During the pandemic, people living and working at home 24/7 have had more than enough time to take note of imperfections or out-of-date features in their houses. At an unprecedented rate, many Americans dove in on DIY projects or worked with professional remodeling contractors to freshen and fancify their spaces, both inside and out.
Before you join the remodeling boom, take time to research and evaluate where your redesign budget can pack the most punch. Choose upgrades where you’ll see the most return on your investment — both now and in the future.
How can you tell which projects are more likely to add real, lasting value to your home? A lot of it is about making smart choices, home experts say.
If you’re looking to remodel to boost your home’s selling price, choose finishes, colors and styles that are timeless. Opt for materials that have wide appeal. And don’t get caught up in passing fads and be sure to prioritize lasting value.
“You have to be wary about doing things that are too taste-specific,” says Herman Chan, a top-ranked Realtor and associate broker with Golden Gate Sotheby’s in San Francisco. “Always think about how a project might appeal to people on the open market in the long run.”
Ready to make some upgrades but not sure where to start? Here are 23 projects that typically offer a great return on your investment. When done well, these projects will help boost your home’s overall appraisal value — and they’ll give you a lovely, freshened-up space to enjoy today and beyond.
1. Start by decluttering
When it comes time to list your home for sale, you’ll want potential buyers to be able to envision themselves living in the space. They can’t do that if decades of your clutter get in the way.
“People won’t even come to look at a house that looks too small or too cramped,” says Jean Rosalia, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Before listing your property, take time to remove personal family photographs, collectibles, knickknacks and other memorabilia. Clear countertops in the kitchen. Declutter rooms of excessively large or unnecessary furnishings. If necessary, rent a storage unit or moving pod to store clutter while your home is being shown to would-be buyers.
Removing personal items and downsizing furnishings and decor will help each room — and closet, pantry and drawer — in your house feel bigger, helping potential buyers get a better view of the square footage and storage potential your home offers. Decluttering will cost you nothing other than time (and a potential short-term storage unit fee), but it could add thousands to the amount you’re able to demand for your home when you’re ready to sell. Want proof? A 2015 Consumer Reports National Research Center survey suggested that homeowners could sell their home for 3 to 5 percent more simply by cleaning and decluttering.
2. Fresh coat of paint goes a long way
When measuring the power of impact against cost of investment, few home upgrades beat cracking open a gallon or two of paint. A new coat of paint in a fresh, neutral color — such as soft grays, beiges or creams — can immediately transform dated or dinged-up walls into a backdrop that feels gleaming and new. DIYers can easily repaint an entire room for under $100, counting all paint and supplies, but the “wow” factor when you’re done will suggest you spent a lot more.
Not a DIYer? Even hiring a professional for a paint redo is relatively affordable, with most charging somewhere between $2 to $6 per square foot for interior paint jobs. Whether you’re considering a new color for your kitchen, living room, bedroom or bath, the value of a good paint transformation is hard to deny. In fact, 63 percent of Realtors encourage their clients to repaint walls before listing their homes in order to increase market value, according to the “2021 Profile of Home Staging” report published by the National Association of Realtors Research Group. “People do not understand how important paint is; it is the backdrop to everything,” says Chan, who specializes in the Bay Area luxury home market.
“Painting offers the highest-impact, lowest-cost change” to a room, and “it can cover a plethora of wrinkles,” he adds. Chan’s current go-to color recommendation for neutral walls: Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore.
3. Update your appliances
If your kitchen is stuck in the past, but you don’t have the budget for a total redesign, start by updating your appliances. “Many older homes may have a dated kitchen, but if they have upgraded and updated appliances, buyers are willing to move forward,” says Lisa Mathena, a broker and Realtor who heads an independent real estate brokerage in Georgetown, Delaware.
While new appliance finishes, such as bold colors and slate, are popping up in some designs, stainless steel appliances are still by far most homeowners’ preference. In fact, 75 percent of real estate agents said stainless steel remains the most in-demand appliance finish for potential buyers today, according to a 2019 report by HomeLight, a website that matches home buyers and sellers with high-performing real estate agents in their area, What’s more, the report suggests homeowners who spend an average of $4,229 on new stainless appliances can expect their home value to go up by an average of $5,982 — a net value gain.
While you’re upgrading, make sure the refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave you choose are Energy Star–rated. According to the National Association of Home Builders’ “2021 What Home Buyers Really Want” report, 33 percent of home buyers view Energy Star appliances as a “must-have” feature.
