Between the interior design magazines delivered to your door, your addiction to Pinterest, and your friend’s recent bathroom remodel with a hundred likes on Facebook, you get bombarded with home improvement recommendations wherever you turn.
Everyone and their dog seems to have an opinion on what your house needs to shine or which type of flooring is best. All this noise can lead to confusion about which projects to tackle to make your home more marketable.
But when it comes to selling the house, there’s only one opinion that matters:
What do buyers really want in a home, and which projects are worth taking on?
1. Neutral paint throughout
Kim Wirtz, a top-selling real estate agent in Joliet, Illinois, has seen some unusual and creative paint jobs in homes. While fuschia may represent your quirky side, most buyers want to see uniform, freshly-painted white or gray walls.“I had clients who had their houses on the market for a very long time with no offers. But when I took over the listing I saw the rooms were all painted different colors — we repainted everything white and ended up with seven offers over their list price in the first week of getting their house back on the market.”
And this matches what we found in our Top Agent Insights Survey for Q1 2020: 98% of agents said neutral color schemes were preferable to bold ones.
Janet Anderson, an agent who sells homes 25% faster than average in Tracy, California, echoes that neutral color palettes — gray or white — help buyers see the home as a blank canvas and boost the idea that the home is turnkey; that is, move-in ready and updated.
79% of agents report gray as the preferred color among buyers, and both Wirtz and Anderson noted that it’s a trend they’ve been seeing in their regions. Interior designers love gray as an excellent neutral color that allows brightly colored, eye-catching furniture pieces to pop.
2. Shiny hardwood floors
Flooring matters. After paint, it’s Wirtz’s second most-recommended upgrade; she notes that she recommends many of her clients tear out their carpet and go for hard surface flooring, ideally hardwood.
Hardwood flooring has long been the top choice for homebuyers, and 99% of real estate agents say it’s easier to sell homes with this feature.
Additionally, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2019 Remodeling Impact Report states that new wood flooring ranked 4th in projects that most appeal to buyers, beating out attic conversions, bathroom additions, and insulation upgrades. You can also opt to refinish your hardwood floors for $2,600 to fetch a 100% return on investment, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Like our advice about painting, the main thing is to keep it consistent; buyers don’t want to see different types of flooring in every room.
3. Updated kitchen featuring stainless steel
If you only have the time or budget to upgrade one room, make it the kitchen. And if your cabinetry and countertops are fairly modern, you might be able to get away with just updating the appliances.
One analysis we ran showed that the average cost of replacing your old appliances (including the refrigerator, dishwasher, stove and range, range hood, and microwave) with sleek stainless steel runs $4,229, but you’re likely to see an average $5,982 back on this upgrade.
Design blogs and articles sometimes feature colored appliances as a suggestion to break away from traditional stainless steel, but there’s a reason stainless steel reigns supreme: 75% of top agents report that stainless steel is the most in-demand appliance style among homebuyers.
Shop for what looks great first and foremost for this room. Second to style is quality, so once you’ve selected some great looking pieces, make sure they rank highly in terms of wear and tear: check on warranty and next to style, look for appliances that are energy efficient.
According to the most recent Houzz kitchen trends study, there are a few other remodeling trends to note:
- Almost two-thirds of renovated kitchens include an island: a relatively easy upgrade that makes a kitchen seem more cook-friendly. This small addition can yield an ROI of 83%. If you have an island and want to improve its functionality, consider adding storage or overhead lighting.
- For your kitchen backsplash, ceramic or porcelain tile are incredibly sought-after, dominating the remodeled space with 57% of designs incorporating them.
- Shaker-style cabinetry is still popular, most likely due to its clean lines and nod to minimalism.
As for accent colors, cool tones are in — they are calming and soothing, which can be helpful when you’re rushing to make breakfast for the family at eight in the morning. Also, there’s been a rise in multipurpose sinks that can accommodate colanders, drying racks, and more.
4. Modern bathroom with a tub
Like the kitchen upgrade, a bathroom remodel perennially finds itself on lists of must-do home improvement projects. While you might only see 57% of your bathroom remodel spend returned, it’s an essential space for buyers: over one-third of Realtors suggest that sellers update their bathrooms.
Also, the bathroom and kitchen are more frequently used by more family members than other spaces and tend to wear out more quickly. They are also hotbeds for moisture, which means issues like mold can be creeping underneath that caulking.
Wirtz notes that she sees a lot of remodeled homes ditching the old shower/tub combo in favor of a larger, walk-in style shower. That said, she cautions that some buyers may require a tub so it’s wise to make sure that at least one bathroom has one. If you have older wood cabinets, a simple paint job — keep it neutral! — can also brighten up a bathroom.
Buyers are also after design that suggests a spa-like environment, with floating vanities and larger tiles to open up the room and create clean, minimalist lines. Showers are growing in size, and they’re increasingly designed to be curbless, which has the bonus of being safer; you don’t have to step over anything to get in and out.
Finally, some younger buyers are looking for smart bathrooms, with tech-forward designs like medicine cabinets that come with built-in defoggers.
5. Backyard patio and deck additions
Buyers love to see a functional backyard, and building a dedicated space for entertaining and dining is fun but financially wise as well: the average patio costs $3,269 but adds $3,563 value to your home, according to HomeLight’s 2019 poll of top agents across the country.
Anderson told us about a home she currently has on the market: “I have a listing up right now, and buyers went crazy over their backyard: they had a lot of outdoor seating, a fire pit, and a waterfall; it was their own private oasis! Buyers really like outdoor living.”
