Looking to sell your home? Then you’ve probably heard how sweat-equity can bring higher profit to your final sale. Yet, knowing exactly what home improvements are worth your time, money, and effort can get a little tricky.
Every house is different, and what’s best for your property depends on time, funding, the other homes in your area, and if your efforts will bring value to buyers.
The good news? You don’t need to take on a major remodel to increase resale value. These simple updates spark interest, help maximize profit, and go a long way towards wowing everyone who enters your home.
Don’t Make the #1 Home Improvement Mistake
Before you start any project, remember that there is such a thing as over-improving a home—you never want to put more money into a project than you’ll get back from the sale. Your goal is to get two dollars for every dollar you spend.
The location and value of your home determine which improvements you should make and how much you should spend.
Over-improving is a trap many sellers fall into. Focus your home improvements on bringing your property in line with or slightly above your likely competition (other listings similar to yours).
Keep in mind: buyers want a home, not a project. Focus on making your property as turn-key as possible.
Curb Appeal Brings Buyers to Your Door
1. Focus on the Focal Point ($)
Every potential buyer walks through your front door—it pays to make a great first impression. New front doors boost a home’s appearance and add value by increasing security, efficiency, and by lowering heating and cooling bills. If your door is outdated, low-quality, or detracts from your home’s appearance, replace it with a new, high-efficiency alternative. If it’s in great shape, renew it with a fresh coat of paint.
Your front door sets the expectation for your home’s interior space. Choose a color and design that fits your property and neighborhood, but don’t fear standing out. Something slightly unexpected lends personality to this focal point.
2. Paint the Exterior ($$)
A muted, peeling paint job means an unwanted future investment. It also sets buyers up to expect the same aged, uncared-for look throughout the interior. If the exterior paint is in good shape, you can rejuvenate your home’s appearance by focusing on the trim—it’ll make other minor improvements really pop.
If necessary, paint the house with a color that matches your neighborhood’s aesthetic. Refresh with warm, welcoming neutrals, a darker hue that’s striking yet blendable, or something a little more natural to fit among Boise’s wild beauty.
3. Refresh the Lawn ($)
You don’t want your landscaping to scare buyers away. A clean yard, trimmed trees and hedges, and an easy-upkeep appearance showcase a simple life inside your home.
You want your lawn to whisper, “I’m beautiful and low maintenance.”
Keep things tidy with bright new mulch, cut back any overgrown areas, take care of dead limbs or struggling foliage, and do what you can to spruce up the existing landscape. Bring some color with simple potted plants instead of adding flowers or plants a buyer will need to maintain.
4. Update the Roof ($$$)
Most buyers ask about a home’s roof, and if yours is on its last leg, they might think twice about the property. A total replacement is only necessary if your roof is entirely shot. If it just needs a little maintenance, you can hire a professional to check for areas that only need a simple repair. A buyer’s inspector will point these problems out during the home inspection, and fixing any leaks, missing shingles, or areas of deterioration is a great way to avoid a brand new roof while ensuring the existing one is ready for new owners.
If a replacement is needed, a new roof will more than pay for itself. Choose a roof that matches your home’s style and overall value. A deluxe roof isn’t a premium selling point, but a new, worry-free roof is something buyers love to see.
5. Add the Finishing Touches ($)
The rusted-out, original mailbox is charming, but it sticks out against any new exterior updates. You want to modernize your home’s overall appearance (even if you’re not repainting), and an easy way to do that is by upgrading its existing features. Refreshing the mailbox, exterior lights, and address numbers is a wonderful place to start, and contemporary designs can give a necessary bump to your property’s appeal.
Anything you update needs to match the existing style, but with these modernizations, you’re giving buyers a glimpse at what your house could look like. Choose clean lines and colors that fit any new (or future) paint. You can’t go wrong with black accents or something belonging to the trim’s same color family.
Make Buyers Say “Wow, I Can Really See Us Living Here"
6. The Power of Fresh Paint ($$)
Fresh paint is the simplest, most cost-effective way to boost value and profit. It instantly updates a home, revitalizes older spaces, covers marks, nicks, or stains, cleans the walls, and gives the house a crisp feel. Fresh paint makes a home shine (literally), and buyers feel like they’re touring a brand new space rather than a well-lived one.
Choose a warm, neutral color for the interior that matches all of the existing pieces you aren’t updating—you don’t want your new paint to clash with the overall look of a home.
A neutral tone is a blank slate, and lighter colors make rooms feel larger. You can’t go wrong with whites, grays, greiges, beiges, or light tans.
7. Add Carpet Comforts ($$)
If a deep clean will make your current carpets look brand new, make sure you’re giving them the complete treatment. If your carpets sport anything dingy or dated, replace them. Stained or torn carpets make buyers assume the worst about a home’s upkeep. New carpet comes at a lower price point than hard surface flooring, can be replaced quickly, and adds more “new-house” feel.
8. Flaunt the Floors ($$$)
Your well-used floors might feel charming, but buyers only see a project, a price tag, and a less valuable home.
