The Best Home Improvements for Resale

By Kate Riley February 23, 2015

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:

“Hi Kate, 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

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 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 here, here 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.

Related Articles:

buying

selling home

kitchen hardware

Ten Tips for Buying a Home

Ten Tips for Selling Your Home

Choosing Kitchen Cabinet Hardware

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article image sources: rethink designs studio, casella interiors, chalet colorodo interiors, rock spring design

What improvements did you make to your home that made a difference in the sale? Feel free to chime in!

38 comments

  1. This is a great post. My mom is a lover of beautiful antiques (almost to the point of hoarding) and she would NOT pare down her decor when she put her home on the market. After six months of no offers, I made her hear the hard truth: Your house is full of too much stuff. I don’t think she was ever completely convinced, but after she cleaned out about half of her belongings and put them in storage (this involved many, many tears), the house finally sold. Go figure!

    When I went to the open house of my current home, the walls had all been freshly painted a soft gray, white curtains were up, and the house was completely empty otherwise. The house had multiple offers on the first day it went on the market.

    I think a good idea is to think about what the inspection report will likely come up with and address those items so that the buyers don’t come back asking for concessions. For example, if your 20 year roof is on year 17, they will probably ask for some money back to put in a new one.

  2. These are great tips. In 2013 I did a lot of house hunting and I saw the good, the bad and the UGLY. The homes that showed best definitely were free of clutter, limited personal items, clean floors and walls and staged. Basic landscaping was also a big plus!

  3. great post and tips :) When we walked into our current house it was SUCH a cluttered dump (luckily I could see past it)– but my husband (then boyfriend) was NOT pleased when I told him I bought it. Most people can’t see past the clutter/dirt into the bones of the house- it is so important that beds be made, laundry put away, dishes be washed and put away… they all distract you from looking at the actual house!

  4. I agree, all good advice except one. The garage is just as interesting to a woman as it is to a man. Even if she doesn’t have my power tool collection, a girl wants to get stuff or possibly kids out of the car without getting soaked or feeling safe with the door down, etc. Don’t assume that women don’t care about the garage- half the houses I looked at here in the Bible Belt south had the laundry room in the garage or worse, the carport!

  5. I have enjoyed your tips and blog, your advice is simple, logical and doable for most anyone who wants to at least try a little.
    I must say that I wish your blog name was Centsational Woman rather than Centsational Girl. As smart as you are with the words you select for your blog writing I am confident that you are more than just aware of the power of language. Keep up the good work and please give my concern some thought.

    • Ha Leslie, funny, you’ve raised an issue I’ve thought about for awhile, changing the name to Centsational Home or Centsational Design, it’s coming someday, but that’s a big BIG process to switch over!
      Kate

  6. Just an FYI, some ladies are garage lovers too!
    I’m an upcycler, and the garage is my space. I let my husband put some of his lawn equipment in there… sometimes!

  7. I think you should leave your name as it is…nothing confuses people like a name change. I think it’s cute and reflects your personality as seen on this blog. I don’t see where it takes away from your credibility at all, and in fact, make you and your advice seem a little more accessible to me. It has a good feel on the tongue and looks good in print. Your blog reflects you, not just a house or design. YOU ARE the centsationalgirl.

  8. Great tips! We are doing some renovations and adding a bathroom in our house, which was well-maintained but very dated when we bought it this past summer. I just made the architect switch all the switches and plates to white from various combinations because it looks so dated to me! I’m curious…is that what you mean by update it too? (He wanted white switches with stainless plates in bathrooms and almond (maybe?) with wood switchplates in the bedroom.

    My husband has spent ages switching all of the the seven different kinds of covers and outlets/switches on the first floor into white, and I just can’t take the idea of more multi-color going on!

  9. I love that you featured Matt. It’s not often we hear his voice, and I liked it! When we sold our home, we rented a storage unit – great decision. Sold the house ourselves in 3 weeks!!