4. Beautify the bathroom
If your bathroom feels dated to you, potential buyers will likely feel the same way. The good news is that you’ll likely recoup a large percentage of your bathroom renovation budget when you consider the post-upgrade, higher resale value of your home. Historically speaking, “the two best returns on investment are kitchen and bathroom remodels,” says Chris Egner, owner and president of Chris Egner Design-Build-Remodel in New Berlin, Wisconsin, and current board president for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
When modernizing your bathroom, opt for in-demand finishes like a dual vanity cabinet and sink, separate shower and tub, updated tiling and high-end faucets and light fixtures, if possible. While it may feel like a big undertaking, you’ll likely recover most of your investment. According to the “2021 Cost Vs. Value Report,” an annual Remodeling magazine report outlining average costs and expected resale value returns for common home renovation projects, homeowners can expect to recoup about 60 percent of their expenditures on a midrange bathroom remodel. In other words: if you invest around $24,000 on a bath redesign, you can expect your home value to rise by around $14,000 in the current market.
5. Focus on flooring
Have you been walking around for years on carpet or ceramic tile floors that are stained or out of date? Ripping them out in favor of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) or luxury vinyl planks (LVP) may be exactly the home refresh you’ve been looking for.
Today’s LVT and LVP aren’t yesterday’s bland linoleum. These modern products can mimic the look and feel of real hardwood, stone or ceramic tile floors, but with much less maintenance. “Most people, even in high-end homes, are moving away from hardwood, and especially carpet and tile, in favor of luxury vinyl plank or luxury vinyl tile,” Mathena says. “It’s all the rage now because it’s waterproof. It’s maintenance free. It doesn’t scratch. And it’s come a long way”
Expect to pay between $5 to $12 per square foot for high-end luxury vinyl flooring products, though basic vinyl flooring options are available for less.
6. Freshen up the front door
Want a simple, high-impact upgrade that you can tackle in one day? Paint your front door.
While a bright yellow, red or turquoise front door can add an immediate punch of personality to your home, if you’re painting from a value-added standpoint alone, you may want to go darker. In 2018, a report by Zillow, which analyzed photos and sales prices of 135,000 homes around the country, found that houses with black or charcoal gray front doors sold for $6,271 more than expected.
Whatever color you choose, remember that your front door is what welcomes guests and would-be buyers into your home. Make sure it’s making a good first impression. “You want your front door to be painted, stained or varnished, not sun-drenched,” says David LeBoy, a Realtor with Re/Max Space Center-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas.
Also, make sure your door is energy efficient and in good overall repair. If it isn’t, consider replacing it. “You don’t want to have broken glass in the leaded glass,” LeBoy adds. “The look of your front door is super important.”
7. Curate curb appeal
While a tidy entry door is an essential component of curb appeal, it’s not the only out-front element that deserves your attention. To wow passers-by — and secure enviable curb appeal — take time to pressure wash your front exterior, sweep away cobwebs and leaves, and repair or replace rusted or weatherworn light fixtures. Trim shrubs and front landscaping so that windows and sidewalks aren’t blocked and your home’s architectural elements aren’t hidden. Add some potted flowers to your front porch.
The attention you give to your home’s front façade matters: A recent study in The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics found that homes with strong curb appeal sell for 7 percent more, on average, than comparable homes with less-inviting exteriors. “Dollar for dollar, whatever you spend on the outside of your house, not only will you get it back, it will enhance the salability of your house,” LeBoy says.
8. Replace your roof
An aging, damaged or poorly maintained roof practically chases would-be buyers away — and can cause long-term water and weather damage. While it’s a huge expense (a new roof costs, on average, around $8,000), replacing your roofing as soon as it’s at the end of its life span should be a top priority, whether you plan to remain in your home for years or you’re preparing to sell.
One advantage of roof replacement, unlike so many other home upgrades, is there’s relatively little variety among options, making it hard to misstep in choice of product and style. “Style options for a new roofs are quite few and, therefore, there is a lesser chance a future buyer would not agree with the final product,” explains Luis Padilla, co-owner of RE/MAX Oceanside Realty in Miami and president-elect of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).
Once you make the plunge to replace your roof, you should be set for a while. Most asphalt shingle roofs have a life span of 15 to 25 years.
9. Refresh your cabinets
If you’ve recently flipped through kitchen photos on Pinterest or in design magazines, you’ve likely noticed a trend: white cabinets. While natural woods reigned supreme a decade or more ago, painted cabinets are in today, in a very big way. A recent Statista survey found that 41 percent of respondents preferred white cabinets over wood tones in 2021. Expect to pay between $4,000 to $13,000 for standard new cabinets, depending on your kitchen size.
