If you were to go on Google and search “how to improve the value of your home,” odds are that you would find article after article talking about replacing the kitchen cabinets, having the roof replaced, installing solar panels, and so on. You’ve probably already read a bunch of those articles. Yes, we know, we know, granite countertops are a great way to tack a few thousand dollars onto the value of your home.
Obviously, these how-to articles are aimed at people who, like you, are getting ready to sell their homes. But these recommendations don’t make a lot of sense. If such upgrades were comfortably within your budget, you would have paid for them years ago. You didn’t go all those years without a marble sink in your bathroom until the day you decided to sell your home for the fun of it. Either you’ve long since made those super stylish upgrades to your home, or they were never in the financial cards before, and they aren’t now.
Such upgrades are expensive. While sometimes they can generate enough of a return on investment (ROI) to justify spending the money, many times that ROI isn’t profitable, or isn’t good enough to warrant the risk.
If you want to improve the sale price of your home, you need to address the critical issues which ensure your home is move-in ready. Many buyers these days have good credit, but lack excess reserve funds. They also tend to be very busy people who lack the time, ability, and/or desire to do repairs themselves. They simply want to purchase the home, move in their furniture, and get back to their busy schedule. If your home doesn’t accommodate that, eager buyers will likely look elsewhere, leaving you with the home flippers and other investors hoping to score a deal.
So, what are the hot-button items which will not only increase the market value of your home, but also its move-in readiness and overall salability? Where should you concentrate your limited funds? Below you can find some ideas. Obviously, which of these options you choose will depend on your budget, but this is a good starter list to work from.
External Paint: You absolutely have to ensure that your home’s curb appeal is high.
If you painted your home sometime in the last few years, then no, you’re not going to recoup the cost of having your home professionally painted. But if paint looks visibly faded, dingy, or stained, then repainting your home should absolutely be at the top of your fix-it list. Decent-looking paint can be the difference between your home selling quickly or sitting on the market for months.
In fact, many home flippers look out for homes with lackluster paint jobs, as bad paint can be fixed on the cheap, but make it easy for them to justify making lowball offers. Making sure the paint looks decent can help keep your home out of the ‘fixer-upper’ category.
Curb Appeal: You only get one opportunity to make a first impression.
The value of making a good first impression is trite, yet true. A good first impression will forgive a lot of sins, while a bad one is terribly difficult to overcome. Items that you should address include:
- The yard: Make sure it’s mowed and neat, at the very least.
- Driveway: You may not have the money to repair cracks and wear, but you can at least make sure it’s clean, and perhaps even have it pressure washed.
- Paint: We already mentioned that sometimes it’s necessary to repaint. But it may simply be that your home’s exterior looks a little dingy, and a little cleaning or pressure washing could make it look good as new!
- Windows: Make sure they’re clean, and any damaged windows replaced.
Flooring: Would-be buyers want to settle into their new home, not have to turn it upside down.
You know firsthand the relief you felt when you moved into your newly purchased house, and could finally start getting your furniture into place and unpack countless moving boxes. It meant you could finally start living your life again!
But if your floor is in bad shape—either because it’s a wood floor and it needs to be refinished, or the carpet is worn and needs replacement—they aren’t going to want to live with a worn-looking floor. Which means that they will have to hold off on starting their new life in their new home while they plan for floor renovations. And that will be a no-go for many buyers.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to pour money into installing new hardwood floors. But you should be sure that the flooring in your home is “good enough,” to where a buyer would be reasonably satisfied with it for at least a few years.
Appliances: Even decent-quality appliances can make a big difference to a buyer.
Many buyers have appliances that they’re ready to move into their new home. But many others don’t. Unless you invested a lot of money into premium appliances that you want to take with you, it may be worth including your existing appliances—refrigerator, washer/dryer, etc.—with the home.
That’s one less thing that a buyer has to worry about, and one more thing to increase your home’s desirability and move-in readiness.
Lighting: The right light bulbs can make the difference between heavenly and dreary.
In this case, we’re not talking about installing fancy new light fixtures. It’s not unusual for homeowners to get used to the cooler lighting provided by long-lasting LEDs or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Or you may no longer even think about the fact that the bulbs in your living room take a long tie to warm up and look right. But cool lighting can feel sterile and off-putting, while warm lighting, such as that typical of old-style incandescent lights, feels much cozier and more flattering.
Have an impartial party walk through your home and point out rooms where the lighting looks dark, cool, or unpleasant when you first turn on the lights. Pull out any lightbulbs that do not immediately produce a bright, warm, welcoming effect, and replace them with bulbs with color temperature ratings between 2,200K and 3,000K.
Odors: Take care of any obvious issues with smoky, musty, or pet-related smells.
It may be that your pet dog used to have accidents in one particular corner when he was a puppy. Or when your kids were young, one of them had a pet hamster that has long since died, but left a ghostly rodent-funk that still lives on. Or perhaps you’re trying to sell grandma’s house, and her pack-a-day habit has left its mark.
