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I am looking to put my home on the market in the next few months (in Ohio). Which home improvement projects produce the highest return on investment when selling?

Should I invest in exotic landscaping? A modernized bathroom? Granite counter-tops?

My home is only about 9 years old to begin with.

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I'd take pictures of what you have and post them on an image-hosting site -- tinypic.com or something similar. There's no sense in replacing what might already look good. –  Michael Jan 20 '11 at 17:55
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Are you thinking about improvements solely as a way to earn a profit, or are you wanting to benefit from them directly? –  Jay Bazuzi Jan 20 '11 at 18:18
    
Related question at money.stackexchange.com: money.stackexchange.com/questions/1412/… –  Chris W. Rea Jan 31 '11 at 1:08

8 Answers 8

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Having sold a home last year, I can say based on recommendations from our Realtor and the feedback we got from showings...

The BEST thing you can do is to declutter your house.

First, scout out a local storage unit. Get a 10'x10' unit or bigger (we had two). You'll use lots more space than you'd think.

Then, start filling it:

  • Pack up all clothing you won't be wearing during the time you're selling (out of season clothes, stuff that doesn't currently fit, out of style, etc.). Even things hanging in closets; people will see all the unused space (where you removed things) and see it as much bigger when empty. If your closet is packed with stuff, it'll look tiny.
  • Pack up your linen closet (except for a couple extra sheets, towels, and blankets). Most people accumulate way more than they'll use. Leave an item or two on each shelf, max.
  • Pack up most/all knick-knacky things from counters, shelves, etc. that are in normal view around the house. Many Realtors will tell you to remove photos of your family/friends as well -- it helps potential buyers to visualize THEIR family there instead of yours.
  • Pack up kitchen utensils, pots, pans, etc. that you don't use often.
  • Pack up all the holiday decorations (from garage, basement, attic, etc.) you won't be using this spring.
  • Within reason, try to remove a piece of furniture from each room. Especially things like that extra lamp, chair, couch, or end table you couldn't part with and just found somewhere to keep it.

Feel free to donate or sell items instead of storing them.

Also use the occasion as a chance to get rid of any expired food from the back of your pantry shelves or fridge. If you have storage shelves in your garage or basement, getting rid of old paint cans, yard chemicals, scrap lumber, etc. is also a good idea (do NOT put them in a storage unit).

If you're still motivated to do a project or two, continue with these cheap projects that make a big impact:

  • Paint rooms. Tend to go for an off-white neutral color. Also, use the same color on all the walls; don't use an accent color on one wall. Bold colors or accent walls can be extremely polarizing as people either love them or hate them and typically have a hard time envisioning a room in a different color. As @Tester101 mentioned in a comment (and other answer), you may want to avoid bright white.
  • Get any stains out of existing carpeting.
  • Make sure all window blinds are in good condition. If they're bent, broken, or extremely faded then replace them.
  • Wash your windows (inside and out).
  • Repair any screens that have holes.
  • Remove any hard water deposits from your sinks and tubs (CLR works great for this).
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Don't paint rooms white!!! It might make them appear larger, but they will also not feel as warm and welcoming. –  Tester101 Jan 21 '11 at 13:24
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If you're about to sell your house, this answer is really really helpful. –  JBRWilkinson Jan 23 '11 at 21:17
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@Tester101, that's probably sound advice. I was generalizing. We had a solid red wall in an otherwise white/eggshell room. Our Realtor made the point that a bold color scheme (whether on one wall or all of them) can be extremely polarizing. People can't seem to see past it and either love it or hate it. If they hate it, it doesn't matter that they loved the rest of the house. But if they love it, they still need to love the rest of the house. @JBRWilkinson, thanks! –  BQ. Jan 24 '11 at 14:04
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Some flowers, plants, etc. will help, too, and is a quick, cheap upgrade. I don't mean $10,000 in professional landscaping, but you can pick up a planter or 2 and put some fresh flowers for under $100. –  Joel C Apr 14 '11 at 18:47

Your apartment is your home, and the way your home looks not only reflects your personality, but actually impacts how you feel about yourself.

