Everything You Need to Know About Upgrading Your Home to Sell

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Everything You Need to Know About Upgrading Your Home to Sell

Often times when we think about buying a home, the gravity of the decision and the process that goes with it are well understood. However not as many consider how difficult things can be on the other end of the transaction. As it turns out, the process of selling your home can often include just as many if not more considerations than buying. Among those decisions is determining what you can do to ensure you get the best price for your property.

While some homeowners may be content to unload their house “as is” and move on, others might wish to complete a number of projects that will increase the value of their property and win over buyers looking for a move-in ready option. If you’re considering making upgrades and updates to your home before listing it for sale, here’s what you need to know at each step along the way:

What Home Improvement Projects Increase Your Resale Value the Most?

Research what will pay off

You might assume that a huge makeover to your home would mean major profits. Unfortunately research data shows that’s actually far from the case. In fact, according to figures by HGTV and Remodeling, it seems that smaller upgrades tend to give home sellers more bang for their bucks.

Some of the most fruitful upgrades include minor bathroom remodels, landscaping upgrades, minor kitchen remodels, exterior improvements, and — perhaps the largest project on the list — converting an attic into a bedroom. Meanwhile major kitchen remodels, master suite additions, backyard patio installations, hooking up a backup generator, and adding a bathroom to your home all tend to be losers in terms of investment returns.

One very important thing to note about these figures is that they are based on national averages (which is why you’ll notice that even some of the top projects have ROIs below 100%). Because of this, the numbers themselves don’t paint a full picture. For one, project costs can vary greatly depending on your location. Similarly the impact these upgrades have to your home’s sale price will also fluctuate based on your market. Therefore, while this data serves as a good jumping off point, you’ll want to do more research related to your specific neighborhood and retrieve your own pricing estimates.

Consult a pro

The first step you’ll likely want to take when attempting to raise your home’s value is one you might not have thought of. Although you likely have a good idea of what improvements can be made to your house, you may not be aware of all the latest trends that buyers are looking for. Additionally, as mentioned, different neighborhoods and markets can have their own quirks that you should be aware of. That’s why it’s often worth consulting with a professional realtor in your area and getting their insight on the projects you’re considering.

Since you’ll probably want to utilize a realtor to help sell your home anyway, bringing someone on board early to help you sort out your options really makes sense. Moreover, given their past experiences, they might also be able to direct you toward interior designers, contractors, and other pros that they trust to make sure the job gets done right. For those reasons and more, this is definitely the right place to start.

Conduct a home inspection

Before you get too deep into the idea of beautifying your home, it’s important to pay attention to the bones of the house and other needs. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Property Brothers, Love it or List It, or similar shows knows that there can be some big, nasty surprises hiding behind any given wall. For that reason, you’ll want to hire a home inspector to survey your home and make you aware of any needed fixes.

Having to replace a roof, rewire a home, or remove mold can eat into your remodeling budget (or even exceed it, unfortunately) but, ultimately, such improvements are more important than other renovations you may have had planned. That said, these fixes can also add value, as buyers will then have peace of mind about the purchase. Besides, nearly any homebuyer is going to request a home inspection of their own before close and negotiate the price down depending on the findings. Therefore it’s better to know what to expect and get ahead of the game.

Prioritize your projects

Now that you know what repairs need to be done and what upgrades would be the most beneficial in raising your home’s value, you’ll want to make your final decisions on what projects to tackle. These choices may be informed by your budget, the timeframe you’re working within, as well as other factors. For example, while a full kitchen remodel might make the biggest impact to your sale price, you might not want to wait the many months such a project takes to complete — or maybe you’ll find that one of your bathrooms is more deserving of an update and costs less to accomplish.

Whatever you decide, be sure to leave some wiggle room in your budget for unexpected expenses. Similarly you probably won’t want to start scheduling any showings until you know for sure that the work will be done in time. Speaking of budgets and timelines, don’t forgot about some of the smaller details (that we’ll cover a little later) as you’re making your final plans.

Determine what to DIY

Another option you have when prioritizing your projects is determining what aspects you can take on yourself. This could range from installing small fixtures on your own to doing the dirty work of demolishing your current bathroom. Obviously the more you can do yourself, the less you’ll have to pay someone else. At the same time, biting off more than you can chew can be a huge mistake.

Going back to all of those home improvement shows, you might think picking up a sledgehammer and demoing your kitchen not only looks easy enough but almost seems like fun. That may be true but, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up instilling more damage than intended, which will cost you. You might also realize that you don’t have all the tools necessary to get the work done, leading you to call in a professional anyway.