Regardless, nobody wants to move into a house with an offensive odor. Speaking from experience, we can definitely say that no amount of air freshener or leaving the doors open before an open house will camouflage an off-putting smell. Smoke, mustiness, mildew, urine—these are all odors that only the most hardened of project-home buyers and house-flippers will bother with.
Remedying the sources of bad smells can be costly—in some cases, it may be the costliest item on this list. But if you want your home to go for market rate, you need to take the time to repaint, replace flooring, install new drapes, or whatever else has to be done to exorcise weird odors from your home.
Mildew: Seeing mildew makes homebuyers think “black mold.” Be sure to get rid of it.
Many houses, especially those located in more humid environments, have issues with mildew in crawlspaces and basements. Mildew is little more than a cosmetic issue, as long as it’s not apparent in living spaces. But when a prospective buyer hires an inspector and sees a note about mildew in their report, they’ll turn tail and flee.
Horror stories about black mold are a favorite of local news broadcasts, and buyers have consequently become terrified of it. You can explain until you’re blue in the face that it’s just a little mildew, but you won’t get anywhere. To assuage the fears of buyers, you need to ensure that any issues with mildew are remedied before an inspector walks in the door.
Ceiling Water Spots: The potential for roof leaks is enough to scare any potential buyer.
It may be that years ago, you had a roof leak which caused the formation of spots on the ceiling of your home. But while you likely have long since addressed the cause, inspectors and potential buyers may see those spots and worry about roof leakage.
KILZ brand oil-based paint is the best solution for painting over and sealing off inactive ceiling stains.
Interior Paint: If your home is older, you need to ensure that interior paint isn’t peeling.
In 1978, the U.S. government banned the use of lead in consumer-grade paints. But the vast majority of homes built or painted prior to 1978 haven’t had lead-containing paint removed. Instead, most homeowners have opted to either “encapsulate” it—sealed the old paint under a layer of purpose-made adhesive or liquid—or simply painted over it and forgotten about it.
As long as lead paint is intact, it isn’t a health risk. But when surface layers of paint—or worse, lead-bearing paint—begins to peel, it’s a serious problem. This is why when inspectors walk through a home, they keep a keen eye out for signs of paint that is either peeling, or “friable,” meaning that it’s fragile and likely to peel or crumble. When inspectors see peeling or friable paint, they’re likely to note potential for lead exposure.
Lead paint is extremely expensive to mitigate, and no homebuyer is going to want to be on the hook for that. Make sure that the paint in your home is good condition. One of key areas where paint is often damaged and old paint exposed is in the door jambs of doorways. In older homes where multiple layers of paint may be present, the space between door and jamb is tightened, and over time the opening and closing of a door scrapes and tears at the paint. If you think that lead paint has been exposed, you can purchase an inexpensive lead test kit from any hardware store.
Clutter: Properly showing your home requires getting your stuff out of the way.
Buyers understand that when they’re touring a home, usually the current owner still lives there, and thus it should be expected that the home will look lived in. But if you have an excess of furniture and stuff, buyers will feel that your home is too small.
Take the time to declutter your home. If necessary, rent a storage space for excess furniture and items. Having a few items of furniture gives buyers valuable context as to how it would feel to live in a home—nobody likes a barren home. But nobody who has to scoot between jammed-together items of furniture and piles of keepsakes will ever walk out the door eager to buy your home, let alone offer top dollar.
Deep Cleaning: Making sure that your home’s interior shines can set it apart from the pack.
Yes, you’ve probably taken the time to tidy up and make sure things are cleaned up. But bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and out-of-the-way spaces can accumulate grime over time. Unless you have a keen eye and are willing to put in a lot of elbow grease to clean your home top to bottom, it’s wise to hire an experienced cleaner to perform a professional deep clean prior to allowing potential buyers into your home.
Broken Stuff: Big upgrades often aren’t necessary, but you need to address critical things that are broken.
You don’t necessarily need to install a new HVAC system in your home. But if the existing furnace doesn’t work, then you need to get it repaired. Home systems that are in a dysfunctional or non-working state, such as HVAC and plumbing systems, have to be fixed beforehand if you want to ensure top dollar. Even if it’s not broken, while you may have chosen to tolerate an iffy heater or learned to live with a sink that takes half an hour to drain, buyers won’t.
Even more so, roof leaks and major foundation issues must be addressed. Otherwise, your home will never be viewed as anything but a serious rehab project, and the bids you’ll get will reflect that.
Skip the high-end remodeling, unless absolutely necessary, and simply make the home ‘move-in’ ready.
Sellers spend a lot of time worrying about what they can add to their home in order to command a higher selling price. But all too often they fail to realize that it’s often more important—and more profitable—to ensure that what’s already there looks its best, and is in good working order. Making the most of your home’s existing potential is the most cost effective means of maximizing its resale value.