If you have existing hard surface floors in good condition, give them some life with a simple refinishing to help cover surface-level scratches and minor wear and tear. If they’re not in the best shape—or if it’s wall-to-wall carpet throughout the house—you might consider a hard surface upgrade.
Hard surface floors are easier to clean and maintain, more resilient, longer-lasting, hypoallergenic, and a vital feature of every updated home. Buyers want hard surface flooring. Where it makes sense (like in high-traffic areas), look to update to natural wood or manufactured plank, vinyl, or laminates.
On top of continuing the like-new home refresh, hard surfaces are worth the investment. Replacing old carpet with new laminate will more than pay for itself.
The Kitchen Is the Heart of a Home (Improvement)
9. Toss the Old Appliances ($$)
If your appliances are past their prime, upgrade to stainless steel. It’s the most popular and easiest to integrate into future updates. Stay away from most colored appliances—their outdated design instantly ages a room.
Most buyers will plan on replacing any old appliances, and those costs may be reflected in their offer price. You can get ahead of those depreciations with an out-with-the-old refresh.
Focus on the stove, microwave or hood, and the dishwasher. Don’t worry too much about the refrigerator, especially if you plan to take it with you, as most sales generally don’t include the fridge.
10. Keep Flooring Consistent ($$)
If your kitchen floor is in great shape, you don’t need to replace it. Dressing up the rest of the room will draw attention away from an outdated floor. If it’s chipped, cracked, or starting to deteriorate, consider upgrading to a flooring alternative. It’s an easy way to revitalize the space without updating too much of the existing structure.
If you’re upgrading, you have two options: introduce the same new hard-surface floors as the rest of the home, or go for a unique look that updates and distinguishes the space.
Modern styles keep things consistent throughout the home, but laying a different flooring is a great way to make an already unique kitchen stand out. It’s going to depend on your existing kitchen, but differing floors can become an accent. You want to stay cohesive with the overall look of a home and still appeal to a wide range of buyers, but if you’re adding value, give your kitchen an extra bit of charm against your competitor’s spaces.
11. Cut Clunky Countertops ($$)
Kitchen counters are tricky. If you already have a solid surface counter (granite, quartz, marble, etc.), it’s not worth replacing, even if the color is a bit dated. The hard surface already brings all the necessary functionality buyers are looking for, and you’ll add more value by updating the surrounding features.
An aged laminate or damaged tile countertop is a different story. First, check if an update is necessary. If you are the only home in the neighborhood without a solid surface, buyer perceptions and resale profit will take a considerable hit.
If you update, choose something light, neutral, and easy to maintain. Don’t go for the cheapest option, but find something that appeals to a broader audience and brings the best return. Your competition will show you which direction to look—if nearby homes are sporting new quartz countertops, you may want to consider the same.
While you update the counters, don’t forget about the faucets. Many kitchen faucets are simple, affordable, and easy to DIY. Choose something sleek, contemporary, and in a finish that matches the appliances. A new faucet is a relatively easy fix that makes a significant impact on any sink.
12. Check-Up On Cabinets ($$)
If your cabinet style is consistent with the rest of the home, spruce them up with a simple refinishing. White cabinets are incredibly popular, and they offer a clean slate for new buyers. Stay away from beiges, yellows, and taupes, and stick to clean and contemporary. Make sure to properly refinish (clean, strip, sand, prime, paint) to give the cabinets a long-lasting update. Refacing is also an option, but its price point only makes sense in a few unique circumstances where you wouldn’t get more value from entirely new units.
While you refinish, be sure you’re also updating the cabinet and drawer pulls, handles, and knobs to a color and style consistent with your overall updates.
The Bathrooms Bring Big Bucks
13. Floors Come First ($$)
Bathrooms follow guidelines similar to carpets and hard surfaces. Where it makes sense, look to upgrade, but don’t stray from the already existing material.
If your bathroom is tiled, stick to the tile. Outdated, chipped, nicked, or scratched floors need to be replaced. If your tiles are blemish-free and have a modern feel, refresh them by replacing the grout or resurfacing the material. Those are projects for professionals, but they’re a great, budget-friendly alternative to an entirely new tile floor.
Focus your attention on the master bathroom first, then move into the secondary baths.
The master is where owners will ultimately spend the most time, and it’s important to make sure that “private” space shines. In the secondary bathrooms and laundry room, your flooring update doesn’t require the same amount of finesse. A smart, clean vinyl is perfectly acceptable—it updates the room without adding too much flare. Buyers will notice if those secondary floors are outdated or damaged, but they won’t put the same emphasis on the type of new flooring as they might in the master bathroom.
14. From Vanity to Vanit-yay ($$)
Give the bathroom cabinetry the same kitchen update. Refinish the doors, drawers, and veneers, and upgrade the pulls, handles, and knobs. Following the same established color choice makes bathroom cabinets feel like an extension of the kitchen. With the time it takes to refinish bathroom cabinets, especially if you’re working with a small vanity, many low-cost, full replacement options may be a better option for your specific space.
