The Best Home Improvements for Resale

I was asked by a reader recently about improvements to make to her home before they put it on the market for sale. This is a really common question, every homeowner wants to know what to do to increase the resale value of their home so it stands out, sells quickly, and you get the most for your efforts. Here’s Kathy’s question:

Every home is unique in its needs for resale, and value is a truly a regional question, one that depends on the home, the neighborhood, and the market. Of course modern kitchens and bathrooms that have been remodeled are big sellers but there are other improvements that add value as well.

“I have a question. What improvements make sense if you plan to move? My husband and I plan to retire soon and live closer to the coast. I would love to do an inexpensive update to our kitchen but want to make sure it will not be money wasted. We would also love some ideas on what else can be done to the home for resale.”  – Kathy, Westford MA

I thought Kathy’s question was a great opportunity to ask two experts on the subject, my husband Matt who is a real estate broker and appraiser, and Liz from It’s Great To Be Home, an experienced home flipper (she’s on her 10th!). They’re here to share the most cost effective ways that don’t include major remodeling. As Liz says, “Sinking lots of cash into the house so that someone else can enjoy it probably isn’t very high on your list of fun things to do. Instead, focus your energy and dollars on smaller improvements that will give you a lot of bang for your buck.”

Properly Operating Systems

Liz: As a flipper, my absolute favorite homes to buy are those that haven’t been touched by human hands since they were built…except to maintain the furnace, foundation, etc. Those issues always come up in an inspection, and 10 out of 10 buyers would rather put their money into a fancy new chandelier or surround sound instead of a new hot water heater so make sure the HVAC system is working properly and structural issues are addressed.

Matt: Make sure the slider and the screen door work properly too. Poor working sliders or broken screen doors turn buyers off quickly. Many people don’t realize that stuck sliders can be fixed easily by removing the door and replacing the rollers. It may take some time and a trip to the hardware store but it can be done for under $20. There are plenty of videos on YouTube which show the process of taking apart the slider.

welcoming entry

Freshen and Neutralize Paint and Flooring

Liz:  I don’t think that you need to run out and paint or recarpet your entire house to prepare it for sale (unless it’s really nasty) – most buyers will put their own touches on at least a few rooms once they move in, and I can tell you first hand how frustrating it is to put in new carpet only to have the new owners instantly replace it with hardwood!  However, you should definitely take the time to shampoo carpets and remove stains, as well as repair any chips, smudges or dings in the paint (no one wants to buy a grungy house).  Also, be sure to paint over any “polarizing” hues that would prevent buyers from being able to envision the space for their own needs – your hot pink craft room might not translate so well to a fellow pining for a man cave.

Update the Light Fixtures

Matt: Modern light fixtures say so much about a home. If the light fixtures are dated and dusty this is a clear indicator as to how the rest of the home has been maintained. Go into a home and see 1980s lacquered brass lighting everywhere and you have a good indication that the homeowner was likely a reactionary owner, only making upgrades when things didn’t work anymore. Light fixtures are very cost effective way of updating your home and showing the buyer that you are a more proactive homeowner than one that would fix only the things that broke down. However if your home possesses valuable vintage fixtures that complement the style of the home, it’s best to leave those in place.

updated light fixtures

Update Hardware and Electrical Outlets

Liz: We all know that kitchens and baths sell houses – and they’re also the rooms where most of your cabinetry is concentrated. Instead of a major, pricey overhaul, consider transforming the vibe of your kitchen or bath for just a few dollars and a trip to the hardware store. This is just about the easiest and cheapest update there is, especially because you can do it yourself.  Along with fresh paint, we’ve transformed original cabinetry with new hardware herehere and here.

Matt: After you have taken the time to paint the home you should replace any and all dated electrical switches, outlets and plates. This can be an expense that many people fail to consider and it doesn’t always turn off a buyer when it hasn’t been done. However, when it has been done it makes the home feel more modern and completes the paint job and interior updating. It’s something Kate and I always do.

Declutter and Remove Personal Items

Liz:   Homes that are staged look spacious and inviting for a reason – there isn’t any clutter!  Keep the essentials, and everything you need to be comfortable in your home while it’s on the market, but everything else needs to be packed up and either donated or stored.  Please don’t shove everything into closets or the garage.  Instead, invest in a storage unit so that potential buyers never come face to face with all of your stuff – seeing all of your clutter will just ruin the illusion you’ve created with your gorgeously pared-down home.

neutral bedroom

Matt: Empty the garage, this is a big winner. So many people leave the garage half full of stuff that they just took out of the house. The garage is the man’s space and guys want to see a clean slate with storage areas, work benches and clean floors. Typically guys have little to say about a house but when they see that big, beautiful garage you will get their vote every time. Rent a storage space for a few months and empty your garage, it is worth the extra expense.

Create an Extra Bedroom

Liz: If you can swing this one, do it!  It’s no surprise that a 4 bedroom home is more valuable (and sells more easily) than a 3 bedroom home.  Did you know that you might be able to create an extra bedroom in your home’s existing footprint?  If your house has a room without a clear purpose or use, take a weekend to frame out a closet – voila, you’ve got an extra bedroom. Make sure that the room also has a window large enough for egress, a code requirement for bedrooms. We recently did this at our 10th flip and the extra bedroom gave us instant equity.

Improve the Landscaping

Matt: In my opinion, one improvement that gives you the most bang for your buck is great landscaping, it’s not uncommon to see big return on cost v. value in this category. Poor landscaping takes away, but exceptional landscaping adds value and even if the home is dated on the inside, attractive landscaping that includes mature trees and well cared for shrubs will sell the house. Home flippers like Liz always plant flowers by the front door and for good reason, it creates a good first impression. Also consider improving hardscapes (patios & walkways) and creating attractive outdoor living. The market and climate will have a lot to say on what you can and should do. For example, in the southwest United States a covered outdoor area to protect against the summer heat and sun will help to sell the home.

attractive hardscape and landscaping

Other improvements where we’ve seen return on value especially with our current fixer upper is the removal of popcorn ceilings, brand new hardwood look tile flooring, closet organizers, window replacement, and new plantation shutters. One thing you want to avoid is over improvement for your neighborhood because you won’t reclaim that investment.

If you’re looking for more tips, here’s another article on more costly but effective home upgrades for resale, and this article on Cost v. Value is insightful as well.

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