The Best “Selling” Home Improvements (and The Ones You Should Skip)

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Reading time: 4 minutes

In our recent study with Kelton Global, 15 million American homeowners are taking this time to complete home renovations. While we always love a good home improvement project, we recently hosted a real estate roundtable and asked our panelists which projects they recommended potential sellers complete before putting their homes on the market.

See which projects our panelist chose. Watch our real estate roundtable now! (Renovation discussion starts at [19:06].)

Start with the ever-important curb appeal

Studies have shown that many potential home buyers make a decision about a home before they step inside. In fact, sellers may have as little as 30 seconds to wow buyers before they head to the next house. That’s why many of our panelists advised that curb appeal was where sellers should focus their home improvement efforts.

“Make sure your home is prepared when somebody is driving up in the front of the house,” says Eric Godoy of RE/MAX Premier, a 17-year veteran of the industry. “Get the driveway resealed, which is not expensive. Do fresh mulch. It never hurts to have fresh flowers, trim the hedges, make sure the grass is cut. Really deal with those basics. And if anything is really wild and sore on the eyes, just get rid of it.”

Focus on home office upgrades

a modern wooden table with a laptop, cell phone, coffee, and headphones to create a home office
Create a place for work in the home.

The recent pandemic highlighted the need for homes to have a separate space for remote working. Even before the pandemic, almost two-thirds of employees aged 22 to 65 worked from home occasionally.

“A home office is going to be critical for sellers that are prepping their house,” says Debra Bednarski, who has headed the Bednarski Group at Weichert Realtors for more than nine years. “You don’t need a home office, per se, but see if you have the ability to stage a home office area.”

Bednarski also suggests strengthening a home’s technology capabilities, such as making sure the internet is fast, the home is wired for speakers, and essential smart home tech is installed.

“You’re going to see a trend towards working at home,” adds Bednarski, “and anything a seller can do to stage the home to show off these areas – is going to be an asset.”

Cook up a modern (and inexpensive) kitchen

a modern kitchen with blue cabinets and stainless steel appliances
An updated kitchen doesn’t require a full renovation.

 One of the most important rooms in the house for potential buyers is the kitchen, but major renovations may be best left to the incoming homeowners.

“Take some time to evaluate the kitchen,” says Stuart DeVault, Carolina One Real Estate, who has been helping home sellers for more than a decade. “This isn’t ripping out countertops but fresh paint, new lighting. There are some things that could be done that are inexpensive that would go a long way while you’re at home and have time to do them.”

Kevin Moran has been in the business for more than 22 years and specializes in vacation homes. For his clients, many who are searching for their second home, kitchen remodels aren’t likely to be a deciding factor.

a blue and white tile backsplash in a kitchen with dark wooden cabinets overhead
Think of functionality before style.

“If the kitchen is functioning and the appliances are fine, renovating the kitchen will help it sell faster,” admits Moran, “but it’s likely not going to bring them a dollar for dollar return on investment.”

Even Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Report found that the average percent recouped for a home improvement project was 63.7% with the average cost of a project totaling more than $60,000.

But there are times when homeowners should consider wielding that sledgehammer or hiring a professional for a remodel.

an older home with dark wooden shelves, an old clock in the corner, and light brown lower cabinets
Sometimes you need to renovate.

Notes Moran, “If it’s a 1960s or 70’s kitchen that has harvest gold or avocado green, then it may be a good idea to attack it. But if it’s a 10- or 15-year-old kitchen, just leave it.”

Moran sees that many home buyers want to put their tastes into the décor and make it fit their lifestyle, so if the kitchen is functional and fewer than two decades old, it’s best to leave the remodeling to the incoming homeowners.

The renovations you absolutely must do

a tidy cabinet wardrobe with shelves on the right and clothes hangers on the left
Neat and tidy closets are a must for buyers.

A home inspection is an absolute must when it comes to buying a new home. It gives the buyer a good view of the condition of the home and the status of the appliances. That’s why Moran explained these areas are where sellers should focus their efforts.

“Look for something that could be a trigger for a home inspector,” says Moran. “Maybe it’s a boiler that’s functioning but may not look the prettiest. Have that serviced, things like that.”

Moran also notes to spruce that curb appeal and also clean the interior of the house.

“Certainly, putting a fresh coat of paint on the wall is inexpensive,” Moran adds.

Bednarski emphasizes cleaning the smaller areas of the home.

“There’s no excuse for messy closets. When this is all over, your buyers are going to come in, and everything should be neat and ready to go.”

To renovate or not to renovate?

a furnished basement bedroom with a black and gray color scheme and exposed concrete walls
Should you finish that basement?

Finishing the bottom floor

“A lot of home renovations are really about the velocity of the sale and not necessarily the return on the actual investment,” says Bednarski. “Finishing a basement is a great addition of square footage; it’s not such a great return on investment.”

The Remodeling Impact Survey 2019 found that basement conversion only helped to close a sale in 2% of transactions, but the major problem isn’t the project itself. Some homeowners go above and beyond when finishing a basement.

“The worst thing we see a lot of times is people over-improving their basements,” says Bednarski. “They think they’re going to get all this money back for the man cave, the bar, the pool table, etc., but people don’t pay for that.”

What about FROGs?

a large house at dusk with a garage
How should you use the room over your garage?

While finished basements might be a favorite renovation in the north areas, southern states tackle a different part of the home.

“Here in the Low Country, we really don’t have basements because we can’t dig too far before we hit water,” says DeVault. “We have what’s called a FROG or a finished room over a garage.”

DeVault sees different homeowners deciding to make that living space into different rooms, such as an additional bedroom, office space, a family room, etc. He warns not to complete too many projects, which can negatively impact your home’s value.

“Don’t do so many updates that you’ve priced yourself out of the market,” says DeVault. “That can really come back to bite you. Be smart with what you’re updating.”

Keep track of your home improvement projects

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vipHomeLink can help!

vipHomeLink helps you manage your home, from tracking the progress of your improvement projects to staying up to date with maintenance tasks. Our interactive app saves you time and money by helping you avoid costly repairs.

Plus, once you move into a new home, the app will keep all your home documents and information in one place. This includes your paint colors, front door installation service, and even your smart home technician contact information. Plus, our Home Fitness Index and Money Meter help you know which projects will increase the value of your home.

Know what to do and when to do with vipHomeLink. Subscribe now for a monthly or annual membership.

Meet Our Panelists

Debra Bednarski specializes in residential real estate in Morris and Somerset counties with The Bednarski Group at Weichert Realtors, Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Stuart DeVault specializes in residential real estate for Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties with The DeVault Team, Carolina One Real Estate, in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Eric Godoy specializes in residential real estate in Somerset and Morris counties with RE/MAX Premiere in Warren, New Jersey.

Kevin Moran specializes in vacation houses in Manchester, Dorset and the ski towns of Bromley, Stratton and Magic Mountains with Four Seasons Sotheby’s The Vermont Sales Group in Stratton and Manchester, Vermont.

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