Contemplating home renovations brings up the big questions: Is completely redoing the kitchen worth the money? What about putting in a pool, or finally finishing the basement? The answers depend on what you hope to gain. If you’re simply looking to enjoy the improvements, the cost-benefit ratio is easier to calculate. If increasing the resale value is your main goal, however, choose your projects wisely—not all of them will pay off at closing time.
Always tackle repairs first
Nobody wants to buy a house that hasn’t been properly cared for. Before you start thinking about adding value via renovations, make sure you’re not losing any to repair problems. If you’re not sure where to start, schedule a pre-listing inspection to check out your home’s plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems, as well as for things like mold and structural damage.
Do refresh your kitchen and bathroom
Kitchens and bathrooms are used every day and are often the first rooms to look dated, making them ideal for renovations. But complete overhauls are a huge, expensive risk. Instead, Family Handyman recommends focusing on usability upgrades and light cosmetic updates, which are inexpensive and popular with buyers.
In other words, your goal is to make these rooms more functional and a little nicer to look at—not change them completely. If your appliances, bathroom fixtures, or countertops are truly busted, by all means, replace them. But if they’re not, you can probably get away with some new drawer pulls or a cute backsplash. Zillow.com’s home seller’s guide specifically recommends installing new vanity lights and re-caulking or reglazing a bathtub to spruce up a bathroom without breaking the bank.
Do prioritize curb appeal
Exterior cosmetic improvements make your house look nicer from the outside and improve other value-adding aspects like weatherproofing and energy usage. It’s no surprise that they consistently top the power rankings of high-ROI home renovations.
You can go as big or as small as your budget allows. Replacing your home’s vinyl siding or re-tiling your roof will be a long, expensive process, but unlike a bazillion-dollar kitchen remodel, it’s likely to actually pay off. On the smaller side, replacing your garage door offers fantastic bang for your buck; Family Handyman, Forbes, Zillow, and Realtor.com all recommend it for this reason. Replacing or even repainting your front door offers a similar return on investment.
Do invest in energy efficiency
Climate change has accelerated the need for energy-efficient homes, and the demand will only increase from here on out. Anything you can do to make your home better at staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer will probably be worth the money. This can mean replacing old single-pane windows with double- or triple-paned vinyl ones, insulating your attic, updating to high-efficiency appliances, or even overhauling your water heater and HVAC system. A pre-inspection should identify any major problem areas.
Do add usable square footage
Increasing your home’s footprint is an expensive proposition that almost always increases its value. Fully finishing your basement and/or attic is a great way to do this, as is adding a back deck. Just be sure you keep usability in mind: HomeAdvisor recommends adding a bathroom to finished basements and choosing an overall design that keeps things as light and bright as possible.
Don’t be a trendsetter
If you’re renovating with resale value in mind, the single biggest mistake you can make is doing way too much compared to other houses in the neighborhood. Sinking tens of thousands of dollars into custom tile, ornate light fixtures, and professional-grade appliances only makes sense if that’s the norm in your market; if it isn’t, you just lost a lot of money. The same goes for anything super-trendy. For example, manufactured stone veneer has a ridiculously high ROI right now—around 96% of project costs, according to Realtor.com—but it won’t do you any good if it’s out of fashion where you live.
Don’t put in a pool
Pools are a money sink, plain and simple, and there’s no guarantee that potential buyers will be up for that kind of longterm expense. HomeAdvisor ballparks in-ground pool installation alone costs $36,750-$66,500, which is money you’re unlikely to get back at closing time. (It’s worth mentioning that above-ground pools do not add value, ever.) The only scenario where adding a pool makes sense is if you’re the only house in the neighborhood without one—other that, stay away.
Don’t knock down walls
Open floor plans are still everywhere, but they’re steadily waning in popularity. Think twice before you start knocking down walls and opening things up—it’s expensive, disruptive, potentially dangerous, and definitely not a one-way ticket to increased appraisal value.
Don’t DIY (unless you’re really good at it)
Very few things tank a home’s value like bad DIY renovations. If you’re not confident in your skills, leave it to the professionals. It’s better to pay professional house painters to do a great job than it is to waste money and time doing a patchy, half-assed job yourself.
As you plan out your pre-sale renovations, keep in mind that these tips only apply to projects purely meant to increase the eventual sale price. If a project from the “don’ts” list really appeals to you on a personal level—and you’ll be in the house long enough to enjoy it—then you should do it! But don’t expect major renovations to work magic on your home’s value. Take care of major repairs, and keep the rest simple.