The 6 Home Improvements That Actually Matter When You Sell Your Home

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When you’re planning to sell your home, it may feel painful to contemplate making home upgrades… for someone else’s benefit. But the truth is that making the right changes will also yield substantial benefit to YOU. Several home improvements can help you increase your home’s attractiveness to potential buyers — while potentially increasing the appraised value of your home.

So what are the best home improvements to make when selling your home? Which home improvements actually matter to prospective homebuyers? And which improvements simply aren’t worth the money, time, and trouble? Welcome to Covered’s list of the top six home improvements that actually matter when you sell your home.

But First, the Golden Rule of Resale Reno: Focus on What Matters in Your Market

According to experts, the most important thing is to think from the perspective of your potential buyer. That generally means disregarding personal preferences, and resisting the urge to go with that lemon-pound-cake yellow paint or uber-trendy light fixture you love. Instead, it’s all about balancing practical concerns with timeless, mass-appeal aesthetic choices that are likely to appeal to the majority of buyers in your market.

It’s also about not going overboard. You want to avoid making home improvements that won’t pay off in your local market. So before you begin a resale-focused home improvement project, take the time to calculate likely return on investment (ROI). Remodeling offers a nifty cost versus value tool to help you gauge how much cost you can recoup from common remodeling projects. Filter by region to gain a more accurate picture for your area. You can also use HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide to get accurate quotes based on real cost data for similar projects in your area, helping you better know what to expect.

But here’s the best strategy of all: Talk to your realtor about the trends they’re seeing in your local market. Ask their expert opinion about which specific improvements will be likely to deliver ROI in the home you plan to sell. And without further ado, below are six of the best home improvements for selling your home.

Fix Essentials Like Your Roof, HVAC, and Plumbing

Very few homebuyers are enthusiastic about buying a home with the sure knowledge they’ll have to replace its roof within a year or two. Similarly, very few homebuyers will be thrilled to hear that they’ll likely have to immediately repair or replace a home’s expensive heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) or plumbing systems. HGTV finds that most homebuyers want to assume that a home’s basic systems are all in good working order, with experts saying, “If the roof is leaking, buyers won’t get beyond that” and “Maintenance can chew up a lot of cash quickly, and people are afraid of that.”

Avoid surprises during home inspection by proactively making sure your roof, HVAC, and plumbing are in saleable condition. To be clear, we’re not recommending presale replacement or repair for anything that’s still in decent condition. But if the home inspection is likely to turn up major issues, it may be worth the investment to repair or replace these systems. Your realtor may be able to help you make the call by weighing cost, risk, and ROI.

Fix Interior Paint and Flooring

Over the years, those interior walls and floors take a beating. You risk giving potential buyers the impression of a lower-quality, poorly maintained home if you don’t fix these issues. Those visceral reactions have financial consequences, manifesting in less buyer interest and lower offers.

Giving floors or walls a proper scrubbing may be enough to do the trick in some rooms. When cleaning isn’t enough, it’s time to paint. Fortunately, putting a fresh coat of paint on interior walls can be a relatively low-effort, low-cost DIY project. Plus, that fresh-paint smell can have a positive olfactory effect on prospective buyers, making your home feel “new.” Make sure to stick with cheery, light-reflecting, mass-appeal paint colors in appropriate finishes for each room.

Peel-and-stick floor tiles can be an easy, affordable, and durable DIY fix for bathroom, kitchen, or basement floors. If carpets are in generally good shape, a professional cleaning may be sufficient. But if that carpet has become dingy, worn, outdated-looking, or infused with pet smells, it is likely worth replacing.

Upgrade Your Curb Appeal

Do not underestimate the value of curb appeal! First impressions absolutely matter in the homebuying process, so do what’s reasonable to entice those buyers to WANT to come inside. Depending on the season and your situation, you might consider:

  • Siding replacement. In nearly every market, replacing the siding on your home delivers reliable ROI.

  • Front door replacement. Similarly, switching to a new steel door is nearly always a safe bet for ROI.

  • Garage door replacement. Replacing your garage door is one of the top-ROI investments you can make before selling your home. According to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value 2020 report, garage door replacement typically recoups an average of 94.5% of costs while helping you improve your curb appeal.

  • Upgraded house numbers. If those numbers could use a refresh, this can be a cheap fix that helps to make your home look more modern. Etsy or home improvement stores can help you find the right look.

