Design for Value: Top 10 Tips from a Design Expert to Generate Home Value

a living room with a sitting area off to the side

When you think about home value, what comes to mind?

“A home that not only functions well but nurtures,” says Laurie Smith, designer from the hit TV show Trading Spaces. “That’s a timeless goal in design, but people really embraced and craved that when they all of a sudden could not depart their walls.”

During the early months of the pandemic, many homeowners resorted to home improvement projects when they realized their homes were not functioning well. Others looked for new homes that would fit their current needs, leading to an intense real estate market with low inventory and high prices. This, in turn, prompted even more people to redesign their homes.

If you’re looking to upgrade your digs, Laurie Smith recently stopped by the vipHome Podcast with tips on how to add value to your home – both in comfort and dollars. 

1.  Boost value with the usual pre-sale upgrades

“In a perfect world, people want to move into a home and say, ‘Oh, we really just didn’t have to do anything but freshen up the walls,’” says Laurie. “Then they could put their money into drapery and furniture. Those are the things we want to put our money into.”

That’s why the usual pre-sale upgrades – kitchens and bathrooms, and even laundry rooms – help add value to your house. However, these projects must be done thoughtfully to attract home buyers. When searching for her own new home, Laurie ran into kitchens with questionable redesigns. 

“[These homeowners] sadly made some cosmetic choices that all I could think was, ‘Now I’m have to come in here and rip out the tiles.’”

This brings up the age-old question – if you’re about to put your house on the market, do you renovate it and then sell, or do you sell at a lower cost and let that person have their way with it? It really depends upon the buyer. 

Explains Laurie, “When I’m working with a client who’s considering purchasing a house, sometimes I’ll go and consult with them and ask, ‘What could we really do with this?’”

However, you can help to get a return on your investment by paying attention to the layout and investing in good, solid appliances. 

2. Don’t forget your home systems 

“Think about the things we don’t see either,” says Laurie. “A great air system. How old is the electrical system? These are things that you need to look at and need to update, or you’ll be paying more for it later.”

3. Invest in lighting 

An upscale living room with overhead lighting
Courtesy of Laurie Smith

“I am a huge proponent of dimmers in every room,” says Laurie. “I think that makes such a difference, and it’s a very inexpensive investment.”

Most dimmers can be installed by an electrician in an hour, and they can cost less than $20 a switch. As always, design with purpose and pay attention to the layout. 

“When I tour certain homes and people have made Swiss cheese of their ceiling with like 50,000 cans and they’re glaring down on you – you just want to run out,” laughs Laurie. “Watch lighting patterns. They only need to be where you’re working, like over an island in the kitchen.”

If you can’t afford to take out canned lighting – which may require you to “refloat” the ceiling – a dimmer switch can help to lessen that “holey” look. 

“A dimmer switch will make a heck of a lot of difference for you walking in the evening and not being in a lit-up fishbowl,” says Laurie. 

4. Create a space that functions well for you

With remote working happening in the confines of the home, many dining room tables became office tables.

“I think it really pushed us to look and see how spaces function,” asks Laurie. “‘Not everyone can say, ‘Oh, now I’m going to convert this bedroom into my own home office.’”

This made homeowners question how many times they use a formal living room or dining room, which is why creating a space that works for your family is one of the most important home updates that add value. 

“‘How is this working for us? How is this working for our family?’” says Laurie. “Maybe I want to put bookshelves in the dining room. I know that sounds crazy, but one of the most beautiful installs I just did is a round dining room table.”

The homeowners wanted bookshelves around the table because they were book collectors. 

“They had nowhere to put bookshelves that worked for them,” says Laurie. “Now it’s like this cozy library/dining room area.”

5. Consider how to deliver the best laundry room experience possible 

When it comes to your laundry room, you want to make it as functional as possible for you and any potential sellers. Laurie’s current laundry room has a clever design, hidden behind double pocket doors. 

