Top Six Home Improvements for Selling a House

With increased competition for home sales, it’s more important than ever for sellers to consider cost-effective home improvements to help maximize their return on investment. There are two kinds of home improvements – giant kidney-shaped pools, state of the art home offices and the best privately owned topiary in the Midwest, or more practical improvements that are optimized to maximize your average cost and return on investment.

A number of factors that affect how much of your costs you’ll recoup – the value of homes in the neighborhood, the state of the housing market as a whole and the timing of your sale, but here are the top six home improvements for selling a house that REALTORS® can use to get results for their clients.

Remodel the Kitchen


One of the most prominent turnoffs from prospective home buyers is an unattractive kitchen. Today’s kitchen is where families spend most of their time together and size doesn’t matter as much as appearance.

Cabinets are the first thing that buyers notice but they’re also one of the more expensive items to replace. Have your sellers repaint or resurface them first, unless they are sorely dated or beat-up, then it’s a good idea to replace them entirely. Counter tops are more durable and can be upgraded with simple laminates. New faucets or shiny sinks will also help catch the eye of prospective buyers.

Avoid the professional chef’s stove and the granite counter tops if your client wants the best return on investment and advise them to stick with more cost-effective upgrades and improvements. The kitchen shouldn’t be fancier than the rest of the house or fancier than all the kitchens on the block, but it should be clean, fresh and inviting.

Clean, Organize and Store


Cleaning and depersonalizing came in at number one as the best home improvement for sellers in terms of return on investment. For an average cost of $290, sellers saw an average price increase of $1,990 in 2011 – a 586% return on investment. Don’t hide your home’s best features behind clutter, unnecessary furniture and tsotchkes. Your seller loves their knick-knacks but will a potential buyer? Have them store anything superfluous outside the home (perhaps at a storage facility) and remove pieces of furniture that take up too much room or make spaces feel crowded.

Buyers want to picture themselves in a home, so give them a clean, clear space on which to project their dreams. Performing routine maintenance around the home and keeping things tidy and clean doesn’t cost much but plays a big role in a potential buyer’s mind.

Lawn and Landscaping


Don’t let your clients be intimidated by landscaping. They don’t need to sink money into stone walls, expensive trees and waterfalls. Potential buyers will appreciate a clean, freshly-mowed lawn free of weeds and dead bushes and they’ll use their own imagination to dream of where trees, gardens, flowers and badminton nets should go.

Have clients prune bushes and trees, mow their lawn and water their plants and flowers. They can also add mulch to hold moisture in the soil and help prevent more weeds from growing. Stress temporary presentation over year round improvements. Have sellers liven up outdoor containers with interesting plants and place them on patios and near the entrance to the home. Sellers should also plant seasonal flowers to give the exterior a touch of color, using inexpensive flats of annuals for a splash of life. Finally, the piece de resistance, if the home has rose bushes or beautiful flowers on the outside, think of cutting a few and placing them in vases or containers in the home to add a touch of nature.

Creating New Space


Add functionality, not square footage. For homeowners looking to sell, it’s not advisable to sink money into an addition, rather, have them focus on converting existing space in the home into functional space. Creating new space in a home generally returns 50-80% of the project’s cost. Even something as daunting as finishing a basement or adding an extra bathroom can return between 65-75% of the expense put into it.

Basements and attics are the two prime locations for creating new space. Basements work well as game rooms, second living rooms and social spaces. Attics are also great for game rooms, craft rooms or extra bedrooms and once they’re cleaned and finished, some of these spaces turn out to be the most charming with potential buyers.



Original hardwood. End of story. Chances are, if your client lives in a neighborhood where the homes were built 60 years ago, their floors are probably quite gorgeous. Hardwood floors trump carpet, ceramic and tile in nearly all instances. If sellers have oak or quality hardwood floors that are covered by carpet, have them invest in removing the carpet and refinishing the wood. If sellers already have quality exposed hardwood floors, a simple refurbishment will bring them back to their near-original look.

Not all hardwood floors are constructed from quality materials, however, so if your client’s are plywood, then best to keep it covered by carpet. Have clients replace out-of-date or worn carpet, preferably in neutral shades, which tends to go over better with prospective buyers. If the carpet is still relatively attractive, a good shampoo and vacuum might be enough to do the trick. For any linoleum or ceramic floors in kitchens, entryways, bathrooms or laundry rooms, have sellers replace chipped or cracked tiles and clean or replace grout, but have them avoid replacing the entire floor unless you really have to.



Paint is one of the most cost-effective ways that sellers can spruce up a home without breaking the bank. Advise your clients to take their time locating any large cracks or dents in walls and making minor repairs before giving rooms a fresh coat of neutral-colored paint. Make sure they get the ceilings too – prospective buyers are looking for evidence of leaks and stains so don’t give them a reason to move to the next listing. There’s no need to paint walls a different color. Remind your clients that they’re going to a fresh, clean look, and that the buyers want to project their own colors onto each room, so the more neutral, the better.

If sellers have wallpaper or wood paneling, there are still options. Most wood paneling can and should be painted a neutral color and wallpaper should be removed and the walls painted. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wallpaper, but potential buyers like to see a seller’s home as a blank canvas which they can customize and even quality wood paneling is out of style.

One last bit of advice for REALTORS® to give to potential sellers: the longer sellers hold on to their homes after remodeling projects are complete, the less likely they are to recoup value, so work with your client on timing and prioritize home improvements with return on investment at top of mind.

What’s your experience been with the most effective home improvements to make based on return on investment? What do you think about pools, spas, sub zero freezers or expensive landscaping? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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