  • Upgraded landscaping, including:

  • Freshly planted flowers or shrubs. Avoid expensive landscaping upgrades that won’t deliver ROI in favor of easy aesthetic fixes that quickly increase curb appeal (e.g., some brightly colored annuals or perennials near the door, a reasonably priced shrub that adds visual interest).

  • Strategic trimming. Trimming bushes and removing small tree branches (improving both curb appeal and views from the house) can really up the aesthetics of your yard. And make sure you keep that lawn weeded, mown, and looking sharp. Doing otherwise risks giving buyers the impression that your yard may be hard to maintain.

  • Sod. If your lawn is looking genuinely sorry, consider installing sod. According to Angie’s List, the average cost for rolls of sod range from 28 to 45 cents a square foot. Obviously overall costs vary depending on grass type, volume discounts, and whether you’re installing it yourself. (Angie’s List also breaks down what it’ll take and potential problems you may face.)

Consider a Minor Kitchen Remodel

How your kitchen appears to buyers really can make or break a sale. But there’s no need to build your dream kitchen on the way out the door. Instead, opt for quality, popular appeal, and cleanliness, ensuring that your planned upgrades align with what buyers in your market are looking for. And keep in mind the selling price of your home versus the cost of the planned updates. According to HGTV, “you can spend between 6 and 10 percent of the total home value and get fair returns.” What might that look like in practice?

  • Stainless steel appliances. If your appliances are already stainless and in decent condition, great. If they aren’t, consider replacing them with quality, brand-name, energy-efficient stainless steel appliances. Environmentally conscious buyers may view energy-efficient appliances as a significant selling point.

  • Spruced-up cabinets. In most situations, cabinet replacement is unlikely to get you amazing ROI. But replacing, refinishing, or repainting cabinet fronts may be worth the trouble. Similarly, replacing outdated cabinet hardware with more modern styles can easily take cabinets a step up.

  • Upgraded countertops. Apparently, most homebuyers really do want granite or quartz countertops. Why resist? Outdated countertops will downgrade buyers’ impressions of your kitchen, so it’s best to give them what they want. Luckily, installing new countertops can be affordable provided you stick with the more affordable grades of granite or quartz (i.e., not high-end).

  • Upgraded flooring. Depending on its condition/appearance, replacing flooring may be worthwhile.

  • Freshly painted walls. Kitchen walls tend to get uniquely grimy. Don’t skimp on adding fresh paint here.

Just remember to keep efforts reasonable and relatively minor. Moving.com indicates that a “minor kitchen remodel will recoup about 81 percent of its cost in average resale value, while a major upscale kitchen remodel will recoup only about 53.5 percent of its cost.” Again, a local realtor may be able to guide you toward the type of kitchen updates that are likely to deliver bang for the buck within your market.

Consider a Minor Bathroom Remodel

Prospective homebuyers also tend to pay special attention to bathrooms. If your bathroom is in dire need of an update, they are likely to take the costs of remodeling into account — a math equation that will not work in your favor. That’s why, even though bathroom remodels don’t tend to deliver as much ROI as kitchen remodels, it’s absolutely worth doing what’s needed to make your bathroom feel sufficiently clean and modern.

Set your priorities based solely on what will help your bathroom sell. In most situations, that means letting aesthetics drive your process: getting rid of dated wallpaper, adding a fresh coat of paint, replacing tile and/or countertops as needed, and strategically replacing fixtures. That could mean switching out your 1970s-era faucet for a sleeker model, adding more contemporary light fixtures, or replacing time-worn towel bars. If needed, you may also want to consider replacing the vanity, backsplash, shower stall and/or door, tub, or toilet. Again, talk to your realtor about which improvements make sense given buyer preferences in your market.

Finish Your Basement (If You Have One!)

According to HomeAdvisor, the average basement-finishing project can recoup up to a 70% ROI. They also note that a recently remodeled basement may even cause buyers to increase offers.

Finishing your basement before selling is primarily about increasing your heated square footage, which in turn increases the baseline selling price for your home. Investing in some drywalling, flooring, and other finishes (e.g., paint, lighting, ceilings) can pay huge dividends, bumping your home into another price bracket entirely.

Finishing your basement also provides prospective buyers with attractive flexibility. Post-COVID, more people than ever are looking for flex space that can be used for working from home, remote schooling, or simply creating a place to get away. Most finished basements allow for a range of uses.

At Covered, we’re all about empowering our customers with education! If you’re considering selling your home, you may benefit from more of our tips and guides — like the top questions to ask during the home buying process, the top 5 deal breakers when buying a home, and how to find the right real estate agent.

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Cover Photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

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