“Would it be nice to have a big, fabulous laundry room with its own sink and hanging space in it?” asks Laurie. “Yes, I’ve been fortunate to have those in my life, and there are times I miss it very much. But this works.”

Depending on your design, you may decide to add a hanging rod or a sink, which can add tremendous value. Cabinetry is another great feature that adds value to a home. 

“I’m thrilled to have the cabinetry,” says Laurie. “That’s great storage, and as you can see, the knobs are handy for hanging.”

(Make sure to watch the podcast to see how the former owners solved the pocket door conundrum with their laundry room and pantry!)

6. “Curb appeal is huge” 

a front yard with yellow trees and small shrubs
Courtesy of Laurie Smith

“Some people are constant gardeners and love to take care of their yard,” says Laurie. “Other people hire others to do it.”

How much does curb appeal add value to a home? A study by the University of Alabama and University of Texas at Arlington found that aesthetically pleasing curb appeal can boost a home’s value by 7%, so consider your natural landscape – the trees, especially. 

“I hate to see new builds when every tree is stripped out of the yard,” says Laurie. “It just killed me for years to watch that. Trees are so important for our environment and also frame a house so beautifully.”

Laurie suggests planting a few ornamental trees, such as Japanese maples, which decorate her front yard. “They’re not very old, probably about 20-year-old hard Maples in the front, but oh, my word, what a vibrant surprise to experience during fall here in Atlanta. I woke up one day and had brilliant yellow just everywhere.”

If the exterior of your home needs a fresh coat of paint, then consider a paint color other than white. 

“It’s become such a trend, at least in the South,” says Laurie. “It’s like everyone just says, ‘Well, just paint your house white. Give it dark mullions.’ So now everyone’s home looks the same.’” 

7. Don’t overlook your windows 

“Sometimes you’d be amazed by the simple task of cleaning your windows inside and out,” says Laurie. “It doesn’t have to be huge.”

8. Think about the transition between curb appeal and your interior spaces 

an entry way of a home with a see-through front door
Courtesy of Laurie Smith

The entry way of the home should be inviting and open where people can gather, so think of it when you’re looking how to add value to your home. 

Laurie has recently updated her ranch, which originally had a high-glass aqua door and low, eight-foot ceilings. 

“It was dark,” says Laurie, “and on the right was a long solid wall. It wasn’t a wide space.”

Thanks to some creative thinking, Laurie was able to raise the ceilings to more than nine feet, widen the opening to the dining room, add a center light fixture and a new door, which gave the room lovely natural lighting. 

“From the exterior you can see there, it just became seamless,” says Laurie. 

9. Outdoor living spaces still rule 

a deck with a white pergola over a patio
Courtesy of Laurie Smith

“People were coming in and building outdoor fireplaces and hardscapes,” says Laurie, “and don’t underestimate the use of a screen porch.”

Depending on where you are, mosquitoes and different pests can prohibit this kind of idyllic outdoor setting. 

“Take those things into consideration. What is going to function again for your climate, for your environment?”

10. Designate your living areas for potential buyers

a keeping room off the kitchen area
Courtesy of Laurie Smith

In a former townhouse, Laurie was missing a “keeping room,” or an area off the kitchen where the family can relax. Since her outdoor space was not functional due to the community’s layout, Laurie used her designing skills to enclose that space for better use. 

“Sometimes the outdoor space just isn’t working and would be better closed,” says Laurie. “That added tremendous space, but it was a painful bill.”

The remodel paid off in the end and helped to add value to the home. 

“That sold my house in an instant,” says Laurie. “Where before – it was questionable. Where’s the little family room? Where’s somewhere to sit and relax? So this added great value.”

As you should with every place you live – it should be about what works for you and your family. 

“When I work with clients, I’ve always said that a home is a reflection of you, the people living there,” says Laurie. “How can I facilitate, how can I make this feel like you, so when you walk in, you are the one embraced. Because that’s what home is.”

Expert tips at your fingertips 

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