With finite resources to cover upgrades to a home, homeowners today are perhaps more careful than ever to evaluate and choose their home improvement projects wisely. Whether you are living in your “forever home” or know that you will be selling your home in the near future, you want to consider upgrades in such a way that they maximize the home’s value regardless of when, or if, you plan to sell.
Our homes are a shelter, a gathering place, a palette for our tastes and lifestyles, but they are also an investment—often the largest we ever make. If you are like most savvy homeowners, especially if you have lived in your home for more than a few years, you probably have laundry lists of home improvements to protect and enhance this investment. Most lists can be boiled down to two categories: things you know you need to do to your home and things you’d like to do to your home. The first list is likely chock-full of unglamorous items, like “insulate the attic, replace siding, line the fireplace, fix the broken stair riser.” The second list is more of a wish list, containing items that make your heartbeat quicken: “Replace master shower with steam shower, tear out old wall-to-wall carpet and install heated flooring, get rid of the rattling old refrigerator and replace it with a sleek built-in … ” You get the picture.
Upkeep IS an Upgrade
When we do have the opportunity to do some projects around the house, it is tempting to ignore the “need to be done” list in favor of the wish list, but keep in mind that keeping up with the maintenance of a home should always be your first priority. Drawing on decades of real estate experience, Steve McLean of McLean-Faulconer Realty advises all homeowners to be proactive with upkeep and maintenance of their property. “Make sure that the existing home is as clean and tidy and well-maintained as possible before spending on a big project,” he says. Replacing a roof may not be a very exciting way to spend a lot of money, but if your roof leaks, it will very quickly devalue every other project you do under that roof. Take care of your basic maintenance and any glaring issues first.
Most real estate professionals agree that the best way to protect your home’s value is to be vigilant about upkeep. Maintenance projects add up over the years, and ignoring them only means you are creating a snowball of problems to address in the long run, so fix things that are breaking (or broken), perform necessary maintenance, and have a plan to replace things that need replacing.
Assuming your home and its systems are in good working order, you are ready to dust off that second list. But where do we start? We often hear that the smartest upgrades that offer the biggest returns in long-term home value are kitchens and bathrooms. McLean confirms that updated kitchens and baths are consistently popular among homebuyers, and thus generally a good way to increase your home’s value, though by no means a guarantee, he is careful to point out—especially in the short term.
“Be careful of trying to put yourself in the position of judging someone else’s taste,” McLean cautions, “because every buyer has a different idea of what they want.” He cautions against major upgrades—even kitchens and baths—purely to influence a selling price. Be certain that they are upgrades that you will also enjoy in the short or long term. The general rule of thumb for upgrades, both large and small, is that if you do plan to sell your home in the near future (defined by real estate professionals as less than 3 years), opt for upgrades that will appeal to most people. Choose natural materials, updated appliances, built-in storage and fresh paint in neutral colors for upgrades that have popular appeal.
Many homeowners are not in the position to completely tear out an old kitchen or bath and undertake a complete renovation. It is possible to take a more incremental approach. New countertops are one of the most noticeable upgrades in both the kitchen and bath, and can immediately boost a room’s “wow” factor. Replacing dated fixtures like door handles and drawer pulls can also give these rooms an updated feel with minimum effort. Consider, too, your appliances. Do they have an up-to-date look, or is it time for something new? Flooring is often overlooked, but can go a long way to making a home look polished. Consider replacing vinyl or wall-to-wall carpeting with easy-to-maintain, low-allergen tile or hardwood. Even an upgrade as simple as a fresh coat of paint can transform a blah room.
In some cases, it makes sense to consider adding space to your home. This can be as extensive as an addition to an existing home, or reworking the existing square footage. Popular additions include bedrooms and/or bathrooms, garages, or the increasingly in-demand “great room,” a hybrid of kitchen, family dining area and den. Adding space can also be accomplished without changing the footprint of your home by expanding and updating closets, installing built-in shelving and cabinets for storage, and finishing off unused space in attics or basements.
When considering upgrades, don’t forget about your home’s outdoor spaces. Upgrades that increase curb appeal are always smart choices. These include landscaping (think healthy, well-tended green areas: lawns, beds, and hedges) and hardscaping (attractive stone patios, well-maintained fencing, walkways and retaining walls). Curb appeal can be enhanced by upgrades to the house itself. A new front door is repeatedly cited as one of the smartest upgrades in terms of home values. Remove and replace old aluminum storm doors with more attractive and energy-efficient models. Perhaps consider adding a covered entrance, or even a gracious front porch to make your home feel more welcoming.
Finally, remember that all upgrades, large and small, should be evaluated in terms of your enjoyment first, and future sale value second. Ultimately, the upgrades that matter the most are the ones that will bring you and your family functionality and pleasure now and for the years to come.