Your house has been for sale for a few days now, and the place across the street was just listed. You’re curious, and you can’t resist walking through the open house to check out the competition firsthand — but you leave comparing all their rooms, lighting, paint choices and more to yours, feeling dejected and tempted to call your agent to reduce your list price.
Before you find yourself in this situation, do your best to make your house look its best — quickly and on a budget — before real estate agents begin to book showings. Don’t worry — we’ve got your back. Here’s a list of 16 instant house upgrades that will cost you less than $100 and take less than an hour (more or less — it helps to grab a pal to lend a hand!)
A fresh coat of paint
Potential buyers love new kitchen upgrades. Even if you have a small budget, you can still work on some small improvements that will make a big impact. If your kitchen cabinets are looking a little drab and all new cabinets are out of your budget, you might consider repainting them — a fresh coat can perk up a room really quickly.
A note: If your house was built before 1978 and previously painted, the paint may be lead-based. You can use a testing kit to check or call in a professional.
- Figure out what color you want to paint your cabinets; You can go to the hardware store for samples, and some paint companies — such as Sherwin-Williams — have apps loaded with samples to look through.
- Remove the cabinet doors so you can paint them separately and not miss an inch.
- If your existing paint is in good condition, you’ll be able to paint over it. If not, you’ll need to remove the old paint with a stripping product first.
- Clean all surfaces on the cabinets.
- Cover your floor, countertops, and appliances — anywhere you don’t want paint!
- Sand the parts of the cabinets you want to paint, so the paint will stick to the surface better.
- Apply primer.
- Paint the cabinets (start with the doors!)
- Let everything dry; Reattach the doors to the cabinets.
Cost: $75.86 for one gallon of paint, painting kit with rollers and brush, painting tape, a drop cloth, primer, and sandpaper from Home Depot.
While you’re at it…
Why not find all the wall spots in your home that need a bit of TLC? There might be holes from old pictures, or simply areas where the paint has chipped. Take a sample to your hardware store to get the right paint color, if you don’t have any paint handy from the previous job.
- Clean the surface with a sponge, mild soap, and water.
- Fill in small holes and scratches with a spackling compound.
- Fill in larger holes (two inches or greater in diameter) using a wall repair patch kit.
- Use primer to prep the area for paint.
- Paint over the area.
Cost: $76.11 for one gallon of paint, painting kit with rollers and brush, painting tape, a drop cloth, primer, and spackle from Home Depot.
Don’t forget the details
Now that you’ve repainted the cabinets, why not buy some new hardware? Etsy has a wide selection of antique cabinet hardware, and places like Wayfair and Home Depot will have a wide selection of new, modern pieces at great prices.
According to the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey, upscale showers are increasing in popularity. For a quick fix to add luxury to your bathrooms, replace old showerheads and consider something striking that will make your bathroom stand out, like a spa-style rainwater showerhead.
Cost: Prices range quite a bit based on materials used, but generally speaking, a set of 12 vintage knobs on Etsy goes for between $35 and $50; A set of 10 knobs at Home Depot ranges between $35 and $50; Finally, on Wayfair, a set of 10 knobs starts at $15 and goes up from there.
Hang some pictures
When potential buyers are looking at properties, personalization can be nice — it helps them view the houses as homes, places where families live, cook, watch movies. If you have some old family photos and frames hanging around, find some wall space and hang them up in a common area.
Be careful, though, and don’t overdo it. Mike Mendoza, a Phoenix-based top real estate agent with 37 years of experience, notes that a few pictures are fine, but fifty might be too many; Some buyers will also think about the holes in the walls that frames require, and the need to fix those. Mendoza says he’s had this emerge in the contract negotiations:
“I’ve had lots of buyers say to me when we were writing contracts: are they gonna fix all those holes and paint those walls?”
Cost: $101.55 for a picture-hanging kit, anchors, a leveler, and a hammer from Home Depot, as well as four simple frames from Target.
