct to this, natural light is always best. If your home is being shown during the day, make sure you have the curtains and blinds open to give the most sunlight available. Here is another resource for bulb colors.

As a final thought, hire a professional cleaning company if you are not into cleaning. A professional deep cleaning company (and make sure you clean the windows inside and out) is worth every penny you pay.

Step 2: Staging the bathroom

My whole family gets a grin on their face every time we hear “less is more”. We have a big problem with collecting “cute” and then getting rid of stuff. But less is more is the order of the day when it comes to staging a bathroom. Generally speaking, bathrooms are small and the less that is in them is the best method. Take a look at these professionally staged bathrooms.

As you can see from these professsionally staged bathrooms, it’s okay to have it look a bit empty. This isn’t for living in. This is about making the bathroom appealing to buyers by showing them a bathroom that feels almost brand new and definitely one that feels unused. If at all possible hafe the bathroom be as neutral as possible with as much white / light cream / and light gray as possible.

New fresh towels in light neutral colors Remove bath mats for showings and photos
One or two pieces of wall art – neutralA white robe on a padded hanger
Use greenery sparinglyCreate groups in odd numbers such as 1, 3 or 5. Vary the height

Set up one grouping on the counter. If you have a free standing tub, this is another place for a grouping. The groupings should be small and in odd numbers. Items to use are candles, small floral arrangements, small hardcover books with nice covers, paper wrapped bars of soap, baskets filled with rolled washcloths, very small framed art. Keep it simple – always thinking “less is more”.

Check out this video for a great lesson in folding towels perfectly.

Do you need to add a bath?

Do you have 2 baths in your current home? Many buyers put a filter on their internet search and don’t even look at homes with only one bath. Scope out a spot for a half bath that could be fairly easy and also inexpensive to install.  Many small pantries and coat closets in homes built in the first half of the 20th century have been repurposed as half baths. 

Decide on a plan guided by a budget.

If the installation is on the first floor and somewhat close to other plumbing or if there is a space in the basement that is close enough to plumbing, the addition of a small bath can be fairly inexpensive and well worth it.  If the only place to add a bath is in the basement, one of the things you can do that will save a bunch of money is dig the trench in the concrete floor rather than paying the plumber.  The final option is to offer a architectural plan with a bid to the prospective buyer. Many times that is enough incentive for them to make an offer. I sold a house many years ago that had been sold three times based on a bathroom plan.

Additional resources for bathroom makeovers: Cost Estimator, On a budget, Flooring, Room sketcher

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