    On the issue of the blog name, I’m feeling a sense of attachment! I love your blog, I follow several others, but yours is my favorite and has inspired me the most. I believe your following and your success is proof that we love you and the blog as is. The name is humble, somehow, and I think readers like that in a blogger. I will follow you regardless of the name, but you’ll always be CG to me :)

  10. I get the empowering woman movement, but I have to say, as the other reader, your title reflects you in your down to earth personality that really reflects to all of us the ease and power all us girls or women have in doing things ourselves. I have been reading your blog since 2009. We bought our first house after 22 years of marriage and moving around. Your blog inspires me that Hey I can do this remodeling thing too. Since then I have read your blog and others and have done some DIY that my husband says looks professsional. Going to yr blog also allows me to go to one spot in all the blogoshpere of DIY and get to the nitty gritty of what I need in doing things myself. You do all the research and searching and I keep up with the new and nowby reading your work here. You are doing a great job. No need to change a name. Girl Power all the way.
    Thanks for all the hard work you put into this blog. You have really saved me.

  11. I love this post. We don’t plan on moving anytime soon but after 3 years in our house whenever we choose to do an improvement we definitely thing about resale. I wish I had had this before we moved it. We got a good deal but I think we could have gotten a better one based on this list.

  12. We’ve remodeled and staged 3 of our personal homes for resale. We find small details make a difference; for instance, doorknobs. Older houses will often have mismatched or dated door hardware. Potential buyers may not consciously notice updated hardware, but will notice worn, mismatched or dated door knobs. As suggested, we refreshed all electrical plates, switches, etc. In some instances, we updated light fixtures with paint–chandaliers. The biggest factor is CLEAN. We spent significant time on making the white tiled showers absolutely pristine and staged with lots of fresh white towels. One of our buyers mentioned that several times. We also repainted closet interiors; especially the kitchen pantry. Years of metal hangers and cans take a toll on ‘behind closed doors’–which you know, buyers will open!

    • Agreed Susan! Replacing doorknobs goes a long way to a modernized home and you’re so right about CLEAN!

  13. Love this post! Thank you so much for the tips! We bought our first home almost 2 years ago and being a military family we know we’ll be moving again in about 2 years so we are already trying to figure out where it would be best to spend our money for resale.

  14. What would the opinion be on “losing” a bedroom to expand a master bathroom and closet? I recently bought a 5 bedroom ranch. Bedroom 5 is very small. So is the master bath and closet. The closet is just a double bifold door with about 7′ of hanging space and the bath is just a 36″ vanity, toilet and tub/shower. If I lose the 5th bedroom and design carefully, I can get a decent master bath and another closet. Any thoughts on that?

  15. This is a great post and has some excellent tips. Especially the one about the landscape – I usually am so focused on getting the house itself looking presentable, that i don’t really think about how the backyard could be improved. Adding some nice details to it could push the envelope and make the home seem more elegant.

  16. Great post Kate!
    I sold real estate for more than 8 years and had to repeat these tips/suggestions over and over to sellers who insisted [the buyer would want to do it all themselves and they were selling AS IS]—-arrrrrgh! But then complain bitterly about the [same conditions] viewing properties to buy—-again, arrrrrgh!
    Wish I would have had this post to make them read–
    Catherine

  17. Can you please tell me where the second picture is from? I love that space and want to see more.
    Thanks!

  18. Great tips. I would also add little things like a new doormat that is not faded and “hairy” but simple and classy, unique front door hardware that makes a statement as soon as you approach, as well as new outdoor light fixtures that are kept cobweb free.

  19. Great advice and thank you. My husband and I want to take out the tub in our master bathroom and make a larger shower. We have an extra bath with a tub. I know many couples are doing this; however, is it a bad idea for resell?

    • That’s very common Debbie, many couples do that, it’s a personal preference among buyers/owners, but Matt says yes as long as there is a bathtub in a separate bathroom, go ahead and replace with a walk in shower in the master, it shouldn’t affect resale, and you may have a buyer that prefers it.