Declutter your closets
By decluttering and organizing your closets, you’ll make them appear more spacious. Buy shoe boxes to organize your shoes, donate old items you no longer wear (this tip doubles as a good deed!), and move the top rail up a notch to make room for an extra bottom rail.
Cost: $29.99 for a simple six-pack of shoe boxes from Target.
Declutter your pantry, too
It’s easy for a pantry to get out of control — especially if you have a family. From snacks to food set aside for emergencies like earthquakes, the shelves can get cluttered quickly. Now that you’ve tackled the closet, you’re in the right state of mind to organize and clean out that pantry, too. Here are some steps to make the process easier:
- Pull everything off the shelves.
- Go through items and toss anything that is past its “best by” date.
- Clean the shelves.
- Group items logically: Spices together, baking goods together, oils/liquids together, canned goods together.
- Use large glass containers to consolidate bulk items, such as flours, nuts, and pasta.
- Use shelf dividers to create more space.
More generally, a thorough cleaning of your home can only help you. When we asked Mendoza what he would recommend clients do if they only have time for one upgrade, and he emphatically answered: A deep clean. A tidy home, he says, shows you have pride of ownership and that you care about the details. Some of his buyers have been particularly impressed with clean and organized garages — a space often overlooked!
Cost: This will vary a bit based on how large and complicated your pantry is, but a set of 12 gallon-sized Ball jars from Amazon will set you back $33.85, and a spice rack, canned goods rack, and four bins all cost $71.34 at The Container Store, for a total of $105.19.
Mask the blemishes
Homes are a lot like people. Sometimes they have an ugly mark or two — like a weird wire coming out of the wall, or a small electrical panel. Whatever it is — cover it up!
You can use the previous tip and hang a few family photos, buy a unique vintage tapestry on Etsy, or pick up an inexpensive art piece from IKEA to conceal the eyesore. If the panel is something you use often, like an alarm or a pool thermostat, create a hinged hanging that will allow you to “open” the painting cover whenever you need to access the control.
Here’s how to create a “hinged” hanging:
- Screw hinges into the frame. Make sure they are facing the right way so the frame will open out, and that they match your wall color so they don’t stand out.
- Line up the frame on the wall to make sure it will cover the electrical panel or circuit breaker.
- Screw the hinges into the wall; Start with the top and bottom ones, then do the ones in the middle so the frame will be stable.
Cost: If you’ve already got art or photographs, this will be a very inexpensive project: $10.77 for a three-pack of hinges with nails from Home Depot. Ready-to-hang art from IKEA averages $40, bringing the total to $50.77.
And if you have wallpaper…
Check and see if any of the seams are coming apart. If they are, here’s a quick way to repair them:
- Soak a rag in warm water.
- Place the rag over the seam for a minute or two.
- Lift the seam a tiny bit so you have a little more room to work with, then squeeze seam sealer (or white glue, if that’s all you have on hand) into the seam.
- Press the paper back into the wall using a roller; Wipe any excess glue or sealer away with a sponge.
Cost: $41.68 for seam sealer, rags, sponges, and a roller from Home Depot.
Check the tiles
If there are old, chipped tiles in your bathrooms, kitchen, or entryway, it might be time to replace those — not only are they unsightly, but they could be dangerous and you don’t want to stir up any ideas that your house might be unsafe just because of a few aging tiles.
- Remove any loose grout.
- Put painter’s tape around the surrounding tiles to protect them.
- Drill holes into the broken tile pieces with a ¼ inch ceramic bit. This will loosen the pieces and make them easier to chisel out.
- Tap out the broken pieces with a hammer and a tile chisel.
- Use a wider chisel to clear out any old thin-set.
- Using a half-inch notched trowel, place some mortar thin-set in the now-cleared area.
- Spread some thin-set on the new tile as well, to help with adhesion.
- Press the tile into place.
- After the thin-set has cured, spread some grout over the gaps between tiles. Once the grout no longer feels tacky, wipe any excess away with a sponge.
- The grout should be dry in 24 hours; During that time, do not walk on your new tile!