If that’s not in your budget, it’s possible to paint existing cabinets yourself for less than $200, or to work with a professional painter who specializes in cabinet resurfacing to achieve a new, factory-like finish. If white isn’t your thing, consider opting for gray or even bolder color tones, like blues or greens. “Painted cabinets are all the rage right now,” Mathena says. “If you don’t do white, then go bold. One of my agents is showing a house that’s listed at over a million dollars right now, with cabinets that are painted a bright steel blue.”
10. Install new countertops
For years, granite countertops were the go-to choice for high-end kitchen design. More recently, quartz countertops have become the hot commodity. “Many people are moving away from granite to quartz, which is actually more expensive but easier to maintain,” Mathena says.
Whether you’re team granite or team quartz, there’s no denying the fact that installing either one can add real value to your home, especially if you currently have dated laminate or ceramic tile countertops.
A 2019 survey by the National Association of Home Builders found 79 percent of Generation X buyers and 79 percent of millennials prefer granite or quartz countertops over other counter options.
11. Put in a security system
With the arrival of Ring, SimpliSafe and other easy-to-install-yourself security systems, it’s never been easier, or more affordable, to add a home security system. While these systems may not have a huge impact on your home’s overall appraisal value, they do add immediate value in terms of your own safety and peace of mind. Security cameras deter break-ins and allow you to check in on your home remotely. Many insurance companies even offer discounts for homes with security systems, so you’ll save on your policy fees each year.
12. Replace your garage door
Never underestimate the value of a truly great garage door. According to Remodeling magazine’s “2021 Cost vs. Value Report,” replacing your garage door is actually one of the best overall upgrades you can make to your house in terms of percentage investment you can expect to recoup in the added resale value to your home.
Homeowners who spend $3,907 on a new garage door can expect to add $3,663 to their property’s resale value, the report says — a recapture of 93.8 percent of project investment. If you haven’t looked at a garage door catalog recently, now may be the right time.
13. Opt for hassle-free materials
No one loves maintenance chores. So, when you can replace products that require lots of upkeep with products that are hassle-free, it’s a surefire way to add lasting value to your home.
“Whenever you’re doing anything on the exterior of a home, going with low-maintenance or no-maintenance products is a much better return on investment,” Egner says. For example, if you currently have high-maintenance cedar siding, which must be cleaned, stained and weatherproofed regularly, replacing it with an easier-to-maintain composite or vinyl siding product could go a long way toward improving your home’s overall appeal to future buyers.
14. Install solar panels
If you plan to stay in your current home for at least the next 12 to 15 years or more, you’ll likely more than recoup your investment on a solar panel install in terms of energy savings alone. “If I were going to build a house right now, and I’m going to be there for 20 years, I would definitely do solar panels,” LeBoy says. “It’s neat, it’s clean, it’s energy efficient, and it’s going to have good resale potential.”
In addition to providing energy savings, solar panels can boost your home’s market value: A recent Zillow report found that houses with solar systems sold for 4.1 percent more than similar homes without them.
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15. Consider replacing windows
A whole-house window replacement is a large investment — plan to pay between $100 and $650 per window on average — but if you currently have broken or damaged windows or ones that are drafty and don’t seal well, replacing them makes good sense. The “2021 Cost vs. Value Report” suggests you can expect to recoup about 68.6 percent of your investment on new vinyl windows in the form of added resale value. Even if you have no plans to sell immediately, upgrading your windows is “a good investment if you’re going to stay, because of the energy efficiency and the reduced cost of heating and cooling your home,” Egner says.
16. Create a home office space
The pandemic made one home design feature abundantly clear: A dedicated home office space is essential for many in order to effectively work remotely. Many potential home buyers are now looking for homes with ideal, ready-made office space — whether a spare bedroom, a basement, an upstairs landing nook or even a closet. Surveys by the National Association of Home Builders show, in fact, that 65 percent of potential buyers are actively seeking home office space. If you can create a desk/office setup in your home, either through simple staging or a bit of redesign, you could attract buyers that might have looked elsewhere for their next address.