So how can you quickly improve the look of your apartment without spending a fortune on new decorations, buying random trinkets that'll only add clutter to your life, or bringing in an interior decorator for hundreds of dollars per hour?

5 Cheap, Creative Ways to Make Your Apartment Look Amazing

Presented in order from quickest / easiest to requiring the most effort, here are five ways to completely transform the look and feel of your living space:

  1. Add flowers to add life But flowers are impermanent and expensive! Well, the very fact that flowers are impermanent is the point: they bring a freshness and vitality to your living space. And really, how hard is it to stop by your local florist or corner grocer to pick up a bouquet? As for cost, at approximately $10 for a bouquet, flowers are actually one of the most affordable tricks for changing your apartment's feel on a regular basis.

  2. Well-placed mirrors can make a cramped apartment with low ceilings feel spacious and warm. You don't have to be a swinging bachelor or bachelorette to appreciate the effect of a well-placed mirror. Depending on the effect you'd like to achieve, here are a few suggestions on using mirrors to great effect while remaining super lazy about the whole thing:

• "Double" your best window by placing a mirror across from it: This will give the psychological impression of there being an additional window, and the natural light from your actual window will bounce off the mirror and fill up your apartment -- giving the entire space a more open, airy feel.

• Create coziness: position a mirror behind a lamp, a candle, or other soft light source to bathe your apartment in a glow of "warmth" that so many apartments in the city seem to lack.

• Elongate a wall: take a lengthy, skinny mirror, turn it on its side, and place along any wall in your apartment. You should notice the wall-lengthening visual effect immediately.

  1. Temporary wallpaper offers customization with no strings attached So you're either a renter or just the commitment-phobic type. We can't help your relationship issues, but temporary wallpaper was created for you!

Once a niche product with little variety, the temporary wallpaper category has exploded with options. Today almost any color or pattern you could want is available.

  1. Garbage bags and The Container Store are your new friends This one is pretty simple: city living is a lesson in cramped living, and clutter is the cruelest teacher of them all. Clear out some space and your apartment will feel renewed (plus, post-cleanup all the other suggestions in this list will see their positive effects boosted).

• Begin by ruthlessly tossing out anything you don't believe you could reasonably sell

• Take anything you believe you could sell and stop kidding yourself: bag it and take it to a shelter or goodwill, or else put it up on Craigslist to be given away for free (the time and mental anguish you'll save from getting rid of this stuff is more valuable than the few bucks you'll find yourself haggling over with random internet people).

• Use modular bin systems (The Container Store!) to store away seasonal wear (winter coats, ski pants) under your bed.

• Install some basic wall shelving to display any knick-knacks, items picked up during your South American adventure, etc. that you can't bear to give away but you can't figure out another place for in your apartment. (If you recoil at the thought of using basic tools, you can hire a handyman off Craigslist to bring their own tools and do a gorgeous shelf-mounting job for less than $50).

