4 Updates Every Home Seller Must Do

Which remodeling projects give you the most bang for your buck?
By: Dona DeZube

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The secret to successful pre-sale home remodeling is to keep up with the Joneses, but to never surpass them. Whether you want to make more money than you spend, or just recoup your remodeling expenses when you sell your home, know what’s standard in the neighborhood.

Does everyone have laminate kitchen countertops? Splurge on granite and you’ll be the envy of your friends, but you won’t get your money back at resale. Is your home in a high-end neighborhood? Put in laminate countertops and your house will sell for less than full value, or worse yet, linger on the market for months.

Never be the last homeowner on the block to remodel. Homebuyers will pass up your property in favor of the one down the street where everything is already updated. Your home will sell slowly and for less money.

Before you pick up a hammer, visit real estate open houses and new home communities. Ask the builder to show you a spec home (that’s an already built home without the model home’s decorative features and upgrades).

“The main things to keep in mind when remodeling are: neutral, clean and classic," says Nancy Jones, a Realtor with Hunt ERA Real Estate, Williamsville, N.Y. "That will always recoup your money."

To get the biggest bang for your remodeling buck, try one of these four projects:

1) Mid-range Bathroom Remodel
Average cost: $10,499
Average resale value: $10,727
Percentage of cost recovered: 102.2 percent
Best return: 168.7 percent in San Francisco
Worst return: 61.7 percent in Cleveland

Spend money to remodel your bathroom and it’s likely to come back to you when you sell, particularly if you focus on the master bath.

For a 5x7 bathroom:

  • Do two pedestal sinks with glass and wooden shelves to create openness and the perception that the bathroom is big.
  • Slate-colored tile looks rich, matches a lot of color schemes and looks great with brushed nickel fixtures.
  • Replace your 5x3 tub with a tile shower with glass doors.
  • Replace the toilet. There’s nothing worse than a nice bathroom with a cheap toilet and plastic seat. Go to a home store for a reasonably priced toilet. You don’t have to spend $500 for a good result.

In many homes, it’s a better investment to update what you have than to spend more to add on. For example, adding a bathroom to a one-bathroom house in a neighborhood where most homes already have two may not return as much as remodeling an outdated bathroom in that same community. 

2) Siding Replacement
Vinyl siding job cost: $7,239
Vinyl average resale value: $6,914
Percentage of cost recovered: 95.5 percent
Best return: 140 percent in Orlando, Fla.
Worst return: 44.3 percent in Philadelphia
Fiber-cement siding job cost: $10,393
Fiber-cement average resale value: $10,771
Percentage of cost recovered: 103.6 percent
Best return: 166.6 percent in Birmingham, Ala.
Worst return: 42.6 percent in Philadelphia

Fiber-cement siding can resemble stucco, wood siding or cedar shingles. It resists fire and some brands offer 50-year guarantees. However, it’s trickier to put up than vinyl siding (you’ll need diamond blades for your saw and a respirator for yourself). And it’s more expensive and can have freeze/thaw issues if not properly installed.

3) Minor Kitchen Remodel
Cost of a minor kitchen remodel: $14,913
Average resale value: $14,691
Percentage of cost recovered: 98.5 percent
Best return: 152.7 percent in San Francisco
Worst return: 58.1 percent in Detroit

If your kitchen has good flow and functions well, a minor remodel will pay off at resale.

  • Reface the cabinets with new doors and drawers.
  • Put in new stainless steel appliances.
  • Update with resilient flooring and laminate countertops.
  • Finish with neutral wall paint.

It’s easy to overspend remodeling the kitchen, but you can’t go too low-end or the kitchen will look cheap. On the other hand, don’t spend thousands for luxury fixtures, like marble countertops, unless you’re in a high-end property. 

4) Attic Bedroom
Cost of attic bedroom: $39,188
Average resale value: $36,649
Percentage of cost recovered: 93.5 percent
Best return: San Francisco 151.6 percent
Worst return: Allentown, Pa. 58.8 percent

Turning an unfinished attic into a bedroom and bath really pays off in hot housing markets.

The payoff for remodeling this existing space is higher than the payback for adding new space. Even putting in a modestly priced master suite typically costs about twice as much as finishing an attic and the return (82.4 percent) is lower.

Copyright 2007 Hanley Wood, LLC. Reproduced by permission. City data from the Remodeling 2007 Cost vs. Value Report

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