After looking for weeks, you think you’ve found a house that might be a good fit for your family… but it needs some work. And as a buyer who doesn’t have any experience fixing up a house, you’re left wondering: what upgrades increase home value the most, and what should you look for in a fixer-upper?
Buying a home is a great long-term investment. On average, home values rise between 3% and 5% each year. Savvy homebuyers, however, try to make the most of their budget by shopping for a home with upgrades in mind.
“Certain upgrades can increase the value of a home or decrease the amount of time it takes to sell that home when it goes on the market,” says Nathan Ford, an experienced real estate agent in Asheville, North Carolina, who completes more sales than the average Asheville agent by 12%.
So: What upgrades increase home value the most and give buyers the best bang for their buck? Read on for an insider’s look into upgrades that bring homeowners the best return on investment.
The old adage in real estate is that kitchens sell houses. An updated kitchen rarely fails to impress, but the average cost of a kitchen remodel can run you between $12,567 and $34,962.
If you don’t want to invest that kind of money, there are plenty of things you can do to give your kitchen a facelift without spending a fortune. But before you dive in, know that updating a kitchen can be “tough to get right,” says Ford, who notes that in the Asheville market, he’ll often see sellers upgrade just one aspect of the kitchen and then “everything else is super dated.”
If you can only focus on one area of the kitchen, Ford says that painting the cabinets is the way to go. “That’s probably the cheapest and easiest upgrade,” he says.
But before you begin tackling that project yourself, Ford points out that painting kitchen cabinets “is easy to do — but it isn’t easy to make it look good.” His advice? “Hire a professional to paint your kitchen cabinets.”
Other updates you can make to a kitchen to give it that straight-out-of-a-magazine look include updating the backsplash, swapping out the countertops, upgrading appliances, and installing new light fixtures.
If you do decide to tackle a full kitchen renovation, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) says homeowners give their kitchen remodels a 10 out of 10 “Joy Score,” meaning they feel a great deal of happiness with their remodel.
Bathroom renovations are another project in the house where upgrades can pay off down the line.
According to Remodeling Magazine, in 2017, the average cost of adding a bathroom was $43,232. The addition increased a home’s value by $23,283. A joint study by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and NAR estimated the cost to be a little less, (around $30,000) and puts the recovered cost at $15,000.
While you may not recoup all of the money you put into your bathroom remodel, the same remodeling impact survey showed that 62% percent of homeowners said they have a greater desire to be home since completing their bathroom renovation, 57% have an increased sense of enjoyment when they are at home, and 78% feel a major sense of accomplishment when they think of the project.
If you don’t want to add a new bathroom entirely, or totally gut and rebuild an existing bathroom, there are still plenty of ways to give your bathroom a facelift.
Tackling smaller projects like updating your bath or shower, updating your flooring, changing the backsplash, or installing new light fixtures can give your old bathroom a whole new feel.
Refinishing existing space
Another great way to increase the value of your home while making the space more livable is to refinish an existing area of the home, such as a basement or attic, or convert a garage into a living space.
While you may not recoup all of the costs of a huge remodel, you will make some of that money back down the line when you sell your existing home.
“If you put $25,000 into a basement, in most cases you won’t get all of that money back,” says Ford. “You’ll probably get about $15,000 back when you go to sell, as a general estimate — but you’ll get to enjoy the space in the meantime.”
Refinishing or replacing the floors is another great way to add value to your home.
“New flooring is a giant help for a new buyer — most buyers like coming into a fresh, clean home,” says Ford. According to NAR, it pays off, too. New hardwood floors recover 106% of their value and refinished hardwood floors have a 100% return on investment.
Finally, remodeled closets are another aspect of the home that have a high “Joy Score” and provide better functionality and livability. NAR and NARI estimate that the cost of remodeling a closet is about $3,750 and the recovered cost is $2,000, providing a 53% return on investment.
Changing the floor plan
An open floor plan is “still a huge buzzword,” says Ford, and most homeowners prefer one — though he discourages homeowners against knocking down walls just to get more money out of the home when you go to sell it.
“My personal philosophy is, do upgrades for yourself, and anything you do will help the home sell faster,” Ford says.
“If you’re making all of these improvements a week before you move out, it probably isn’t worth it for you.”
If you do decide you’d like a more open floor plan, creating one can be as easy as knocking down a wall. But before you get out that sledgehammer, make sure the wall is not load-bearing!
Increasing energy efficiency
Making energy efficiency upgrades to a home may not be as flashy and exciting as remodeling a kitchen or finishing a basement, but they’re the upgrades that help give your home “good bones.”
Replacing the roof on your home, for example, can be expensive (HomeAdvisor estimates the cost to fall between $5,347 and $10,790), but it’s an essential component of your home.
Replacing old, drafty windows could run you $15,000, but they’ll increase your home value by $11,000 and help you save on your energy bill, too.
Other efficiency upgrades such as a new HVAC system, upgraded insulation, a new water heater or new appliances are all attractive to buyers. That’s because when they see those kinds of upgrades, they know those are items that aren’t likely to fail on them any time soon. “It’s a weight off of their minds,” says Ford.
Making outdoor improvements
Most buyers find that when they buy a new home, they can’t wait to put their own touch on the home’s curb appeal. Whether that means painting the exterior of the home, landscaping, or adding a deck, porch, or a garden — outdoor improvements have the potential to appeal to a buyer years down the road.
Still, Ford says that as long as your yard is kept neat and clean, this is one area of the home where he doesn’t recommend putting money just to get a return on investment.
“Everyone’s vision of what will go in the yard is different,” says Ford. “You might have a beautiful garden in your backyard, and somebody else will want to come and put a patio in. If you’re going to spend money, it’s better to do it inside the house.”
That said, if making outdoor improvements will bring you joy and improve the quality of your life while you live in the home, “that’s a good reason to spend the money,” Ford says.
Smart home upgrades
One quick and easy way to improve the functionality of your home without spending a lot of money is to make a few “smart” upgrades.
Installing technology like a smart thermostat, which allows you to control the temperature in your home remotely, or a smart lock, which enables you to unlock your home with the touch of a button, can vastly improve the quality of your life and impress a potential buyer when you go to sell.
As a final word of wisdom, Ford says that buyers looking to maximize their investment should pay close attention to the age of the home they are purchasing and take stock of the systems in the home that may be reaching the end of their life.
“I’ve found that when houses are around 15 or 16 years old, things start to fall apart quickly,” he says. “People tend to stay in a home for about 15 to 20 years. When those first owners move out, many haven’t maintained or upgraded the home,” he says.
Ford advises buyers who want to maximize their investment to take a look at what could go wrong in the house in the next five years. “If you are going to need new appliances or new windows, that should be factored into your offer,” he says.
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