Preparing Your Home For Sale – Improvements

As a real estate flipper, I rehab properties to the point where a buyer is willing to pay more for the home than I did. I know that certain improvements will help sell the home, and others eat away at my bottom line. My goal is to maximize profit, so each dollar I spend has to have a return on investment.

As a realtor, I can’t tell you the number of times buyers have told me that they would consider a home that needed a little cosmetic work, but end up buying something move-in ready…even if it means they have to pay more for it. One of my clients told me that they only wanted a townhome, but wrote an offer for a smaller, more expensive, condo with amazing updates.

There are a lot of homes on the market right now and buyers can have their pick. Homes that need updates sell eventually, but if buyers have to do any work themselves, they are going to deduct the cost of the update from their offer price. So sellers, listen up! In order to get top-dollar and sell your home fast, you need to make your home stand out in a good way. I’m about to share with you my investor secrets of relatively small improvements that make a big impact.

First, consider what improvements are appropriate for your type of home. Buyers of high-end homes expect high-end improvements. Homes priced in the low-to-moderate range don’t need the same level of improvement. Owners of over-improved homes do not see a return on their investment. Second, determine your budget, then pick a few ideas from the list below, and get ready to sell your home!

Get Rid of Wallpaper

Some wallpaper is so loud and dated that it causes buyers to pay more attention to the 1980s pattern than to focus on the benefits of the room. Buyers know that removing wallpaper is a pain-in-the-rear to do, and they mentally remove dollars from the offer price. Get those dollars back by taking down the wallpaper yourself! Buy a scoring tool, like a Paper Tiger, and use warm water or a wallpaper steamer and peel it off yourself. Make sure to wipe down the walls to remove the wallpaper adhesive residue, and paint with a neutral color. Cost: $12-$50 for supplies, elbow-grease.

Paint Faux Wood Paneling and Bright-Colored Walls

Paint is one of the most affordable ways to update a home. It gives the home a fresh look and that wonderful new-home smell. If you have room that has faux wood paneling or if your room is painted a bold color, neutralize it! Builder-beiges are the norm, but light or pastel paint looks good, too. Save white paint for trim and ceilings; it looks too harsh on the walls. Try to stay away from yellow paint. Yellow looks nice when it’s the right shade, but it’s one of the hardest colors to get right. Purple walls are not a buyer favorite. If you have an architectural feature that you’d like to stand out, highlight it by painting an accent wall with a little pop of color. Cost: Approx. $30/gallon.

Kitchens and baths are what sell homes. A little money spent in these two rooms will pay off.

Replace Light Fixtures


Swap out the builder-grade light fixture your home came with to something a little more modern. It makes a big difference and gives the space a more updated feeling. Cost: $50-$120.

Update Vinyl Flooring

If your home has colorful, patterned, or outdated linoleum flooring, consider replacing it with ceramic tile. Use the larger light beige tiles and light grout. Laying tile on a diagonal makes the room look wider. Home Depot and Lowes offer tiling classes if you are handy and want to do it yourself, but if you have never done anything like this before, leave it to the pros. Sloppy, do-it-yourself upgrades turn a buyer off. If the cost of tile cost is too much, there are some neutral linoleum floor options out there that look like travertine or tile. Cost: it depends on the tile you select and your sub-floor, but ceramic tile is $5-10 per square foot installed.

Reglaze Colored Bathroom Tile and Tubs

No one wants a pink tub! It’s usually cheaper to change the color of porcelain than it is to re-tile or replace a tub. A professional comes in and sands off the protective epoxy, then paints on the new color and seals it. The process will make your home smell for a couple of days and you can’t get the tile wet for 16 hours after it’s been reglazed, but the difference is amazing! While you’re at it, spend $125 for a white toilet. Cost: Approximately $375 to reglaze a bathtub and $500 to reglaze the wall tile surrounding the shower. If you do both, most reglazing companies will give you a discount.

Update cabinetry

If your cabinets look old and worn, paint them. Use a fine grit sand paper to rough up the surface, wipe them with a slightly damp sponge, and paint them with enamel using a smooth nap roller. If they are in decent shape, but look a little dated, replace the hardware with chrome or brushed nickel knobs and hinges. Cost: Approx. $30/gallon enamel paint, $15 for sandpaper and roller, $1-$2/knob.

Replace old vanities

In a powder room, you can maximize space and minimize costs by installing a pedestal sink. In full baths, you can find in-stock beige granite-topped vanities for a relatively low price at Home Depot, Lowes, even Costco. Cost: $250-$500.

Switch to Stainless Steel Appliances

Second to painting, I think this makes one of the biggest impacts. Stainless steel appliances are big ticket items, so it’s not for everyone. If your existing kitchen appliances are newer and match, then you might be able to get away with what you have. If your home has older, mismatched appliances and there is room in the budget to upgrade, I think it’s worth it. One of my clients had purchased a black dishwasher a few months before deciding to update to stainless steel. Instead of buying a new dishwasher to match the other stainless appliances, they covered the dishwasher with a stainless steel contact paper. It was affordable and looked terrific. It takes some effort to apply because you have to cut it to size and since it’s just like shelf paper, getting the air bubbles out from underneath it is tricky. Cost: stainless steel appliance suite $3,500+, stainless steel contact paper: approx. $30 for 4 feet.

Add Granite Counters

This is another big ticket item, but one that buyers love. Cost: starting from $32 per square foot installed.

There are other things a seller can do to help sell their home, for instance, staging and creating curb appeal. There are some very simple things that cost little or no money, and I will be blogging about them soon! I invite you to take my poll and comment about which improvements you feel help sell a home.

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