How to sell your home: 3 improvements to make first

Gladys T. Black

Spring is the prime time for home selling in most parts of the U.S. It’s when sellers tend to get top dollar and move their properties the quickest.

If you’re looking to put your home on the market, there’s a chance you could be making some upgrades beforehand. About 8 in 10 home sellers make at least one home improvement before putting their listing on the market, according to home-listing website Zillow. But, knowing which projects to tackle is key.

“Don’t bend over backwards to create a house that you imagine someone else wants,” Matt Power, editor-in-chief of Green Builder Media, said. “Make the house that you love look newer.”

family running to new house with sold signboard on foreground

(Photo: Getty Images)

And the work pays off, too — according to Zillow, nearly a quarter of sellers who make improvements sell above list price, compared to 16% of sellers who don’t.

Here are the best home improvement projects to help you sell above list price, according to Zillow’s research.

Improve your home’s ‘curb appeal’

First impressions matter — so make yours count by giving your home exterior some TLC.

Mowing the lawn, pulling weeds and pressure-washing the siding might cost less than $300, while adding some basic plants might add another $800.

Young asian happy woman painting interior wall with paint roller in new house

(Photo: Getty Images)

And while a paint job takes extra time and effort — and about $3,000 — it could potentially add up to 3% to your sales price. The right color on the front door could even boost the selling price by $6,270, according to a Zillow survey. As for the siding, a neutral tone is best.

Update the bathrooms

Modest bathroom remodels tend to give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of resale value. For every dollar a homeowner spends on basic bathroom upgrades, they typically get $1.70 back when selling the home.

You might spend about $3,500 to $7,000 on this type of project, which usually involves:

  • Replacing the toilet and tub

  • Updating the light fixtures

  • Adding a double sink

  • Re-tiling the floor

  • Cleaning the grout between tiles

Young man fixing a leak under the bathroom sink

(Photo: Getty Images)

If you don’t have the budget to replace everything, “one of the key things you can do is look around that bathroom and think: ‘Is there anything gross?’” Power said. Make everything look new, and replace only badly worn items.

You may need to hire a plumber to install the sink, toilet and tub, while an electrician should handle any light-fixture rewiring. You can either DIY or hire a general contractor to handle the rest. And don’t forget to research permit requirements in your area and factor in the cost.

Install new windows

Adding new windows throughout your home is your chance to “make the house a little more energy-efficient while you’re improving the aesthetics,” Power said.

Homeowners tend to spend $5,865 on this type of project and recoup $1.15 for every dollar spent. While double-pane windows cost a little more, you might be able to increase the selling price based on potential energy savings. This type of window can lower your energy costs by 24% during the winter and up to 18% during the summer.

Smiling woman building up greenhouse at home.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Least effective improvements

Major kitchen renovations and basement remodels generally gave homeowners the worst ROI in Zillow’s research. You could sink tens of thousands of dollars into these projects and recoup only about half the price.

The more you spend on upgrades in general, the less you recoup. There’s also less of a chance you’ll find a prospective buyer who’s willing to pay top dollar for a home with custom cabinets and a built-in sauna.

“When you walk into a house, buyers want to see that it’s clean,” Power says. Anything less could be a deal-breaker.

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