Cost: This will vary based on the price of the tiles and how many you need to replace, but supplies should only run you $54.32 from Home Depot for the thinset, chisel, trowel, and sponges. If you need a drill, you can buy a basic one for $27.49.
Replace your old thermostat
It costs less than $50 to buy a programmable thermostat to replace your old manual one — the new one will let you better control the temperature in your home and make your walls look a little more modern and sleek.
Cost: This best-selling Honeywell thermostat is only $24.98.
Straighten things out
If you have blinds with metal slats, you can buy a slat straightener to “iron out” any slats that have bent out of shape.
Before you do that, though, be sure to clean the blinds of any dust and grime. A simple way to wipe down blinds — which are notoriously difficult to clean! — is to cut a rag into two small pieces, then attach those pieces on the two sides of a set of tongs, which you can secure with a rubber band. Now you can easily run the tongs along the blinds.
Cost: $10.99 for the slat straightener.
You should also tidy up what’s already there: Pull out any weeds, and make sure to trim any shrubs or trees that are overgrown. Plants typically follow a “pruning schedule” but even if you’re selling a house outside of that window, you can still get out your shears. Just be aware of the following:
- By pruning your plants outside of their schedule, you might set their growth back just a little bit. That’s ok, but when taming trees, make sure you’re cutting above (but not too close) to buds — and in a way that is angled — so the cut size is as minimal as possible. This allows for the cut to “heal” quickly, lowering your trees’ chances of being infected by fungi.
- With shrubs, you should follow the same rules as above, but remember that they need to taper towards the top in order to receive adequate sunlight.
Cost: This can vary widely, of course, based on how many plants you want to buy, how rare they are, and whether or not you have containers for your new greenery, but a quick price check has Home Depot selling four hydrangea plants, four containers, and soil for $117.65. Not bad!
Modernize old exterior features
If your mailbox and house numbers are from another decade, you might consider buying new, modern ones to give your home’s exterior a fresh look. Since potential homebuyers might see your home for the first time when driving past it, these details matter!
Mendoza also recommends cleaning and painting the front door, if you have time.
Cost: These very chic (and customizable) house numbers from Etsy start at $35.66.
Don’t leave buyers in the dark
Adding strategic lighting to the backyard — such as string lights over the patio furniture — will enhance the charm of any outdoor area.
In addition, a simple and safe motion-activated flood light above the garage will only set you back $50.
Cost: String lights start at $14.97, and the garage light we found is $59.48, for a total of $89.42 (assuming you purchase two sets of string lights).
Replace old weatherstripping on doors
The seal around your front door is very important: it provides a barricade against rain, the cold, insects, and even noise. As it ages, however, it can get dirty and crack, making it less effective, and well, ugly. The good news: It’s very easy to replace, though installation depends a bit on the type of weatherstripping you have.
Cost: This one will vary just a little, depending on what kind of door you have, but we found kits ranging from $20 to $30 at Home Depot.
Build raised garden beds
Garden beds are a tidy way to keep your greens, and are functional, too — they retain more moisture and hold more soil in place. All you need are some boards, fence posts, and chicken wire (and a little time on a Saturday afternoon).
- Buy four pieces of two-inch-thick lumber for each garden bed you want to build. Redwood and cedar are good choices as they are rot-resistant.
- You’ll want your lumber big enough to allow the soil to be around 10’’ to 12’’ deep, so measure that, too.
- Line the bottom of your bed with hardware cloth, to prevent damage from digging critters.
- Brace the corners with brackets to form a rectangle or square.
- Fill with soil and plant your garden!
Cost: This is another project that can cost $100 or $500, depending on how complex you want to get. For a small garden bed (2×4), you should be able to purchase lumber, soil, and nails for $151.71 (priced at Home Depot).
Talk to your real estate agent
A top real estate by your side will know what’s trending in your neighborhood — are buyers loving all-white kitchens? Looking for marble countertops? Do they want drought-resistant plants? This specific advice will help you figure out the best way to get the most for your dollar when it comes to spending on home improvements, as you’ll know it’s what buyers in your area want to see.
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