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How to Focus on the Right Fixes Before Selling Your House

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You’ve lived with your home’s quirks for years: the toilet handle that needs jiggling after every flush. The electrical outlets that haven’t worked in a decade. That red accent wall in the living room that’s more dated than dramatic. Now that you’re selling your house, you see these imperfections through the eyes of potential buyers. And you wonder what they’ll overlook — and what might be deal breakers if you ignore them. Let’s take a look at what to fix before selling a house, and the equally important matter of what not to fix so you can avoid going overboard.

Consult with a real estate agent

Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Start by asking a top local real estate agent for their perspective. Allowing them to do a quick walkthrough could save you a ton of money.

“The advice of a professional Realtor® is indispensable,” says Maria Hoffman, a top performing agent in Tampa, Fla. “Sometimes, people undertake costly repairs or improvements that just are not going to net any return when they sell.”

For example, she had a client who was about to sign a contract to install solar panels in his home for $30,000. While solar panels are a fantastic way to cut energy costs, her client was planning to sell the house in a few months. Hoffman advised him to skip the panels.

“He would not be able to get that $30,000 back on top of his sale price,” she explains. “That’s an item that pays off over the long term. Agents know what buyers are looking for and can help you do a cost-benefit analysis for potential repairs and upgrades.”

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Top agents have the experience to help clients identify which repairs and upgrades to prioritize when selling a house. Our agent matching platform connects clients with top-performing agents in their area, who are more likely to sell homes faster and for more money.

Common major repairs to fix before selling a house

No two houses are alike, which means your home is going to have its own unique set of repair issues. Invest in a pre-sale inspection to identify significant problems in your home that could scare buyers away or result in a lower appraisal if they’re not resolved. Your real estate agent can go over the inspection report with you and help you prioritize essential repairs.

“If we’re back on the market because we have these repair issues, every other buyer that comes in to buy our property will want these issues addressed,” says Nathan Dart, a top real estate agent in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Below are some common issues that crop up during inspections:

Plumbing problems

Water damage caused by plumbing problems is serious since it can lead to mold and dry rot. The cost to repair it depends on a variety of factors, such as the source of the water, the size of the damaged area, and how long it’s existed. Easy-to-fix issues include replacing a leaky faucet’s washers or a toilet’s wax ring.

Dated electrical

Electrical problems are no laughing matter — they’re responsible for 51,000 fires every year. They run the gamut from low-cost, simple fixes for things like replacing missing wire nuts, frayed wiring, and faulty light switches to major jobs such as rewiring your entire home or replacing an outdated circuit breaker.

Heating, ventilation, and AC issues

Installing a new HVAC unit can range between $7,000 to $12,000, so it’s an expense that buyers will want to avoid taking. Fortunately, just because your system isn’t working or running efficiently doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new one. A qualified technician may be able to repair it.

You’ll just need to budget for a service call and any extra fees for repairs and parts. However, an older HVAC at the end of its estimated lifespan can also bring down the appraised value of your home if other houses in the area have newer units.

Roof problems

An aging roof can decrease your property value and cause a host of other side effects, including attic leaks, poor ventilation (which may lead to paint blistering and mold inside the home), and high energy bills. A roof costs an average $12,000 to replace, but it recoups 94% of that cost at resale, according to a HomeLight survey of nearly 500 real estate agents nationwide. It may be worth the investment to install a new roof before you sell if yours is in disrepair or a lot older compared to your neighbors’.

Foundation flaws

A severely damaged foundation threatens the structural integrity of your entire home, which can make it difficult to sell. In worst case scenarios, major foundation repairs can cost $10,000 or more. Even basic fixes can be pricey. Filling in a single crack, for example, runs between $800-$1,500 according to the Foundation Repair Network. And that doesn’t include fees for extras like slab jacking or hiring a structural engineer to assess the damage.

Lack of modern safety features

One of the first things home inspectors or appraisers look for are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Every state requires in-home smoke detectors; carbon monoxide detectors are required in all but a handful. Make sure you know your state and local laws — or check with your real estate agent — when it comes to how and where detectors must be installed. GFCI outlets and receptacles are also must-haves for rooms with a water source, such as kitchens and bathrooms.

A HomeLight infographic about fixing items before selling a house.

Beyond major repairs: What else should you fix?

Once your critical repairs are squared away, turn to additional fixes and upgrades that will make buyers take note. And yield the biggest bang for your buck.

1. Kitchens

If there’s one room in your home that needs to impress buyers, it’s the kitchen. This is where folks prepare and eat meals. And for many, it’s the heart of the home.

Your kitchen doesn’t have to be a state-of-the-art affair. But it does need to be clean, functional, and not a total eyesore. If your kitchen is begging for some TLC, for a couple of hundred dollars — or less — you can amp up its appeal with a few strategic repairs and cosmetic upgrades.

“It doesn’t make sense to start a major kitchen remodel when you’re selling, so I would stick with quick, affordable updates like lightening and brightening with neutral paint and changing hardware,” advises Hoffman.