With all that said, there are likely still a few things you can DIY as part of your project, allowing you to (hopefully) save money and increase your return on investment.

Beware of out pricing your market

Finally, something else to keep in mind before bankrolling all of the improvements you think your house could use is that you could be shooting yourself in the foot if you overdo it. While you may assume that your upgrades will automatically lead your house to command a higher sale price, the problem is that buyers in your area might not be willing to spend as much as you’re looking for. In fact, you could end up in a scenario where you need to cut your asking price to bring it more in line with the neighborhood average. Sadly, when that happens, it could cut into your home improvement profits or even wipe them out entirely.

Once again, this is where getting a professional opinion ahead of time can really come in handy. Realtors that know the neighborhood can look at comparable listings and tell you if they think you’re in danger of outpricing the market. So, although making your home too nice may seem like a strange problem to have, it is a real issue that you’ll want to be aware of.

Renovations and Repairs

Modernize the kitchen

Perhaps the most popular upgrade to make before selling your home is to update your kitchen. It seems everyone these days wants a gourmet chef’s kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances and perhaps even a farmhouse sink. Even if all of these changes aren’t in your budget, making some minor improvement to your current kitchen can still help lure buyers.

Some of the projects you can take on as part of a minor or major kitchen update can include replacing the standard appliances, installing custom cabinets, upgrading countertops, adding decorative backsplashes and tile, giving it a new paint job, and more. However some might also wish to take things a step further and seek out other desirable appliances like a pizza oven or convection oven. Of course, while such inclusion can lead to an “I never knew I needed this!” moment on the part of buyers, it may seem like a waste to other. Just like in anything else, risks like this can sometimes pay off but they can also fall flat.

Update the bathrooms

Another area of the house where it pays to modernize is in the bathrooms. Once again, these improvements can range from a simple coat of paint and some new fixtures to a full rebuild. However, what makes bathroom remodels different from kitchen updates is that there are likely multiple bathrooms in your house. As a result it can difficult to determine how much to change in each one. For example, perhaps you can afford to give your powder room a full makeover, but what shape does that leave you other bathrooms in?

Something else you’ll want to keep in mind when renovating your bathrooms is that functionality may be as big of a sell as style. Therefore, if you are starting from scratch with your bathroom, make sure it comes back together in a way that makes sense and doesn’t get too cramped by fancy additions. Similarly, you may want to prioritize changes like installing a vent or upgrading the electrical outlets to more cosmetic ones. As for upgrades in the “stunt” category, clawfoot tubs might make a statement but it may not be something that sways most buyers.

Replace carpets and flooring

When you’re selling a home, bigger projects like bathrooms and kitchens can easily take over the majority of your focus. However smaller but still significant changes like replacing the carpet can actually make more of an impact on your final sales price. One rarely discussed but considerable reason for this is that carpets can often retain scents you may not be aware of (especially if you have pets). As those Febreeze commercials note, there are certain smells that we as humans go “nose blind” to. Beyond that embarrassing possibility, no one wants to see stains, tears, or other annoying defects when they go to buy a new home.

But, before you go and change out those carpets, you may also want to decide if a different type of flooring might make more sense. It seems that, while some homebuyers still love the feeling of carpet under their feet, others prefer tile, hardwood, or even laminate flooring instead. Granted, these changes will likely raise your cost but could be make your home worth more in the eyes of some buyers.

Upgrade your fixtures

The funny thing about home buying is that many of us look for a house that already executes our exact tastes and preferences — even when some of the cosmetic changes would be really easy to make after the fact. Still, because of this tendency, you can use small touches and upgrades to your advantage and truly win over buyers. This could include making changes to your lighting fixtures, staircase banisters, or finding other ways to improve your home with unique details and style.

As mentioned, lighting is often a key target for this type of project. For example, installing a trendy chandelier to replace an outdated or bland one can really win you points with buyers. Beyond style, upgrading your lights to LEDs (if you haven’t already) can also create a selling point as they’ll not only brighten your rooms but also save electricity.

One thing to be careful of in this area is not to get too carried away. After all, the odds of someone having tastes identical to yours are slim. Additionally you want to keep consistent with your changes and prevent your home from growing too eclectic by haphazardly “improving” things. Again, if you have an interior decorator on hand, they should be able to give you some guidance in this area.