17. Illuminate your exterior
Have you driven around your neighborhood at night and noticed that homes with exterior illumination really (forgive the pun) shine? Adding exterior home lights not only amps up your home’s curb appeal, but it also improves your property’s overall safety and security. Outdoor lights allow a home’s “architectural features to be accented, which brings the building and landscape together for a resort-like feel,” says Nick Schriver, owner and general manager of Decorating Elves, a professional outdoor lighting firm serving the Tampa Bay, Florida, area. Plus, “a well-lit landscape deters potential intruders by eliminating dark areas and shadows that would conceal movement around the property,” Schriver adds.
Expect to pay between $2,000 and $4,500 for basic professional exterior lighting — and would-be buyers down the line will thank you. In a 2018 survey of more than 800 American Society of Landscape Architects members, 65.4 percent of responders ranked outdoor lighting as an in-demand design element — outpacing pools (36.9 percent), utility storage (32.3 percent) and even outdoor seating and dining areas (64 percent).
18. Add stone veneer
Do you currently live in a home that’s completely covered in vinyl siding? Consider adding both value and curb appeal by installing custom stone veneer to a portion of your front exterior. Installing faux stone around the front door or below the windows, along the base of your home’s exterior, can create a perfect accent to your vinyl siding and give your house a custom, finished look that many buyers prize. The “2021 Cost vs. Value Report” predicts you can expect your home value to increase by about $9,500 when you spend a little over $10,000 on manufactured stone veneer — a 92.1 percent recoup of investment.
19. Make systems upgrades
While upgrading your HVAC, plumbing or electrical systems may not feel as fun as some other home renovations, making sure your home’s inner workings are running properly and up to code is a key part of maintaining your property value. Your home can’t sell, after all, if an inspector finds major red flags in any of your systems. “My clients look almost immediately at the home’s major systems — if the HVAC system has been upgraded, or if the water heater has been upgraded,” Rosalia says. “Plumbing upgrades are very highly sought after also, because plumbing is one of those things — along with electrical — that can be horribly detrimental to a home if it’s not upgraded,” she adds.
When replacing your HVAC, water heaters, toilets and showerheads, look for high-efficiency and Energy Star–rated products. You’ll save money on your energy and water bills — and attract potential buyers who value green-mindedness.
20. Build an accessory dwelling unit
If you live in a metro area where housing units are scarce, then adding an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in your backyard could be a great way to add both property value — and, possibly, rental income. These detached, fully functional mini-homes can run the gamut from basic to luxe. Before building, be sure to find out what types and sizes of units are allowed by your local ordinances and zoning laws. Many people have been creating ADUs for grandparents to help raise grandkids, or for their own boomerang kids. If you’re going to invest in your property but you have limited space [for an addition], then creating an ADU is a great way to add property value.
21. Add a deck
If you’re lucky enough to have your own backyard, building a deck can help you, and potential future buyers, maximize your home’s outdoor living space. A 2018 report on outdoor remodeling projects, published by the National Association of Realtors’ research department, suggests you can reasonably recoup about 80 percent of the cost of building a new deck in the form of added resale value to your home. (For an average-size deck, expect to pay around $4,000 to $11,000.) The money you spend will help your home stand out when it’s time to sell. More than 75 percent of buyers are looking for a backyard deck in their next home, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ “2021 What Home Buyers Really Want” report.
22. Level up your interior lighting
Do you still have ’80s-style track lighting in your kitchen? Is your vanity mirror surrounded by globe bulbs? It may be time to upgrade your lighting look. Installing new, modern light fixtures throughout your home can help transform your space from drab to dramatic — all with relatively little effort and expense. Even better: When you upgrade to modern, energy-efficient LED bulbs and state-of-the-art “smart light” fixtures, you’ll not only save money on your electric bill, but you’ll also attract buyers’ attention. One recent Zillow study found that homes that mentioned smart lights in their listings sold 7.3 days faster than expected.
23. Splurge for staging
Finally, if you have the budget for it and your goal is to sell your home for maximum profit, consider shelling out the money for professional staging. The “2021 Profile of Home Staging” report, published by the National Association of Realtors, found that more than 1 in 5 responding real estate agents felt staging helped increase home sales prices by 1 to 5 percent. Another 18 percent linked staging with an increased sales price of 6 to 10 percent.
Expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 for an average home staging in most markets. Work with a certified staging professional — your Realtor will likely be able to suggest one. Or ask your listing agent about new, less-expensive options, including virtual staging, an online marketing tool to digitally stage homes with photo-editing software, which is catching on in many places. Professional virtual staging costs “anywhere from $3 to $100 per image,” Chan says. “It’s such a cost savings and offers so much flexibility.”