She also suggests replacing dark, heavy window treatments with blinds that let in more light. Painting your cabinets will instantly perk up any kitchen. And don’t forget simple updates like swapping out old light switches and fixtures for new ones.

“Installing a new light fixture over a kitchen table isn’t super expensive, but it can really update the space and add a bit of a wow factor,” says Hoffman.

2. Bathrooms

Home shoppers also scrutinize bathrooms, so make sure yours is spotless. Replace chipped shower or tub tiles and deep clean grout to remove mildew. If your caulk is looking funky, replace it. And be sure to fix pesky problems like dripping faucets, clogged drains, or a toilet that runs 24/7.

For an affordable mini-makeover, start with a coat of neutral paint. Then focus on your lighting and mirrors.

“The least expensive thing to do in a bathroom is update your light fixtures,” Hoffman notes. “If you’ve got original builder grade lights over your vanity, that’s a simple thing to replace. Changing a sheet mirror for a pretty framed one is also inexpensive but can really change the look of the room.

3. Home exterior and yard

Now that your home interior has been refreshed, head outside. First impressions are huge, so don’t let eyesores like damaged roof eaves, a weed-infested yard, or peeling paint greet buyers when they pull up to your home.

According to Hoffman, the value of stellar curb appeal can’t be overstated.

“I think one of the key fixes that people can overlook is tending to their landscaping,” she shares. “Just making sure that things are clean and presentable is so important.”

Mow your lawn, tidy overgrown flower beds, prune trees and power-wash your walkways, she advises. Then take a close look at your front door.

“It’s the first thing that buyers see, so make sure it’s nicely painted and has new hardware if needed,” says Hoffman. “These are simple things to update and some of the least expensive things you can do to increase the value of your home.”

4. Discretionary upgrades

Still got money in your fix-it budget? Consider these optional upgrades to give your place extra oomph:

Paint where needed
Among easy, affordable updates, paint reigns supreme. Whether your entire house is screaming for it, or just a room or hallway, fresh paint will instantly make any space feel fresh and clean.

Brighten dark areas
Next to paint, new lighting tops the list of quick fixes that don’t cost a fortune. With the flick of a switch, stylish light fixtures or lamps can transform a gloomy, cramped room into a bright, welcoming spot with a more spacious feel.

Replace old kitchen countertops
Installing new countertops isn’t cheap. According to HomeAdvisor, the cost to install new countertops ranges between $1,856 and $4,325.

But if you can swing it, this investment can take your kitchen from ho-hum to showstopper. “Replacing countertops is a little more pricey, but it’s certainly something I’ve seen payoff,” remarks Hoffman.

Refinish hardwood floors
Beautiful hardwood floors are among home buyers’ most coveted features. If yours are dull or scuffed up, it’s worth the expense to refinish them. The average cost to hire a pro is between $1,000 and $2,500. Yet you’ll recoup the full amount, or even more, when you sell.

Invest in shiny new appliances
Buyers expect your home’s appliances to work properly, and if they’re brand new, so much the better. If you’ve got the budget to replace that noisy refrigerator or ancient dishwasher, you’ll likely get stronger offers on your home — and more of them. If your appliances are older yet still work well, you may want to skip replacing them. According to Angi, the low-end estimate for a new refrigerator, oven-range and dishwasher is around $2,200.

Get smart about your to-do list

Take the case of fictional couple Diane and Rich. After tackling the big problems discovered during their home inspection, they had about $5,000 to spend on cosmetic upgrades.

At first, they wanted to update the kitchen with new countertops and cabinets, which would have gobbled up their entire budget. Their real estate agent convinced them it made more sense to spread the love on a number of small but high-impact projects throughout the home.

They hired a pro to paint their dated tan kitchen cabinets a crisp white ($1200), replaced all the hardware ($100) and added three chic pendant lights ($600, including installation) above the table in the previously dark breakfast nook.

Living room
After decluttering their living room, they spent a Saturday painting it a soft, warm bisque to further accentuate its inviting new look ($200). Removing the heavy curtains that framed a big picture window made the room even brighter. And putting in a large ceiling fan ($600 with installation) offered heat relief and a striking decorative detail.

Primary bath
Moving on to their en suite bathroom, they ditched the sheet mirror for a carved wood stunner ($220), swapped ugly builder grade lighting for a pair of contemporary sconces ($500 including installation), and painted the walls a soothing sage green for a serene spa-like vibe ($150).

Curb appeal
Then they turned their attention outdoors. After giving their stoop a thorough cleaning, Rich painted the bland front door a cheerful red and flanked it with a pair of ceramic pots filled with geraniums ($120). He also rented a pressure washer ($85) to deep-clean the driveway and exterior walls. And Diane hired a landscaping crew to mow, trim and weed ($500) the front and back yards.

The couple were thrilled with the results and had enough money left over to treat themselves to a weekend getaway. Plus, they got multiple above asking-price offers on their home.

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