Pop quiz: Would you rather buy a home with 1990s laminate countertops or pristine marble? It seems like an easy “A,” yet many home sellers are so immune to pre-existing (read: old) features in their homes that they can’t understand why buyers can’t see past them too. But even if you aren’t ready to list your home just yet, a few smart changes can make a big difference in adding to your home’s value — especially in competitive markets like Los Angeles, CA.
If you want to increase your profit potential, strategic home improvement ideas in these six categories — some of which won’t cost you a thing — will give you the biggest return on your investment.
1. A budget-friendly kitchen remodel
Real estate agents will tell you time and again: Kitchens and baths are what sell a home. A dated kitchen can be a big turnoff, and there are lots of ways, both big and small, you can make yours as refreshing and inviting as possible, without investing in a total overhaul. When it comes to spiffing up your kitchen for resale, you don’t need to majorly splurge to make a better impression on buyers.
Instead, bring the space to the point of what’s known as “builder-grade luxury”: Replace basic black appliances with stainless steel, for example, and ditch the laminate countertops in favor of granite. Yes, these home improvement ideas might sound pricey, and you could spend a pretty penny on appliances and granite, but builder-grade improvements stop far short of those over-the-top luxuries. So make your decisions with thriftiness in mind: choose one of the more affordable granite countertops (such as Napoli, Baltic Brown, or St. Cecilia), with a crisp and in-style beveled edge. Leave higher-end stone and more ornate beveling for your next home. The cost to upgrade appliances and/or countertops will vary within the four-digit range. But to keep this upgrade within your budget, try to find a deeply discounted appliance at an outlet or local “scratch-and-dent” store — where almost-perfect pieces come with perfectly approachable price tags.
Want an even cheaper way to give your kitchen a quick face-lift? Simply refinish or repaint your cabinetry and add updated hardware (such as new hinges and drawer pulls), which can dramatically transform the look of the room for less than $100. Your best bet is to choose colors and styles that are likely to appeal to the widest range of homebuyers and make them feel as if they’ve walked right into their dream kitchen Pinterest board.
2. Upgrade the bathroom
When it comes to bathrooms, most buyers envision themselves relaxing in a modern, sleek space. The most basic upgrade starts with replacing old, pastel, 3-by-3 ceramic tile with modern tile like white subway-style ceramic or 12-by-12 porcelain tiles in a neutral hue. Replacing your plastic tub surround with a tiled shower costs about $1,000 but makes a big difference, and for an extra $100 to $150, you can also add a recessed alcove (a built-in wall niche for your shampoo bottles).
As with a kitchen remodel, consider which changes will have maximum impact. You may not need to replace that old pedestal sink. Instead, you could change out the faucet — upgrade it from nicked brass to sleek new chrome — and hang some luxurious towels next to it. The same goes for quirky floor tile; choose a new paint color that will enhance it rather than clash with it. Make sure the colors and styles you choose are as universally appealing as possible so buyers see a space they know they can live with. And again, scrub your bathroom from top to bottom — there is no bigger turnoff than yellowed grout and leftover toothpaste in the sink.
3. Pick neutral paint colors
Paint still reigns supreme as the easiest and cheapest way to refresh any room, especially if you do the work yourself. Whites and neutrals can help buyers envision themselves in the space, since they provide a blank slate to serve as a backdrop for buyers’ stuff. Forgo that bold navy accent wall — the idea of priming and painting over it will just stress buyers out. Plus, lighter earth tones look good with hardwood floors, and white always brightens a room. If your rooms include mixed wood surfaces (floors, doors, and cabinets), select a neutral color and ask your local paint purveyor to mix in a few drops of gold to add warmth and harmonize discordant wood tones.
4. Make an impact with flooring
Like paint, quality flooring can drastically change the look and feel of your rooms. Hardwood is always appealing to a wide range of buyers, as are high-quality laminate options and (affordable!) ecofriendly choices like bamboo and cork. If your home is hiding hardwood floors under that carpeting, let them shine if they’re in good condition. If you already have hardwood floors but they’re looking a little worse for wear, it’s time to invest in a good sanding and refinishing. Whether you go the DIY route and rent a sander or pay someone to get it up to snuff, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars for like-new floors. Just be realistic about your DIY skills before tackling a refinishing project. Gouged floors can bring your home’s appeal way down, so if you’re not handy, choose a pro instead.
Kitchens and baths gain value with tile or laminate flooring, which are both visually appealing and easy to clean. Carpeting is still acceptable in bedrooms, especially if it’s plush, in great condition, and in a neutral color. But more and more buyers are turning away from carpeting altogether, so if you’re in doubt about whether to replace your carpets or install different flooring, hardwood (or its more-affordable cousin, bamboo) is your best bet. Even a basic snap-to hardwood installation can beat out wall-to-wall carpeting when it comes time to sell.
5. Consider home staging
Staging your home helps buyers imagine themselves living in the space, and it’s a relatively inexpensive way to dress up features you’re trying to highlight. The first step is clearing the entire home of any clutter and removing any overly personal touches like family photos or children’s artwork. Furniture should be arranged in a way that flows well and maximizes space — buyers will feel claustrophobic if they need to navigate around big pieces as they move from room to room. If you can, bring in a professional home stager or interior designer to consult on the ideal room arrangements. Otherwise, use the following tips for a DIY approach.
In each room, place furniture so it feels inviting and functional — just because you can’t live without a footstool next to your bed for Fluffy to climb on doesn’t mean it should stay there when your home is on the market. In the living room, seating and tables can be configured into social and conversational areas, while placing an armchair in an empty bedroom nook will frame it as a cozy reading spot. Bright lighting will make spaces seem larger, so turn on those lamps, and make sure your decor and artwork enhance their surroundings rather than distract from them. Depending on whether you need to add, subtract, or rearrange, staging shouldn’t cost very much at all, especially relative to how much of a boost it could give your home when it comes to bringing in buyers and helping your home sell quickly.
6. Amp up your curb appeal
Don’t neglect your home’s exterior. If buyers don’t like what they see when they first pull up, they may not even get out of the car. To make the outside of your home appealing, ensure all walkways are clear, the landscaping is neat and tidy, and everything is in good repair. This may require more substantial repairs like repainting or replacing siding, fixing loose shutters, and sealing those cracks in the driveway. Or it could be as simple as mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, and planting a few colorful annuals to make sure nothing looks bare. Add one or two “homey” final touches, like a new welcome mat, new or repainted mailbox, updated house numbers, and an outdoor seating area with festive lights. Your home will feel extra inviting from the get-go — and just may get a quick offer if it’s love at first sight.
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