Bathrooms, especially the smaller ones, offer an opportunity to add modern style and design that large rooms don’t allow. While you want to stay neutral and wide-appealing, don’t be afraid to embrace some contemporary bathroom design trends if they match the overall style of your home—just don’t go overboard.
15. Give the Tub Some Love ($)
If the bathroom is rocking that glamorous 80’s pink, look into resurfacing the porcelain. While it’s a job for a profession, resurfacing is a cheaper alternative to a total replacement, and it completely transforms the space. White showers and tubs are your best choice.
16. Replace the Essentials ($)
If you’re replacing the floor, don’t forget the toilet. As one of the most-used pieces in your entire home, replacing a toilet packs a hefty return. New toilets are hyper-efficient, water-conserving feats of modern engineering—and they’re something buyers are looking at. Don’t go overboard and add a bidet, but find something proportional to the rest of your bathroom upgrades.
At the same time, look to update the affordable, easy-to-DIY pieces like the faucet, curtain rod, and showerhead. The last thing you want in a home’s “cleanest” places is an outdated feature giving off a different vibe.
Fixtures and Hardware and Repairs, Oh My!
17. Doorknobs, Hinges, Handles, and Pulls ($)
Follow a uniform approach to replacing your doorknobs and door hinges. The same goes for all cabinets—handles and pulls need to be consistent throughout the house.
Move away from polished brass and 90s-era gold doorknobs. Modern designs feature sleek styles with brushed-nickel or stainless steel finishes. If it fits your home, matte black is also a great accent color that brings added depth.
18. Switches, Outlets, and Covers ($)
Like doorknobs, light switches and outlets are tools you use every day, and their age plays into a buyer’s overall home value comparison.
Cream-colored light switches and outlets give homes an old, weathered feel. White is the new standard across the board. It’s clean, crisp, simple, and something buyers expect in a home.
Replace old toggle switches with modern rockers and update old, loose outlets with new, modern, squared receptacles—and don’t forget the faceplates and outlet covers.
Electricity is no joke. If you are not confident, leave it to the professionals. They’ll finish the updates in record time, and you (and the buyer) will be secure knowing a certified electrician completed the job.
19. Light Fixtures and Ceiling Fans ($)
While you probably only look at your light fixtures when you notice a bulb has burned out, they’re another place where your home shows its age and inefficiency.
Replace outdated lights with new, contemporary fixtures and modern lighting ideas. You don’t need to move past the builder-grade designs standard in new homes. Search for consistent designs in a color that matches your hardware and wall color—brushed nickel, stainless steel, or matte black, and simple, sleek, and seamless.
In the living room and primary bedroom, consider replacing the fixture with a ceiling fan. Buyers see individual climate control as a high-efficiency cost saver, increasing overall home value.
20. Look to the Windows ($$$+)
While they typically don’t bring the most return on your investment, outdated, inefficient windows stick out like a sore thumb. If the windowpanes are foggy or the sashes are warped and discolored, it’s time for an energy-efficient alternative. The added efficiency is a selling point buyers look for as they plan to invest many years in a home.
If your home has standard window dimensions, your update will be a bit more affordable. Older homes requiring custom sizes come with a considerable price bump. The type of pane, trim, and finishes can also push budgets into a low-return area. White vinyl is a great, affordable option, while wood or fiberglass tends to be more expensive.
Your window choice is dictated by your home’s overall style and appearance. You wouldn’t replace a craftsman-style home’s wood windows with black aluminum because it’s the cheapest option, and you wouldn’t put stained glass in a contemporary home.
Replacing your windows might not yield the highest return on your investment—especially if the replacement is not unnecessary (there’s a good chance you’re already utilizing white vinyl)—but with broken, old, or inefficient windows negatively affecting buyer perception, new windows will increase interest and overall home value.
21. Call the Handyman ($)
Every project you’ve put off or funny quirk you’ve learned to live with needs to be repaired. You want buyers to think moving in will be seamless. Minor hiccups like a missing fence post, a bent floor grate, or that door that won’t close all the way will compound, negatively affecting how buyers view the home.
In the same vein, make sure you take a good look at your home’s major systems. If there is an issue anywhere—HVAC, plumbing, electrical—buyers aren’t going to risk it. Get ahead of any problems by servicing your systems early, and show buyers your home is headache-free.
The Home Improvement Bottom Line
When selling, remember that you're trying to show buyers how easy it is to live in your home. You will get the best return on your investment by addressing any deferred maintenance items first. Then move towards making it as move-in ready as possible. You want your home to offer the most value, but not at the expense of yielding a lower return. Compare your property to surrounding listings, find the places where your home is lacking, and spot the simple improvements that set yourself above the rest. Avoid updates for the sake of updates, and remember, it's not a beauty contest. Your improvements are an investment in a quick and profitable sale.
Lisa is a top Idaho Realtor and creator of WeKnowBoise.com. Whether buying or selling a home, we provide full-service real estate solutions dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals. From Southeast Boise to the North End, up to Eagle and west to Meridian, or right in the middle of the Boise Bench and downtown - We Know Boise.
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