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6 Home Improvements That Pay Off at Resale

In a tough real estate market, these upgrades will help

spinner image Realtor in front of a freshly painted yellow house adds a SOLD sign on top of a FOR SALE sign.

As for-sale homes linger on the market, getting top dollar for your house requires hard work. It should eventually sell as is, but if you want to maximize your profit, you may need to do upgrades. That’s especially true for many pre-retirees who have been in their homes for decades and are preparing to downsize. Dated paint colors, cluttered living spaces and old cabinets and appliances can put off buyers, who have more houses to choose from. 

“It is really imperative for sellers to actually sell their homes,” says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. “They have to convince buyers that it is a great deal, that it’s well-maintained and it’s ready to move into. Going the extra mile to help the home look the best will deliver much more.”

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Depending on where you live, you may not have to replace kitchen cabinets or install hardwood floors to get top dollar in a sale, but there are some upgrades that will give you a strong return on your investment (ROI). Here’s a look at six of them. 

1. Exterior upgrades

Nothing raises red flags more than an exterior that is old and weathered. Chipped paint, a busted garage door and siding in disrepair are all bad signs for would-be buyers.

“The data in Cost vs. Value over the past 20 years shows overwhelmingly that for single-family detached homes, it’s the exterior replacement jobs — siding, the garage door, roofing — that tend to have the highest return on value,” says Clayton DeKorne, chief editor at JLC Group at Zonda Media, a real estate market research firm. “Why? Psychologically, when a prospective buyer rolls up to a home that looks pulled together and in good repair, they walk into that deal with a positive impression of the home.”  

Not convinced? Consider a garage door replacement. According to the 2023 Cost vs. Value report, nationwide it costs about $4,302 to swap out a garage door. The ROI: 102.7 percent. Installing manufactured stone veneers on the exterior of your home will get you a 102.3 percent ROI. And you’ll recoup 94.7 percent of the cost of replacing vinyl siding. If you replace the vinyl windows in your home, you should get back about 68.5 percent of your investment.

2. Minor kitchen upgrades  

Would-be buyers can live with a move-in-ready kitchen that needs upgrades, knowing that someday they will make it their own. But if it’s already completed and not to their liking, it could be a deal-breaker. “Kitchens are the number one thing people look at,” says Trish Gesswein, director of listing sales at Houwzer. “Most people are interested in having updated kitchens. We are seeing a trend of people painting cabinets and adding backsplashes to keep costs minimal.” Replacing the hardware on cabinets can modernize an outdated kitchen for budget-conscious homeowners. 

Here is a breakdown of what upgrades cost nationally and the return on investment.

Minor kitchen repair

Cost: $26,790

ROI: 85.7 percent

Major kitchen remodel — midrange

Cost: $77,939

ROI: 41.8 percent 

Major kitchen remodel — upscale

Cost: $154,483 

ROI: 31.7%

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3. Fresh coat of paint

Nothing screams old and dated more than out-of-style paint colors. Sure, you may love florals or bright and bold colors, but buyers may not. That’s why Kurt Clason, owner of Clason Remodeling Co. and chairman of the National Association of Home Builders’ Remodelers Council, advises sellers to stick to neutral colors when repainting their home. Buyers want to envision their belongings in the space, and if it’s an off-putting color, that’s much more difficult to do. “People looking to buy a house don’t want to spend time repainting. New paint makes it clean and fresh,” Clason says. If you are a smoker or have pets, purchasing paint with an odor neutralizer can go a long way in getting rid of nasty smells. If you’ve recently painted and have a neutral color, painting the molding is a low-cost way to make your walls pop. 

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4. Upgrading your flooring

People got used to staying home during the pandemic and crave comfortable and appealing living spaces. One way to make an outdated room and your resale value shine is to refinish hardwood floors. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Remodeling Impact report, the ROI on refinishing hardwood floors is 147 percent. Installing new wood flooring will get you a 118 percent return. “Some of the projects (seeing good returns) are longer lasting,” says Brandi Snowden, director of member and consumer survey research at the NAR. “Especially over the last couple of years, with more people inside their homes, they are willing to undertake more durable projects.”

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5. Staging your home

For budget-conscious homeowners, decluttering and cleaning can significantly boost a home’s appeal. Even well-appointed dwellings will benefit from the removal of extra furniture, pictures and other personalized decorations, and from the scrubbing of floors and walls. If the carpet is old and dingy, consider replacing it. Who knows? Under it there may be hardwood floors that require only polish and staining. “These days, less is more. People need to envision how their things will look in the home,” Gesswein says. “Make it as clean and clutter-free as possible.”

6. Greening your heating and cooling

Energy prices are high and even when they aren’t, price fluctuations make it hard to budget for your heating and cooling bills. Electric heat pumps can fix that. By converting from furnaces and baseboard heaters, you can reduce your electricity use for heating by about 50 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

These systems also dehumidify better than standard air conditioners, which means less need for cooling in the summer. All of which is why this home upgrade has a high return on investment of 103.5 percent, according to the 2023 Cost vs. Value report.  “Knowing you have a heating and cooling system in place that won’t be subject to huge price increases as the winter or summer seasons progress tends to buy ample peace of mind,” says DeKorne.

Video: Things to Do to Add Value to Your Home

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 21, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

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