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Accepted real estate wisdom says that houses in good condition bring in higher prices than houses in not-so-great condition. While that is generally true, it’s possible to “over-improve” a home to the point of losing money if the return doesn’t match the investment.
Luke Rentz is a top agent on The Rentz Team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who sells homes 72% quicker than the average agent in his market. He recommends that sellers contact an experienced agent in their area before making any repairs. “A local agent will be much more familiar with popular trends and different things that are going to get you the most bang for your buck,” he says.
Knowing what to fix — and what not to fix when selling a home — can be tricky. That’s why we compiled a do-not-fix list and threw in some advice to help you determine which fixes are worthwhile, and which are a waste of time, money, and effort.
How to decide what not to fix when selling a house
Before getting to the list, let’s look at three initial steps to help determine how to approach repairs as you make plans to list your home.
Step 1: Consult with a top local agent before you fix anything
Aim for something between “as-is” and turnkey. You want to do just enough to attract buyers, but you don’t want to pour a lot of unnecessary cash into repairs and upgrades that won’t help your home sell for more, or could inadvertently discount its value.
Rentz points out that bad repairs, or updates that don’t fit the current market, can cost you double, “You spent that money, but someone else is pre-discounting the property to fix that repair or update you did.”
Because they know the neighborhood, as well as what the market is doing, real estate agents can provide sound insight into what work has a good return on investment and what work could be just a waste of time. A great place to start is Homelight’s Top Agent Insights, a quarterly report that surveys over 1,000 real estate agents nationwide to get a pulse on current market conditions.
“The first thing I say to my sellers is, ‘Please don’t do anything to your house until I see it.’ That’s because a lot of sellers overspend on fixing and upgrading things that don’t make a difference to the home’s value,” says Carmen Bean, a top-selling agent in San Antonio, Texas, who works with over 72% more single-family homes than the average agent in her market.
In many cases, Bean will advise sellers to wait for the home inspection report and the buyer’s requests. Then you’ll know where you need to spend money. That way, you don’t “waste” money on cosmetic changes that may be needed to fix issues discovered by an inspection.
Step 2: Determine if you will recoup your costs
Will repairs, renovations, or improvements add value and provide a good ROI? It depends on the market where you live.
According to Zonda’s 2023 Cost vs. Value Report, replacing dated or damaged garage doors (with an average cost of $4,302) offers the second-highest return on investment, with 102.9% of the costs recouped. HVAC electrification conversion earned the top spot on the list, but we don’t recommend taking on such an expensive project right before you put your house on the market.
Minor kitchen remodels also proved to be a solid investment with around 85.7% of costs recouped. However, lower-cost (and let’s be honest, lower-effort) home improvements such as painting and landscaping might give you more bang for your buck and be a safer investment.
“Sometimes a major renovation makes sense and sometimes not,” Bean observes. “An experienced real estate agent can evaluate your home’s value, run the comps (comparable home sales), and calculate the ROI to see if updating makes financial sense.” To play it safe, follow the rule of thumb not to spend more than 10% of your home’s value on a kitchen remodel or more than 5% on a primary bathroom remodel.
HomeLight’s most recent Buyer & Seller Insights Survey suggests that buyers place a premium on a well-kept yard and outdoor space. In 2022, 26% of buyers said a desire to have their own yard/outdoor space made them want to buy a home, and 39% of homeowners have plans to renovate their outdoors in the next five years. Different generations place a higher value on outdoor space than others, so ask your local agent about the pool of buyers in your area.
Step 3: Identify and rule out vanity fixes
Selling a home can motivate a homeowner to pull out the tattered, old to-do list. Remember that your home doesn’t have to be in showroom condition — and that it may not make sense to fix everything. Below are three warnings to consider when deciding what to fix before selling your home.
“I always meant to fix it”
No one wants to be labeled a slacker. However, due to budget restrictions and time restraints, most homeowners have a wish list of repairs or upgrades that never got addressed. But keep in mind that the new buyer may have a different to-do list than you do, and focus your efforts on completing the work that will bring you the best ROI.
However, you might want to fix something that opens up your home to different loan types. “If you have a pretty good all-around house, but there’s some wood rot or missing floorboards, it could keep you from being able to sell to a VA loan or an FHA loan,” Rentz explains. “Doing certain repairs there will open up a bigger pool of buyers, which will create more competition for you.”
“I don’t want buyers to see my house like this”
Our homes are an intensely personal reflection of ourselves. Opening up our homes to strangers for showings can cause anxiety — or embarrassment. No one likes to be judged, which is exactly what prospective buyers are doing.