Details that Matter When Selling

Cleanliness

Before it comes time to start showing your house to potential buyers, you’ll want to give your home a deep and detailed cleaning. Not only does this mean mopping, vacuuming, and more but also includes decluttering and organizing your personal items. Additionally you may consider hiring professionals to help get your home into shape by performing tasks like carpet cleaning (assuming you’re not replacing your flooring) and high dusting.

Unfortunately the hard part isn’t just getting your house clean but keeping it that way. Keep in mind that your house might not sell instantly and that agents might need to present your home to potential buyers on short notice. Ultimately most people will be likely be understanding to how difficult this can be but, the better you can make you home look for visitors, the better.

Staging and storage

Speaking of making your home look great for potential buyers, one way to help sell your house is to actually “stage” it. Typically this term just refers to setting up your home in a way that looks presentable but might not actually reflect how you live from day to day. This could include small touches like adding flowers to various rooms or bigger additions like renting nice furniture to replace your own.

As part of this process (and going hand in hand with decluttering your home for presentation), you may want to consider getting a temporary storage unit. While this will cost money, it will allow you place items you don’t immediately need out of the way and give you more options for staging your home — including the aforementioned idea of bringing in different furniture. The added bonus of this plan is that it could also give you a leg up on the moving process, which is always a good idea.

Landscaping

You’ve probably heard it said that certain homes lack, as they say, “curb appeal.” This could mean a great many things — some of which are easy fixes and others that might be way out of your budget. Among those small improvements, it may be a worth enhancing your home’s landscaping as a way to lure buyers.

First, it’s always a good idea to keep up with regular landscaping maintenance, such as trimming the lawn, trees, and shrubs when you’re trying to sell your house. Beyond that you may consider adding some flowers or other plants that will give your lawn a pop of color. Other jobs to consider include power washing your walkways, touching up any painted areas, and giving an extra polish to those address numbers you might have displayed on your home.

Your Listing and Open Houses

Photos

These days the majority of home buyers start their search online. As a result it’s the photos of your home that are likely to either grab their interest or give your home a hard pass. That’s why you’ll want to put a lot of thought, consideration, and maybe even some money into making your home as photogenic as possible.

This isn’t to say that you should try to use tricks to make your home more appealing than it actually as. After all, very few people will make an offer without seeing the home in person so tricking them is just wasting their time. However elements like bad lighting, unflattering angles, and poor staging can actually undersell your home’s strengths.

You do have a few different options for ensuring you have the best photos possible. The first option is to do a bit of research and then try your hand at photographing the home yourself. This could start by looking through other house listings to see what works and what doesn’t as far as photos go. Another option is to, once again, ask your realtor for their help and advice. In fact, they may guide you toward option number three, which is to hire a professional photographer. Also keep in mind that, if your first set of photos aren’t getting the job done, it’s never too late to try again and do it the right way  —— although you may have lost potential buyers in the meantime.

Let potential buyers look (and don’t lurk)

Open houses are a great way to drum up interest in your home but they can also be ripe for awkwardness. This is especially true if the owners of the home are giving tours to buyers and/or following them around as they survey the property. Think of it this way: would you want the owner of a restaurant to watch over you as you ate their food? Probably not. Likewise, buyers often don’t want to be tailed by owners lest they say something that might offend them.

To this point, if you are using a realtor to sell your home, it’s usually best to let them handle running the open house (after you’ve handled all the heavy lifting we mentioned in the previous section) while you vacate the premises for a few hours. Remember: these are professionals who have done this plenty of times — they know how to interact with potential buyers and will keep a watchful eye over your home in your absence.

If you aren’t working with a realtor and are hosting your own open house, just be sure to be professional and give buyers some space. And, whatever you do, don’t take things too personally if people aren’t interested in your house.

Show off that natural light

Just like with the photos you take for your listing, lighting can make an impact to how your home greets guests. This is especially true of natural light that can really put your home in a flattering, well, light. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure to open the blinds, shutters, and more in order to fill your home with light before buyers arrive. Again, it’s a small touch that can make a big difference.


As you can see, there’s a lot that to consider when it comes to selling your home. Although there is always the option to list your home “as is” and take what you can get, it’s often beneficial to make a few upgrades and help increase your sale price. All that said, you’ll always want to stay within your budget for any projects you may have in mind as a higher sale is not a guarantee. However, if you’re willing to take a shot and want to bring your home up to a new level, now you know exactly where to start.


Also published on Medium.

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A comprehensive guide to add value for your house for sale. You will be surprised on how small renovations and restorations can improve the market value of your house.

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Author

Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded DyerNews.com in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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