  1. Pick up a paintbrush or roller You knew this one was coming. But it's true: the fastest and most impactful way to transform the entire look and energy of your apartment -- short of buying new furniture or breaking up with your significant other -- is to paint your walls and major surface elements.
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1 - Always perform deferred maintenance or you will be inviting offers knocking off morethan it would cost in reality to bring up to standard. Perform the maintenance, i.e. replace garage door, update outdated kitchen appliances (if they are) and flooring, mid-to late century but original bath or kitchens: update as much as your neighborhood will let you get a return on your investment (do not over improve in a neighborhood that would warrant making your home the highest priced). And I shouldn't have to say it, but replace the worn toilet seats and throw out the dead house plants. 2 - My personal deferred maintenance of my home for 14 years near Annapolis, MD included a new dishwasher, roof, garage door, kitchen and hallway flooring, clean carpets, removal of wallpaper, touching up paint and pulling out all of the foundation plants in the front of the home and replacing them with pleasing but correct foundation plantings (the former owner thought planting forsythea across the front of a 30 x 8' front porch was appropriate - not! - plantings should differ in texture, size, but mature to so large that the house is overgrown in one season, let alone say, 10 years). We also power-washed the house, walk, drive & outdoor patio furniture and replaced the shutters, painting them & the new garage door to match. Additionally, I pre-packed non-essentials of our "stuff" that pegged a)our religion, b)collections of pottery and china, handmade items such as quilts (one might display their collections proudly - but remember you want the buyer to look at the house, not your collections because you will not be selling those). Additionally, coin & stamp & all valuable collections, and firearms need to go bye bye!!! Pack up all family photos, framed certificates from schools and professional accomplishments and even if with the president of the US (which we frequently found in the Annapolis area) pack them up. Storage lockers and moving PODS are not that expensive if you have things you wish to keep but will streamline your home to being sold.
THINGS THE BUYER SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO TELL WHEN WALKING THROUGH YOUR HOME: your sex (if single add in some items of the opposite sex), if there is a divorce happening (uncared for house plants and homes are the usual tip-off), your ethnicity, who your family and friends are, which country club you belong, and if possible which age range you are. (Children closing down parents' homes have a challenge: the home will be dated in all likelihood: if not in a high end neighborhood, remove paneling, wall to wall carpet, window treatments that block sunlight & replace flooring if it will bring a more appealing look. For my mother's 48 year residence coated in nicotine we removed all window, carpet & wallpaper; painted one wall of paneling to antique white which was also used on all the walls to seal in the nicotine stain and painted the long lived but wonderfully functioning Sears metal cabinets that mom had painted brown, to white. On the exterior, we hired someone to remove about 15' of vines and invasive plants that had grown around the perimeter of the back yard. It was unbelievable the amount of yard reclaimed to make it look like the largest lot in the neighborhood - which it was! Work was started in June but not finished until Sept 1, thus I bought planters and plants for front stoop and deck and maintained them the entire summer as no plants would have been available to dress up these areas. Some furniture which had not fit into my parents' apartment was left behind. Thus, we used it to stage where possible. The cost was $7500 for the deferred interior maintenance. Had this not been done it would have sold for $80,000. With the investment and a list price of $129,900 (it's absolute rock bottom selling price - others were listed ten & thirty thousand more), but as a Realtor [sorry, I didn't mention that before] I wanted competing buyers. The first day brought three contracts 1 to $3,000 over list price. You have no idea how far that equity contributed to my parents' quality of life. With no other bills, but medical challenges in the wind, I was able to capture some of the money that frankly not only paid for special extras for them, but even the flowers for their funerals. (Attorneys specializing in elders are worth their weight in gold). 3 - As a Realtor, I always advised updating kitchens, removing light stealing window "sheers" - upping the wattage in their lighting, skirting the tall trees with limbs lower than the roofline. (One would be surprised how much light is stolen by these large leaf laden limbs. Oh! Absolutely remove dead & or rotting trees including stumps and of course old stumps. Frequently I was met with resistance on staging, but buyers like to think one thing: this home was loved by the homeowners and its maintenance was always seen to promptyly, even if that floor with the gouges in it was only replaced the week before or the front door's paint was barely dry, it says "loved!" "maintained!" A boss once told me if you see one cockroach in a house, what do you think: oh my, what else is looming in places I cannot see? You want the potential buyer to think, wow, it's so clean and well maintained. "I'm comfortable that there won't be any big surprises on down the road."

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This answer is really difficult to read due to the lack of formatting –  Steven Jan 20 '13 at 3:51

I recently redid the kitchen in my house, and when it was reappraised the kitchen renovation payed 120% back.

I understand this is dependent upon outside variables, geography, market... but what I added changed the feel of the kitchen entirely. I live in a neighborhood which was all made by one contractor. While every house is not identical, there are 6-7 different home styles in the neighborhood. You never see two identical homes next to each other and you would never see it unless it was pointed out to you. Ergo, my kitchen variety in the market was small.