  20. Kate, I agree with the others: YOU are the centsational girl, and, therefore, NO to the name change. I read your blog because it is like sitting down and talking deign with a really fun, approachable, super talented friend who happens to be in the know about all things design. It wouldn’t feel the same if the blog was too commercial or formal and the name centsational home or centsational design has that vibe. It could seem like we are visiting a store rather than a friiend, and that changes everything. Hope that makes sense :)

  21. A couple of years ago we sold the home we raised our children in. We lived in it for 19 years. In the last few years of living in the home we repainted the brass door knobs, added wood treads to the staircase and stained the oak hardwoods a darker color. We had renovated the kitchen several years earlier. Just before we put it on the market we repainted all the rooms a neutral color, painted the bathroom cabinets and replaced hardware, and painted the brass frame on the shower in the master bath. We still had carpet in the living room and dining room and in all the bedrooms. We had it cleaned because it was too expensive to change to hardwood. We removed most of the personal items (family photos) and reduced clutter. We had 2 offers the first day it was on the market, and sold at asking price. It was a lot of work but well worth not having our home listed for an extended period.
    This post is a great summary and one I will suggest that friends read who are considering selling their home. I enjoyed hearing from Matt and keep up with Liz’ flips on her blog.

  22. Great article! I couldn’t agree more with the part about updating light fixtures. A lot of people do not realize what a huge difference updated light fixtures make. And, the good news is: it doesn’t cost a fortune to update the light fixtures! I moved into an apartment a few years ago, in order to downsize and simplify my life and the first thing I did was replace most of the light fixtures. The apartment maintenance man switched them out for free, and stored the old fixtures away to put back in place, as I can take my fixtures with me when I leave. It was an amazing, instant update!

    I sell lighting on my website, heavensgatehomeandgarden.com and used the Roost Berlin Pendant Lamp over my kitchen sink and I love the look of it. It has a clean and simple, industrial look with an edison bulb in it.

    I plan to sell my house this spring and will keep these tips in mind. Thanks for sharing. Sue

  23. So here is a question for you! Our house was built in 1975 and the code for that era didn’t include having bathroom fans if there was a window. None of the 3 bathrooms in our house have fans, would that be something to consider adding for resale or is that worth the time/money? Thanks

  24. Hello Girl! who Is is absolutely Centsational!
    I am a new follower and love everything you’ve said thus far. I particularly love the design from awhile back where you painted the fireplace and wall above it was painted a dark grey to avoid two black boxes on the wall. I was planning on doing that same thing but when I saw your pic of it I am totally on board. My bookshelves will be white also but with a gray back panel. Hope it looks as good as yours. Can’t wait to see more of your stuff!
    Kelly

  25. Slightly off-topic but, if you have pets, another tip is to have a friend honestly tell you if your house smells of your pet(s). Even as a pet owner (2 cats at the time) when shopping for my current home, I can’t tell you how many places turned me off due to the smell of litterboxes or a wet doggy smell.

    We wound up buying our place from a couple that had 3 dogs but, they had taken the time to ensure the carpets were clean, and the house smelled clean and fresh.

  26. When we bought our second home we were looking for completely different things than when we were shopping for our first. During our first home search we wanted the inside to be updated with all the amenities that a $400,000 homes have within our budget of $150,000 (small town midwest). What we got was an updated home but the siding was asbestos, the mechanicals were 30 years old and the electrical was old! We ended up having to pay for a new roof and a bunch of other misc repairs. Our second home had new windows, siding, roof, mechanicals and the bones of the house are study and strong. The interior stuff now I can update to my hearts content without having to ruin someones design.

  27. Centsational Woman sounds stuffy in my humble opinion. Love all of these ideas and I love your blog the best.

  28. I vote for keeping the name. It rolls off the tongue, is cute, accessible. Also b/4 I subscribed, I could always remember what to put in the search.

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