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By Leslie Cook
May 13, 2021
Young woman painting interior wall with a paint roller
Shutterstock

Even in today’s hot real estate market, giving your home a touch-up before you list can help boost its selling price, according to experts — as long as you pick projects that offer the right bang for your buck.

Buyers flocking to take advantage of low interest rates have created a perfect storm of low inventory and high demand pushing home prices to record highs. In March, the median existing-home sale price reached a high of $329,100, according to the National Association of Realtors. That’s up 17% from a year earlier.

According to a 2019 survey by online listing site Zillow, 23% homeowners who completed at least one improvement project were able to sell their home above list price compared to 17% who made no improvements at all.

You don’t have to break the bank to make an impact on how well your home does on the market either. A little bit of sprucing up can go a long way.

“Be the home that somebody has spent a few thousand dollars to clean and pretty up,” says Rick Rudman CEO of Curbio, a startup specializing in pre-sale home improvements. Those are the homes that often get “multiple offers at or above list price.”

Rudman estimates that, depending on the type of renovations you do, you can increase your home’s asking price by as much as 20%.

If you don’t want to pay for repairs out of pocket, you don’t necessarily have to. You can consider using a company like Curbio that works with realtors to make recommended improvements prior to listing the home. All costs are paid once the home is sold. There are also a number of brokerages, such as Keller Williams, Realogy and Compass that offer the same service as well.

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7 home improvement projects that are worth the cost

NAR recently published its 2021 Profile of Home Staging report detailing the types of home renovation projects most realtors recommend a home seller make before putting their home on the market. Below are the most-recommended home improvement projects. We’ve also added the average costs for each project, when available, so you can judge whether it’s really worth it for you.

In addition, we’ve provided more cost-effective alternatives to full bathroom and kitchen remodels, two popular home improvement projects, that can help make your home more attractive to potential buyers. Although these two projects aren’t included in the NAR survey, they are two of the most common home improvement projects undertaken by homeowners that add value, according to HomeLight, a real estate agent referral service.

Some of these you can do yourself, while others are probably better left to professionals. Either way, you’ll be surprised at how small fixes can make your home pop on the housing market.

Decluttering

Average cost: $450

Buyers want to be able to imagine how their own decorations and furniture fit into a new space. Decluttering means organizing items that may be out of place and generally making the inside of the home look neat. It’s recommended by 93% of realtors surveyed by NAR – more than any other update.

“When you walk into a model home, they don’t have a bunch of personal items all over the place,” says Julia Beals, a realtor with Remax Gold. “It makes it just feel cleaner and more open.”

While this is a project you can do yourself, for some homeowners it can be not only time-consuming but also emotional — if they have to make decisions about items that may have sentimental value, notes Rudman. Getting your home professionally decluttered is relatively inexpensive and can be done quickly.

A professional declutter has an average cost of $450 nationwide, according to Fixr, a site that provides cost guides and comparisons for home improvement projects.

Deep Cleaning

Average cost: $200 to $600

A thorough home cleaning is recommended by 85% of realtors surveyed and is something Beals does with all of her listings. It shows the owner cared about the home enough to keep it clean.

This is also a project you could probably do yourself, but hiring a professional crew is not that expensive and they’ll be able to do it faster. If you have carpeting in the home, have it professionally cleaned as well, as it can trap pet and other smells you may have become used to.

A professionally done deep clean has an average cost of $221, while a professional carpet cleaning, such as steam cleaning or a shampoo, averages $600 according to Fixr.

If the carpet is in bad shape or has been in the home for several years, Rudman recommends pulling it out and replacing it with either new carpeting or some other type of flooring. Depending on the type of flooring material and the area to be covered, you can expect to pay between $400 to $6,000 or more, according to Thumbtack, an online service that matches homeowners with local professionals.

Curb appeal

Average Cost: Under $100 to $5,000

The outside of your home can be even more important than the inside when it comes to making a good impression. A neat and well-kept exterior creates excitement to see the rest of the home and is a project that is recommended by 78% of realtors

Curb appeal can be as simple as some light landscaping, including weeding and raking your front lawn and planting new flowers or bushes. Other exterior improvements include painting your front door, repaving your driveway and painting the exterior of your home.

The cost for improving the outdoor look of your home can be as little as $60 for a one-time visit from a lawn care professional to as high as $5,000 if you include repainting the home’s exterior, according to Fixr.

Regular maintenance items

Average Cost: Varies

Things like loose doorknobs, broken fixtures, blown-out light bulbs or other routine maintenance projects should get taken care of before potential buyers see your home. Sixty-nine percent of realtors surveyed recommend making minor home repairs ahead of a listing.

Rudman points out that while these aren’t expensive or difficult fixes, to a buyer walking into the home easily noticeable problems can signal that there may be other unseen issues with the home.

For buyers, “it’s not just the actual dollars it will take to fix it,” says Rudman. “Subconsciously you start to think that the house may need a lot of maintenance and repair work that’s gone undone and even if the cost isn’t that much, the inconvenience is.”

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Interior painting

Average cost: $200 to more than $8,000

Just as with exterior painting, interior painting can add a new look and feel to your home and is recommended by 63% of realtors.

For areas where the paint may be stained or faded, you should go ahead and re-paint the room. If the whole house needs to be repainted, make sure to avoid unusual colors. Stick to neutral shades like white, grey and beige (the same applies to outside painting). Orange may be your favorite color but it could turn a potential buyer off.

According to Fixr, costs can average from as little as $200 for paint touch-ups up to $8,700 for a full interior home paint job.

Bathroom refresh

Average cost: Starts at $275

You don’t necessarily need to do a full bathroom renovation in order to improve your home’s chance of selling. In fact, Rudman says you can get by with doing what he calls a refresh — as long as the room is in fairly decent condition to begin and not a half-century old.

A bathroom refresh can be as simple as replacing a vanity, mirror, shower head or faucet. New towel racks or a fresh coat of paint can also give the bathroom a new look.

If you have a tub and shower combo that’s looking a little dull, you can reglaze them instead of a full replacement. Reglazing tile will make it look like new and change the feel of the room.

Depending on what you decide to replace, you can spend as little as $275 for some small bathroom refreshes, according to HomeGuide, a service that pairs contractors with homeowners.

Kitchen refresh

Average cost: Starts at $1,200

In the kitchen, consider painting your existing cabinets and replacing the hardware to give them an updated look. Replace the countertops if they’re old or slightly damaged.

If your appliances are fairly new and in good condition, there’s no need to replace them. However, if they are older or in bad condition, you can buy a suite of stainless steel appliances for a few thousand dollars.

You don’t have to go with top of the line appliances either. Rudman recommends you let the new homeowner make those upscale renovations to their own liking and on their own time schedule.

You can do a kitchen refresh for around $1,200 according to hardware giant Lowes.

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