Of course you’re nervous about strangers judging your taste, your style, your home’s cleanliness. Take heart in knowing that when a buyer nitpicks the little details, it’s often a sign of serious interest in purchasing your home. Your bigger goal, according to Rentz, should be to present a home that looks like you’ve taken care of it.
“It’s an intangible that basically can get you more offers and attention and alleviate some concerns buyers have when walking the property,” Rentz says. When they walk through your house, buyers aren’t worried about what they can’t see, like what’s in the walls.
“Fixes and upgrades will detract from unfixable property flaws”
Sometimes, no amount of upgrades or repairs will redirect attention away from major property detractions guaranteed to lower the sale price.
Face it, there’s nothing you can do to hide a powerline or disguise a busy street. The size of your yard or square footage isn’t going to magically grow. Nevertheless, some homeowners think that presenting an updated, upgraded, fully repaired home will offset the loss caused by an unfixable property flaw.
One of Bean’s sellers spent unnecessarily on an expensive renovation of a house that had nothing wrong with it except that it backed onto a busy highway. “They redid the kitchen cabinets, installed new flooring, and made other upgrades because they thought that it would help the sale,” she recalls.
“We still ended up lowering the price and taking a huge hit because backing [onto] the highway was a big hang-up for buyers,” adds Bean. She believes if the sellers had taken her advice, they could have saved the money they spent on fruitless improvements.
What not to fix when selling a house (do-not-fix list)
According to Homelight’s 2022 Buyer and Seller Insights Report, 23% of buyers purchased a home that was in worse condition than they expected to buy at the start of their search. That’s not a panacea for neglecting all repairs, but it’s wise to heed the advice of your local agent in determining what fixes your buyer pool will want and which ones they’ll compromise on if you don’t do them.
Some typical repairs you can usually skip include:
1. Cosmetic flaws
Many cosmetic issues are typically easy to fix: painting and landscaping, for example. Quick, affordable fixes that make a big impact may be worth doing to present a fresh, clean “face” to buyers, although they’re not on the priority list unless they detract from your home’s appearance.
However, some cosmetic flaws may be a little more involved, such as replacing old countertops in the kitchen or bath. Other issues may fall somewhere in between, such as a few cracked tiles, outdated finishes, or minor scratches on hardwood floors.
If you have the home improvement skills to complete some of these projects, you may want to do them, depending on how much time and money will be needed. “Fixing caulking that’s cracked, touching up grout, small drywall repairs, cleaning the house really well, or a fresh coat of paint on the walls to present a clean house that seems well taken care of can make a big difference,” says Rentz.
If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, however, you could risk causing further damage or spending more money than a project is worth. Your home doesn’t need a complete makeover to sell. “Normal wear-and-tear is to be expected,” Bean points out, “so there’s no need to address most cosmetic issues unless there’s a serious, underlying problem.”
2. Minor electrical issues
If your home has old wiring, exposed wires, an outdated electrical service panel, dangling light fixtures, standard circuit breakers, or ungrounded outlets, you’ll have to address these safety hazards before listing your home for sale.
But innocuous electrical issues — loose outlet plugs, dead outlets, or a light switch that goes to nothing — may not need to be addressed. “Most of the time, the inspection report will just note that wobbly sockets are not tightened enough — and the light switch isn’t even mentioned,” Bean says.
3. Driveway or walkway cracks
HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights For New Year 2022 survey reveals that buyers will pay 7% more for a house with great curb appeal.
Normally, curb appeal includes features like freshly mowed grass, mulched flower beds, tidily trimmed shrubs, a fresh coat of exterior paint, a couple of cozy chairs on the front porch, and a nice mat by the front door.
“Some landscaping on the outside and bringing it up to date, doing a bit of tree work, or cleaning your grounds are simple fixes and updates that can make a big difference,” Rentz says.
Few buyers are so nitpicky as to let minor driveway or sidewalk cracks wreck a sale. In fact, Bean says, “Hairline cracks are very common here in San Antonio because we have a lot of soil movement, so a driveway or walkway crack isn’t going to scare a buyer off unless it’s huge enough to be a potential hazard.”
4. Grandfathered-in building code issues
Building codes evolve over time. Therefore, a house built in 1980 likely won’t meet all the current codes. That doesn’t mean you need to bring everything up to current standards to sell your home. If the home was legally constructed in compliance with the building codes of the day, it is typically considered “grandfathered-in” and does not have to meet current codes.
Nevertheless, a home inspection will note these aberrances. As Bean points out, “By law, home inspectors have to address all of the building code items in their inspection reports. But the sellers don’t have to update the house to current standards because the home is grandfathered-in.” She adds that the buyer can upgrade the house to current standards if they choose; however, many agents would advise against it.
