Fireplaces and property value, Selling during divorce


Ask David...David Schooley, real estate Broker with Remax Twin City, answers questions about whether a gas fireplace can boost property value, and how to handle a home sale during divorce.

Dear David,

My 1200 sq.ft. bungalow has a nice, wood-burning fireplace. If I replaced it with a gas fireplace, would the value of my house increase? – WARM AND COZY

DEAR COZY: The difference between a wood-burning and a gas fireplace is probably hard to measure in terms of value. Sliding a new gas insert into your existing brickwork may not add much in terms of value, but it may eliminate a negative. Buyers tend to find gas fireplaces desirable, while an original wood fireplace might be considered a turnoff if it hasn’t been used and maintained regularly.

An exception might be if you’re planning to turn the fireplace into a showpiece. For example, the installation of a new floor-to ceiling stone hearth may add value in a buyer’s eyes. Spending a little more on your presentation (even if it’s a few hundred dollars for an upgraded model) has the potential to turn an unremarkable feature into something desirable to a buyer.

The switch from wood-burning to gas may have other advantages down the road. A wood-burning fireplace will likely require a WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) Inspection when it comes time to sell. Often this inspection uncovers issues with the flue, cracks in the liner or a breakdown of chimney components — especially if yours is an older home. Switching to gas will reduce or eliminate many of these concerns as elements are decommissioned. A gas insert doesn’t need a chimney in many applications, which makes most internal components of your wood-burning fireplace redundant. Meanwhile, most external issues can be addressed by repointing, capping or removing the chimney.

Dear David,

My friends’ marriage has broken down and they don’t know how to handle the house sale. Any advice? – A FRIEND IN NEED

DEAR FRIEND: Sadly this happens too often, so it’s a significant part of my practice. The first thing I would explore is whether either spouse wants to keep the house (which is not a given if there are bad memories associated with it). If either party expresses an interest, a quick call to one of my mortgage professionals can sort out whether they can afford to keep it.

If one spouse wants the house, I quite often recommend that they get two separate, professional appraisals (not Realtor opinions) and average them in order to establish value.

If preparing the home for sale, my advice to your friends is that they only do what benefits both parties. I don’t want them to spend a dollar unless they’re getting more than a dollar back. Not to mention, they don’t need the stress of a major renovation right now.

When it comes to settling a divorce, selling the home may be one of the simpler components. This is an asset to be divided and there’s not a lot to argue about. That said, simple doesn’t mean easy. Moving is stressful at best, even without the toll of a marriage breakdown. In my experience, keeping things simple and straightforward is beneficial for the family. Whatever your friends do, they’ll want to back up their decisions with legal advice.