The initial motivation occurred when the electric stove top died, so instead of replacing it, I took apart the oven/microwave unit and expanded the counter top space next to the stove by 24".

I took out the Corian island and counter tops and replaced them with granite, with a new 2" bull nose overhang. Then added a Kenmore elite gas range, re-tiled the back splash with a new style tile, added light yellow/white splashed wallpaper and removed the soffit over the new range to put in the necessary exhaust fan. The key to getting back the investment occurred because of the added counter space and open feeling from removing the prefabricated oven microwave unit. Also the kitchen went from a "kitchen" to gourmet kitchen.(something to do with the larger stove, gas range, and faucet over the stove).

The new style matched the house better and the light yellow wall paper added a clean feeling associated with white walls but without the stark contrast mentioned above in these answers.

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Caution: Appraisal, and what it will actually get on the market at the time you sell it, are different things. –  keshlam Dec 10 at 19:31

You might want to take the money you are willing to spend on a project and hire a home stager, depending on your market and the average price of homes in your area you may find this to be very helpful in getting the best price for your home.

One of the best ways to get people to pay more for a house, is to sell them a home. You want the potential buyer to be able to picture themselves living there, and most people do not have the imagination to turn a large white room into a living space in their mind.

If you are living there while selling the house, make sure you clean, clean, and clean. Potential buyers do not want to see your mess, and do not want to see your things in their house.

Final note:

DO NOT paint every room WHITE! You want to make the home feel warm and inviting, not harsh and empty.

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good point on white not being warm and inviting. I edited to incorporate your comment in my answer. That said, even a white room can be warm and inviting if the furniture, window coverings, lighting, and other decorations make it so. But you would need to pay attention to that stuff more so. If the house will be empty rather than furnished during showings, there's nothing that'll make bright white look anything but sterile. –  BQ. Jan 24 '11 at 14:21

As @ChrisF said, additional rooms can help, but especially, as far as I've seen, additional bedrooms and additional bathrooms (up to a point). If you only have a single bathroom adding another can add a lot of value (but as everyone else has said, probably not 100% return).

In older houses and cold climates energy efficiency improvements (better insulation, new windows) can also add value, but probably not for a house as new as yours.

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I don't think there are very many things you can to that will bring >100% payback. That said, a lot will depend on the neighborhood, the price range, and the market.

Personally, I'd go for a fresh coat of paint, some landscaping (not sure if that would apply in Jan. in Ohio, but if you're going to wait until spring it might make a bit more sense), and finding a good stager - even if you think you're a good decorator, someone who does it for a living will probably have a lot of ideas you wouldn't think of yourself.

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+1 for paint. No crazy colors, but also don't go all white! –  Tester101 Jan 21 '11 at 13:22

This blog post lists 10. I don't necessarily agree with them all, but the three key ones mentioned are:

  • Update your bathroom. A bathroom with a white suite will please the most people and more importantly displease the least. Make sure you have a shower as well as a bath.

  • Update your kitchen. Again you need something "modern" that won't date. You can just replace fitted unit doors and taps (say) which will go a long way down the road without costing the earth.

  • Adding more rooms. People always want more space, but don't use up all your garden.

Finally, don't forget to decorate any shabby rooms. Some people can see past the current decor, but most can't.

These tend to come up time and again in surveys.

Don't forget that (as Doresoom points out) you'll never get 100% return, so do the cheapest things first.

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+1 I've heard bathroom and kitchen in that order have the highest ROI. However, you're probably not going to get 100%. It helps to do little things like paying attention to decor like Chris mentions, rather than tackling a huge project that you may or may not get your money back from when you sell the house. –  Doresoom Jan 20 '11 at 17:27
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+1 I agree with @Doresoom. There's a big difference between updating the look of something and fixing known problems. The latter is pretty much expected and doesn't necessarily translate into extra $$$ (but is absolutely necessary). –  Mike B Jan 20 '11 at 18:36

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