Building code violations are common. Even if yours isn’t grandfathered in, you still may not need to correct it in order to sell.
5. Partial room upgrades
If you don’t have the time or budget to finish an upgrade or remodel, it’s probably better not to start it because it’s difficult for buyers to visualize the completed effect if you’ve left work undone. Besides, replacing only one cabinet or a couple of fixtures will only point out how badly the rest of the room needs renovating.
“A partial remodel never looks good,” Bean agrees. For example, she says it “makes no sense to put in a new vanity, but keep the 1980s linoleum floor.” When you do a partial room upgrade, you’re not adding value. It may look as if you’re trying to hide something rather than just updating it. So, you either need to do the whole room or just leave it be.
But do consider if an upgrade would bring your home up to the same level. “It’s not okay to remodel one part and have the rest of the house be lackluster,” Rentz says. “If you have a guest bathroom that’s very out of date, it might be worth it to remodel and bring the house to the same level as the rest of your home or the neighborhood.” If you already remodeled the kitchen five years ago, but your bathroom still has tile and fixtures from the 1950s, talk to your agent about local buyer expectations.
6. Removable items
Sometimes, it’s easier simply to remove worn or dated items rather than replace or update them. It can also save money. For example, according to HomeAdvisor, professionally installed window treatments cost an average of $905.
Some sellers want to take removable items with them, but it’s not always possible, even if those window treatments fit in your new home. “In Texas, sellers were free to take the curtain rods and valances, but now they are considered a part of the house,” Bean indicates.
However, if they’re not in good condition, if they’re dated, or if they make the room too dark, instead of leaving them behind, just take them down before listing the home — and don’t replace them. It’s the ultimate in quick, inexpensive prep!
7. Old appliances
If appliances are mismatched, more than 10 years old, not energy efficient, severely worn, barely functioning, broken, or missing, it can hurt your home sale. Replacing them with brand-new appliances can add value to your home, but Bean says that’s not your only option.
“If your appliances are really old, ugly, and barely working, I would advise saving money by replacing them with used appliances versus buying brand new appliances that cost thousands of dollars,” explains Bean.
If you decide to buy new, you don’t have to go high-end, top-of-the-line to impress a buyer; new, standard appliances will still add a lot to your home’s overall impression.
Seek to show potential, not perfection
Don’t be tempted to fix everything you think is wrong with your house; you’ll either lose money or price it out of the market. When you prepare your house for sale, remember that your goal is to show its potential, not to polish it to perfection.
An experienced real estate agent can help you craft your own fix and do-not-fix lists so you get the most out of your home sale. If you don’t have an agent, you can find a top-performing agent in your area with HomeLight’s Agent Match. This free platform analyzes millions of transactions and thousands of reviews to identify the right agent for you.
Writers Christine Bartsch and Lori Lovely contributed to this story.
FAQs on what not to fix when selling a house
It’s not necessary to fix all minor cosmetic issues when selling a home. While some touch-ups can enhance the overall appeal, focus on major repairs and updates that significantly impact the functionality or safety of the property.
Renovating outdated areas is not always required. Consider the cost and potential return on investment for renovations. In some cases, buyers may prefer to customize or update according to their own preferences, making major renovations unnecessary.
Replacing all worn-out carpeting or flooring may not be essential. Instead, consider professional cleaning or offering a flooring credit to buyers, allowing them to choose the flooring that suits their tastes and budget.
Upgrading all outdated kitchen appliances is not mandatory. Focus on ensuring the appliances are in good working condition. Buyers may have varying preferences and budgets, so offering an appliance allowance or highlighting the potential for upgrades can be more appealing.
Investing in expensive landscaping or outdoor improvements may not always be necessary. Curb appeal matters, but simple enhancements like trimming bushes, cleaning the yard, and freshening up the front entrance can go a long way without significant expenses. Focus on a tidy and well-maintained exterior to create a positive first impression.
Header Image Source: (Africa Studio / Shutterstock)
- "2023 Cost vs. Value Report," Zonda (March 2023)
- " Top Agent Insights for End of Year 2023," HomeLight (December 2023)
- "Buyer & Seller Insights End of Year 2022," HomeLight (December 2022)
- "Grandfathered Definition for Buildings," Fontan Architecture (February 2021)
- "I Can’t Finish My Reno: How Do I Sell an Unfinished House?," FastExpert (August 2023)
- "How Much Do Window Treatments Cost?," HomeAdvisor (January 2023)