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Should I Make Any Home Improvements Before I Sell?

One common question home sellers ask is, “what should I do to get my home ready to sell?” This is a loaded question because the answer depends on their timeline, their budget, and the current market (sellers, neutral, or buyers). The answer for you will also depend on these factors.

No matter how much money you have allocated to get your home ready to sell, it’s your timeline sets the stage for what you are able to accomplish. If you need to sell quickly, forget the major upgrades and try to accomplish as many deferred maintenance items as possible, while considering what refresh items will provide the most benefit. Your real estate broker and their team will be able to help you create a punch list and prioritize the items based on your situation.

There are three areas to focus on when it comes to pre-listing home prep:


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1. Major upgrades

What they include:

Major upgrades include large projects such as a kitchen remodel, renovating a  master bedroom/bathroom, or adding a backyard patio.

Who should do them:

Typically, these work best for those with a hefty budget and lots of time on their side before looking to list.

Best time to do:

A great time to do any major upgrade is right after you buy the home, especially if you know you might sell it within the next 5-10 years. Who better to enjoy the upgrades than you! If you are going to end up footing 1/2 the bill you might as well get some enjoyment from it!

The ROI:

These types of projects will give you about a 50% return on investment. While it will make your home more appealing and raise the list price, you may end up a little disappointed at closing.

2. Deferred Maintenance

What it includes:

Think smaller when it comes to deferred maintenance. Instead of the “oohs and ahs” that major upgrades provide, these are the little items that show buyers you’ve tenderly cared for your home — leaving buyers questioning less about the condition of your home.

  • Furnace/AC filter replacement
  • Replacing burned-out light bulbs
  • Fix poorly draining plumbing
  • Repairing drywall cracks and dings
  • Cleaning clogged gutters
Who should do it:

Deferred maintenance items are non-negotiable for most sellers. You can always sell your home “as-is” but in most cases spending a couple of thousand bucks or a weekend of your time can net you thousands more on your investment.

Best time to do:

Take the deferment out of deferred maintenance and start now!

The ROI:

First impressions are everything. When a potential buyer sees that the gutters are overflowing with leaves and debris as they’re walking up to the home, it might distract them from all the home has to offer. These items might be noticed while touring the home and will most likely come up during the inspection period while under contract. When homebuyers see maintenance items that aren’t done they start to wonder if this home has bigger issues that they can’t see. In a market that is slowing or stagnant, buyers tend to be pickier and maintenance items left undone could make the difference between selling your home or not. Remember, outdated and well-maintained beats outdated and falling apart any day!

3. Refresh Items

After location, the most important thing to focus on when listing your home is showing appeal. Image is everything when it comes to curb appeal and while touring the home. If your home looks tired and worn, there are smaller projects to consider tackling that don’t come with the hefty price tag:

What they include:
  • Fresh paint – Consider light and neutral colors. This will make the space seem bigger while appealing to the taste of a wider range of buyers.
  • Refinish hardwood floors – A light or natural stain color is usually the best choice; the darker you go, the smaller the space looks.
  • New carpet – Replacing old carpet is one of the cheapest flooring options for a quick refresh and buyers touring instantly recognize that new carpet smell!
  • Reglaze bathtubs and tile – Reglazing is cheaper and easier than replacing and can magically make a worn bathroom with dated colors look new.
  • Update light fixtures – Strategically pick fixtures in high traffic areas to update and keep them in the same color family as the existing ones — no need to update them all!
  • Update plumbing fixtures – Prioritize updating leaking faucets or ones that are hard to operate.
  • Paint or refinish cabinetry – A great option for lower quality/builder grade cabinetry or cabinets toward the end of their aesthetic appeal.
  • New cabinet pulls – An easy way to dress up a kitchen or bathroom. Think of it as the jewelry for your cabinets!
  • New garage door and opener – For older garage doors that don’t work well or don’t have an opener, it’s time to upgrade. Homebuyers have come to expect automatic garage doors to park their vehicles with ease.
  • New sod – Consider adding new sod to improve the curb appeal and backyard attractiveness — just don’t forget to water!
  • Plant annuals – If the season permits, planting annuals is a great way to add color to your yard and improves your landscape with minimal effort.
  • De-clutter – When selling your home, the minimalist approach is best. The less stuff you have, the bigger your home looks.
Who should do them:

Those who have a little bit of time to work through the checklist your real estate broker gives you during the pre-listing walk-through. Some might say a few of these items are non-negotiable prior to listing. My recommendation would be to pretend you are a buyer touring your home. What expectations would you have of the condition of the home based on the price you are considering listing it. A good way to get into this role is to search online for similar homes in your neighborhood and see what your competition is!

Best time to do:

The sooner the better. If you don’t have 4 kids under the age of 9 (like I do) that may “undo” your progress, then start now so you can enjoy your improvements! If you have littles or family members who are hard on things, strategically plan on finishing items prior to listing. Just remember to have some “fudge” built into your chore schedule so you don’t find yourself cramming it all in at the end.

The ROI:

Investing in aesthetics over infrastructure will net you the highest ROI in this category. If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person then your ROI will surprise you! Even if you hire out these items, most of them will pay for themselves from the increased sale price you receive at closing.

Wrapping Up

Every home is unique and there are ways to improve things with minimal cost if you are willing to put in a little sweat equity and some cash. Rely on your real estate professional and their team to suggest where to allocate both. The goal is to create a space that potential buyers can see themselves living, ultimately leading to an offer. You only have one shot to make a good first impression — make it count!


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