If you’re aiming for the high-end market, think about adding an outdoor kitchen area, which topped the American Institute of Architects’ list of kitchen and bath trends in 2018. Throw in a backyard stereo system and potential buyers will easily imagine many blissful summer BBQs.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money completely revamping your backyard but still think it needs a makeover, add a fire pit (check with your fire department about restrictions), which typically sees an ROI of over 60%.
You can also add string lights and some tall plants for more privacy, and refresh any outdated furniture — these small changes will impart the feeling of intimate, party-ready space.
6. Low energy costs
Green living isn’t just trendy, it’s practical.
According to a report from the National Association of Home Builders, buyers are willing to spend an additional $8,728 upfront to save $1,000 a year on utility bills. Here are some home projects that you can boast about to potential buyers:
- Replace your windows. This can result in an 81% ROI. Old windows might sit out of plumb and be letting in a draft, resulting in heating and cooling bills that are 10% to 20% more expensive. The agents we surveyed said energy-efficiency was the no. 1 factor sellers should consider when replacing new windows, more than quality, durability, design, and warranty.
- Air-seal and insulate your attic and save up to $500 per year in energy costs.
- Shade your home to protect it from the hot summer sun, and stay cool the green way: plant trees on the south and west sides of your home.
- Replace your siding, which is one of the home improvement projects with the highest ROIs — 75%, to be exact. Wood siding has the highest R-value (a measure of how well the material insulates), followed by aluminum, steel, and vinyl.
7. Functional roof
While it’s not an inexpensive upgrade (averaging around $12,000, real estate agents across the country estimate), a roof replacement is well worth the investment, as most sellers will see an average of 94% of their costs recouped.
Asphalt shingles are another reliable choice; they are considered a classic American roofing material, dating back to 1901. They’re popular because they’re so practical: they are wind, hail, and fire-resistant and extremely durable.
8. Tidy yard
No one wants to see a front or backyard with decaying, overgrown trees or a lawn invaded by weeds. While it might take a little more time and creativity, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to see a big ROI: 70% of top agents advise spending $1,000 or less to perk up your curb appeal, and sprucing up your landscape could add up to 10% to your home’s value.
When asked to prioritize curb appeal projects, agents cited general yard care service and overall cleanliness as no. 1: trim your trees and shrubs, pull weeds, install fresh mulch, remove any cobwebs, and give the place a good cleaning.
Next up was giving the door a fresh coat of paint, followed by planting colorful flowers, washing the driveway, throwing down a neutral and friendly welcome mat, and finally: professional landscaping.
Pacific Northwest: Fruit trees, maple trees, palm trees, evergreens
Southwest: Fruit trees, oak trees, maple trees, palm trees
Midwest: Oak trees, maple trees, pine trees, flowering trees, pear trees
Southeast: Palm trees, oak trees, maple trees, magnolias, crepe myrtles
Northeast: Oak trees, maple trees, flowering trees, evergreens
9. Smart features
Remember when The Clapper was peak technology for a home? Technology has come quite a long way since then! Smart home tools of the 2020s allow residents to turn on the thermostat, the stereo, and the alarm system with just a few quick taps on their iPhone — and they’re now ubiquitous: from 2019 to 2020, the number of smart homes jumped from 134 million to 174 million, and nearly half of millennials report having smart features in their home.
When buyers were asked which smart home products they’d prefer to see pre-installed in a home, 77% wanted smart thermostats, 75% wanted smart fire detectors, 70% wanted smart carbon monoxide detectors, 66% wanted smart cameras, and 63% wanted smart locks or smart lighting. Anderson said that her buyers are often fascinated with high-tech features, and this intrigue might help you sell the rest of the house to nail a sale.
Even though home tech may be on the rise, check with your real estate agent to see if it’s relevant in your region. Wirtz said she’s starting to see it, but it hasn’t saturated the market just yet. That said, she thinks as time goes on and more millennials prepare to purchase their first homes, it will become a must-have.
10. Impressive exterior
The exterior of your home, beyond your landscaping, is extremely important and the first impression you make on a potential buyer. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2019 Cost versus Value report, three exterior upgrades have the best ROI: a garage door replacement, manufactured stone veneer, and new siding. Stone veneer can be used decoratively on the front of your house, but also inside, around fireplaces, or on an accent wall.
We mentioned earlier why a siding replacement could be a good choice for lowering utility costs, but it’s also a wise remodeling choice as it has a high ROI and can transform the overall exterior appearance of your home, if your current siding is starting to show signs of age. Cracks, mold, and moisture marks can all be unsightly to potential buyers.
Finally, if you don’t have the time or money for any renovations, Wirtz suggests spending time organizing and cleaning. Powerwash the driveway, have the floors professionally cared-for, do a deep clean of all the appliances — a sparkly, inviting space goes a long way on open house day.
When’s the best time to remodel?
According to a recent Top Agent Insights survey, fall and winter are a great time to work on upgrades, since this is when materials and labor are cheapest. Spend the spring making your plans, so you can execute them during deals season.
If you’re selling during the winter — when sales are typically slower — make sure to present the house as well-lit, safe, and as inviting as possible. There are a few upgrades you can make to ensure this: well-placed lighting (don’t forget to replace your lightbulbs!) at the front of the house, new home numbers and mailboxes, and a fresh coat of paint on your front door.
And if your plan is to sell in spring, focus on exterior projects, especially on curb appeal — landscaping that highlights all the flora in bloom will make a big impact.
Header Image Source: (Mike / Pexels)