Real Estate

Home improvement value and preparing to sell

Real estate agents  are often asked by homeowners what, if anything, they should do to improve their home’s value prior to putting it on the market. It is smart to consult with a professional, because he or she can tell you what improvements are desired at that point in time and which are not. Things go in and out of fashion.

Generally, you most often don’t get back the cost of the improvements — much less, added profit. On the other hand, some improvements might be necessary to get the property sold. Many buyers today don’t want to take on work. Important things like fresh paint inside and out, roof in good condition, siding in good condition, and no water issues are important. Resolving issues with a home is number one. Most buyers don’t care how nice the kitchen is if there is a musty smell and water in the basement or a leaky roof. So I would suggest a seller get a professional home inspection done in advance (your real estate agent can suggest a respected company) and see if there are some of these items that should be addressed first.

Next on the list is curb appeal. Often buyers do a drive-by first before they come inside. You want to convey a sense of welcome. So be sure your exterior paint is new or in good shape (perhaps it just needs a good power washing), make sure your trees are trimmed and flowerbeds fresh and colorful. Go across the street and look at your home from a buyer’s perspective. Do you need to plant a tree? Low-maintenance landscaping is very popular right now because of our water shortage. Do you need to swap out some of your plants to the low-water and low-maintenance native variety? If your siding is not in good shape, seriously consider getting a bid on replacing what is needed. This is one of the higher items on the cost-verus-value ranking.

If you are not planning to sell, then you should do the improvements you want to make the home more inviting and desirable to you. Your kitchen might be just fine but outdated. If you are planning to stay, then do the kitchen you want and you will enjoy it every day. Same for bathrooms and additions. These will make a home more appealing when selling, but won’t necessarily add dollar-for-dollar value. Some quick, low-cost improvements might be to replace an outdated bathroom vanity or a kitchen countertop if you don’t want to do a full remodel. Updating fixtures and knobs can make a big difference, too. Take a look at your kitchen appliances. Are they older and would the kitchen be better looking if those were replaced? This is a cost-effective way to update your kitchen without a full remodel.

I recently had a great friend and client ask about adding a hot tub to her view deck. My advice was to do it if she wanted it and would enjoy it, but don’t count on it adding value or even getting her money back. Hot tubs are a very personal choice. I have had some clients excited to see hot tubs on a property and others say it is going to be the first thing they remove. It is one of those things that goes in and out of style and should be installed if you want it, but not to count on added value. The same is currently true about outdoor kitchens and home movie theaters. They were all the rage a few years ago and now seem to have gone a bit out of style. So do it if you are going to use and enjoy it, but not if you think it will increase the price of your home.

If you are planning to sell, my advice would be to first consult a real estate agent about what, if anything, you should do. Then ask your agent to suggest a good designer if he or she thinks that is a good move. My rule of thumb is that paint is one of the least expensive things you can do to get your home ready to sell, and it gives you excellent bang for your buck. The designer or stager, if you will be using one, can do a color consultation to suggest the best, most up-to-date colors for your home. Stagers can sometimes work with some of your furnishings, but they will bring in contemporary furniture, art work, knick knacks, linens, etc., to make your home look magazine- and buyer-ready. They are trained at making your spaces appear as large as possible and at  eliminating clutter. Buyers love to walk into a home and feel like they can move right in.

In addition to painting and staging, take a good look at your flooring. Is it older, stained, or does it have an odor? If so, new carpet might also be a reasonable expense that will greatly improve the appeal of your home. Or you might want to change out carpet to a hardwood flooring to give it a more modern look.

Something else inexpensive is to have your local energy company come do a free energy audit. It might be able to suggest some easy improvements to maximize the energy efficiency of your home. This is a good marketing tool and one to which buyers are very attuned. They know it will save them money for years to come.

Last but not least, cleanliness counts. Just before you put your home on the market, make sure your windows are washed inside and out and your home has been cleaned top to bottom. Let a cleaning service do the dirty work and get into those nooks and crannies that can be overlooked in ordinary house cleaning. You want your home to look and smell clean and fresh when a buyer walks in. If you are not planning to sell, you may want to do these things to treat yourself!


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Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg has been a real estate agent for over 30 years and joined Hill & Co. in 1983, where she has consistently been among the top 10 salespeople. She can be reached at