People say it all the time. “Your home is an investment”. I agree… to an extent. Yes, your home is an appreciating asset that may pay off in the future when you decide it’s time to sell. But while you are actually living there, it only costs you money. Mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance… those things equate approximately zero profit. Updates are an added expense, and they are NOT a necessity; it’s a business move. Unless you’re planning to sell in the near future, your home should FEEL like your home, and that means making it look the way YOU want, regardless of what is trending on Pinterest. However, when you ARE looking to sell, you will want to carefully consider which areas of your home in which to spend money updating. Think: what are things you can do to your house that will give you back $2-$3 for every $1 spent on improvement? What Chip and Joanna techniques will actually increase the value of your home? You need to make your money work smarter, not harder. Well, as luck would have it, I’m currently on my 9th house flip, have spent hours interviewing the stellar REALTORS Ⓡ here at League headquarters, and I’ve seen firsthand how home buyers react to different improvements in houses they’re considering. I’ve dedicated my own time and money towards making myself an expert in this topic, and I am going to give you an inside scoop on how to make the most out of your investment.
Neutralize the threat!
Let’s say you’re showing your home today. You’re so excited! You’ve been eagerly preparing your house to sell, and a nice couple is coming by. They walk in the door, look around, walk back out, and they never come back. No, this isn’t the start of a horror film (that I know of. That isn’t really my genre). It’s what happens when potential buyers immediately feel like they’ve intruded in someone else’s home. Buyers want to be able to envision themselves, their kids, their dog, their whole life in a house from the moment they walk in the door. The best way to accomplish that goal? Neutralize.
Some of the best home improvements are the kind that take away distraction rather than add an attraction. What does that mean? Well, say your daughter’s room is painted pink. She’s loved it, but the next family might not. Neutralize her room by painting the walls with a fresh coat of white or light gray paint (sidenote: my personal favorite shade right now is Marshmallow White). That wallpaper you love in the kitchen? It’s got to go. The 1970’s are gone, that custom ceiling fan from that era should also be gone.
Another neutralizer that works like magic? Cleanliness. Replacing the HVAC returns, shining up the doorknobs, touching up the baseboards, adding new switch plates ($0.13 each) are just a few small things that really add up. Also, if you have a friend with a powerwasher, now would be a good time to give them a call. Powerwash EVERYTHING outside: the brick of the house, the driveway, the patio, the trim. Your goal should be to have approximately zero dirt anywhere but in those flower beds you’ve been tending.
Make key areas “WOW”
There are certain areas of a home that will draw attention and stick in someone’s mind no matter what. If those areas are outdated, people are going to notice. Two areas that you will want to pay extra attention to? The master bathroom and the kitchen. Yes, they are also the most expensive to update, but if the rest of the house is in decent repair, those are the two rooms where your money will work hardest for you.
In both the kitchen and the bathroom, you will want to take a look at the countertops. Marble will always be king, and granite has been a popular choice, but lately I’ve been pretty impressed by the quartz options out there. It’s a little cheaper, it’s heat resistant, and you have more color options! Install an undermount sink with a high quality faucet and behold! A transformed kitchen.
While we’re looking at your kitchen, look closer at that backsplash. Tile is expensive, yes. But man, does it ever pay off! Steer clear of crazy colors and textures in rooms that are considered “wet”. Actually, I’m just going to say it. Subway tile is one of the best options. Always has been. There is something about clean white tile that brings a fresh feeling to rooms where messes are meant to be made. And like the walls of a 1920’s subway station, it’s durable. It will also compliment your bronze faucets, freshly painted cabinets, and that quartz countertop we talked about earlier.
Speaking of bronze faucets, pay attention to the metal! I have seen otherwise stunning bathrooms look instantly cheaper by having an old plastic showerhead. Pay attention to the metal in “wet” rooms. In the bathroom make sure you have: new sink faucets, shower head, towel racks, and a fresh toilet paper holder. In the kitchen you will want to replace: the faucet, the drawer and cabinet pulls, and (if they’re exposed) the hinges.
Real quick, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine; his name is Mr. Functionality. Aesthetic is nice, and we all achieve it in our own way, but Mr. Functionality? That guy’s going to get you far when trying to sell your home. Could the bathroom use a new linen closet? Maybe make those cabinets in the kitchen full length with uppers to capitalize on potential storage space? Little functional things like that will push your house over the edge of “that was nice, but let’s keep looking” to “I want it, let’s make an offer”.
Let there be light!
I am the grandchild of an electrical engineer, and he helps me with remodels sometimes. Every time he’s involved on a project, I know I can count on him going overboard on lighting. I used to roll my eyes at him, in all of my twenty-something wisdom until I realized; Grandad was right. It is really hard to over-illuminate a room. He taught me a simple test that I’ll share with you. Walk around your house with all the lights on, and locate the “shadow spots”. Is there a built in bookshelf that would benefit from some lighting? What about a seating area, or a nook that could use some extra lumens? It’s worth it to spend the money on making sure those “shadow spots” are well-lit. I am a big fan of canned lighting in those areas. It’s an unobtrusive way to modernize a house and even out your lighting. When it comes to expense, you can usually expect to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $150 for labor and material per light.
I know we mentioned neutralizing features of a house, but know where that rule doesn’t apply? Lighting fixtures. I have yet to see an interesting lighting fixture NOT be praised by the client considering a home I’m showing them. I will tell you that any REALTORⓇ you pick at random can recognize any Lowe’s or Home Depot lighting fixture on sight. Venture out a little! If your goal is to WOW, consider splurging on one feature over the dining table. Myself, I find a lot of design inspiration in West Elm’s lighting section.
When you marry a professional photographer, you learn a thing or two about lighting. The biggest lesson that goddess of a woman has taught me? Natural light will always be best; hard stop. No bulb can perfectly replicate natural light and its benefits. Humans are naturally sun-following creatures, and natural light tunes us into that rhythm. It’s also a way to incorporate the beauty of nature into your house, especially if your home is surrounded by trees or foliage. Windows really open up a room, and give off a sense of continuation that extends beyond the walls of your home. Consider replacing the back door with one that has sectioned glass, or maybe add a window on that long back wall of your home. Better yet, install a window over the kitchen sink! Frosted glass windows are an unobtrusive way to bring more natural light into a bathroom. Skylights are also a worthwhile consideration when it comes to bringing more natural light. They bring in 3x as much light as windows, but they are an investment. You will want to drop some extra cash to make sure that they are done well, or they will leak.
In the end, it will be up to you to decide where you want to invest your hard-earned cash to make sure you see a return on your investment. You have my suggestions, but you don’t have to take my word for it! Do your own research and make sure that you are coming from as informed of a place as possible. Want to bounce ideas off of a professional? Contact me at Tyler@leagueRE.com.