Remodeling your home in a way that makes it more functional and enjoyable for the next couple of decades is usually worth any reasonable expense and effort. But what if you are planning to sell your home sooner rather than later? The fact is, few large-scale remodeling projects add enough equity value to your home to realize a profit, let alone break even, when the house is sold.
But that doesn't mean that all improvements prior to selling are a bad idea. There are plenty of home upgrades that will help you sell your home—and perhaps at a higher price—without a risky investment. The best approach is to follow some industry rules of thumb and to do some research before committing to a project.
Consider Break-Even Remodels to Attract Buyers
It's not necessarily a success to spend money on a bathroom remodel only to recoup the same amount from the sale. However, if your home has a critical area (such as a primary bathroom or a kitchen) that causes potential buyers to turn on their heels and walk out the door, a redo might be worthwhile. Even if the rest of your house is in acceptable condition, one horrifying area might drag down the rest of the house.
Real estate agents often advise clients to take care of minor problems, all with the understanding that the fixes serve only to support the sale of the rest of the house. Surface bathroom or kitchen remodels are often a better solution than a full-scale remodel. One important point to remember about break-even remodels is that they still do come at a cost: the price of your time and effort.
Prioritize the Kitchen and Bathroom
Real estate pros stress that the kitchen and bathrooms are the most important parts of the house. For one reason, these are the areas where we spend much of our home lives, and so we are most attuned to them. Another reason is that savvy home buyers will calculate the often staggering costs involved with remodeling a problem kitchen or bathroom. If the costs exceed what the buyer can or is willing to pay (in addition to the cost of the home), it can kill the sale. Concerns in minor areas, like garages, outbuildings, and attics, as well areas that are easy to update, like living rooms and dining rooms, can be forgiven. But a disastrous kitchen or bathroom always calls attention to itself and can turn the sale in one direction or the other.
This is not to say that a kitchen or bathroom renovation will yield a profit by itself. The best return you can expect on a kitchen remodel is only about 80 percent of what you put into it, while a bathroom redo might return only a little more than 65 percent. But if the upgrades help bring in more interested buyers, you’ll likely realize additional return simply by selling the home at a good price.
Concentrate on Countertops
Countertops are highly visible. So if you opt for any kind of expensive rip-and-replace work within the kitchen or bathroom, the countertops are a good bet. Just keep in mind that countertops are a very personal choice. Just because you love the look and feel of granite doesn’t mean most of your potential buyers will agree. Some people prefer laminate, some like solid surface, and others dream of new quartz countertops. This means that you shouldn’t spend a great deal on a new countertop with the assumption that it will be a universally valued feature.
Refresh Cabinets Rather Than Replace
Kitchen and bathroom cabinets are highly visible because they are at eye level. But replacing kitchen cabinets can easily erode any profit you hope to realize from the home sale. If your kitchen cabinets are in terrible condition, especially with the cabinet boxes falling apart, you have little choice but to install new cabinets. For cabinets that are in good structural shape, the better option that will return more value is to paint your cabinets or even reface them.
Upgrading Fixtures and Hardware Pays Off
New cabinet fixtures and hardware are surprisingly effective as kitchen and bathroom upgrades. Do not assume that replacing kitchen and bathroom hardware is going to be cheap, though. Replacing all of your hardware can easily run into hundreds of dollars. On the upside, new fixtures and hardware are an easy do-it-yourself project that you can take on, even if you are in a time crunch. You can replace your kitchen and bathroom hardware in a few hours.
Do It Yourself If You Can
When you hire a remodeling contractor or tradesperson, you spend money on two things: materials and labor. Taking on any home remodel project by yourself means cutting out the labor piece of that cost. Thinking far ahead to a home sale a year or more in the future affords you the possibility of doing projects by yourself. But if you expect to put your house on the market in a matter of months, taking on new do-it-yourself home projects may snarl you up and take time away from other things. Even worse, you run the risk of not being able to complete projects in time to put the home on the market.
Stress Appearance Over Function
When remodeling for sale, the best remodels are those that look good. It is better to spend money on paint or flooring rather than a water heater that still functions. As long as the water heater is safe and functional, keep it. A new water heater will not impress buyers. If a home inspector says the water heater must be replaced, that is the time to discuss replacing it or offering the buyer a credit. But appearance is not negotiable.
New Paint Works Wonders
New paint, especially well-chosen contemporary hues, will transform a house. Be careful of deep shades that darken the home. Cheerful, brighter colors reflect more ambient light, and this is especially important in small rooms like guest bathrooms and space-challenged bedrooms.
Consider the Market's Tastes, Not Yours
Home remodels done to make the home more attractive to buyers do not necessarily have to align with your tastes. This is less a case of grabbing the latest home remodel trends than it is about correcting styles that turn off buyers. You might have a penchant for home styles of the 1990s. Yet if your real estate agent says that you might want to avoid this style, this is the time to listen.
Avoid Remodels With Low Resale Values
Some remodels are notoriously poor at returning resale value. Areas that tend not to have good resale value are media rooms, theaters, offices, basements, attic, decks, and patios and backyards. Garage conversions are typically not held in high regard by buyers, either. However, replacing an old garage door offers one of the best returns among all common home upgrades.
In general, additions will not pay off. This includes kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom additions. They can increase the square footage of the home, but the initial cost is too high for what you get back in a home sale. Additions make more sense when you really need the added space and will stay in the home long enough to enjoy it.
Check the Cost vs. Value Report
The Cost vs. Value report is published each year and is available for free on the remodeling magazine website. It is well known in the construction and real estate industries and is a handy reference for anyone considering a home upgrade. The report provides the average cost of the most common home renovations, along with the expected increase in home value related to each upgrade. Costs and values are averaged at the national and regional levels as well as for individual cities. A quick glance at the latest report can tell you how much your home value will increase with a kitchen remodel, for example, whether it’s a just a facelift or a major renovation.