10 Home Improvement Projects That Pay Off For Sellers (and the ones that don’t)

Forbes.com | Updated: May 31, 2023


Improving your home through renovations is an excellent, and sometimes necessary, way to make your house feel like home. Choosing to add a master suite addition instead of rebuilding the bathroom usually comes down to personal preference. However, the game changes when you’re planning to sell your home. Saving money on renovation work and controlling the cost of selling becomes crucial to getting the most out of your investment.

Much talk centers around a seller’s return on investment, and the ROI percentages vary depending on who’s doing the estimating. Some home improvement projects produce excellent ROI values, while some are just ways to spend money. The best investments when getting your home on the market provide strong returns along with big-impact selling points.

1. Don’t Put on an Addition

A good rule of thumb when searching for high ROI values is to avoid big-ticket reconstruction projects. The cost of home additions or major remodels is almost never worth it in dollars in the end. With ROIs averaging around 45% for a master suite addition, save the project for your forever home. Additions and major remodeling projects are excellent for improving the comfort and utility of a house but aren’t great at producing monetary returns.

Do Paint the Walls

Instead of spending loads of money and months of work moving walls and building a home addition, grab a paintbrush. Painting is the least expensive and most effective way to make a good impression. Repairing holes in the walls and painting the interior with neutral colors doesn’t add a lot of monetary value, but it doesn’t cost much either. Expect ROI values of over 105% for interior painting and 80% for the exterior.

2. Don’t Reconstruct the Foyer

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Similar to other big-ticket remodels, some small remodels don’t fare well on ROI value either. Specialty remodels such as creating a mudroom or adding a grand foyer may look nice to some, but turn some buyers off. Many buyers have visions of what an entryway should be, and it’s hard to guess what they’re thinking. Mudrooms and entry remodels will return less than 60% of your investment.

Do Replace the Front Door

On the other hand, the entrances to your home can be significantly enhanced by replacing the doors or windows. Garage door replacement can fetch returns of 95% of the cost at selling time. Window replacement ROI often depends on the climate in your location. Cold weather areas see greater returns of up to 70%, while moderate temperature locales realize less return.

Front door replacement is another ROI winner. Sellers with new front doors can see returns of 80% or more. If you have the time and patience to strip and refinish an older, but solid, front door, you could do even better.

3. Don’t Remodel the Kitchen

As fantastic and functional as a perfectly outfitted chef’s kitchen can be, remodeling one with ROI in mind comes up a few ingredients short. Due to the necessity of moving mechanical systems during remodeling, kitchen renovations are pricey. Worse, your return on investment could be as low as 55%.

Do Update Fixtures

If your kitchen needs help before selling, focus on the little details. Cheap renovations often go a long way toward increasing your home’s value without breaking the bank. Instead of remodeling a worn-out kitchen, spend no more than $350 to replace the faucet and a few hundred to replace the lights. Your best bet is to look for relatively inexpensive, but attractive, items while avoiding extravagance.

4. Don’t Rebuild the Bathrooms

Everybody loves a brand new bathroom. New bathrooms don’t help at selling time, though. Bathroom remodeling suffers the same troubles as kitchen remodels, with ROI values in the 55% range.

Do Update Faucets and Lighting

Similar to your kitchen, spend a few dollars on updating the plumbing and lighting fixtures. Avoid demolition and replacement of tile work, but replacing moldy-looking tile grout helps. And, don’t forget the paint.

5. Don’t Install a Pool

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Many potential buyers simply scroll past home listings with inground pools. Especially in colder climate areas, trying to sell someone a long list of pool maintenance chores is a daunting task. Besides ROI values that hover around 50%, buyers looking for a functional backyard will look the other way. Like other big-ticket renovations, build your pool when you’ve found your forever home.

Do Add a Patio or Refresh the Deck

Although building a patio or deck will only return 66% on your investment, they are good selling points and may be the difference between selling quickly or slowly. And, they cost far less than an inground pool. Decks and patios that are in lousy shape are definitely on any buyer’s con list. If your deck needs attention, look at refreshing it with new deck boards instead of total replacement if possible.

6. Don’t Replace the Siding

The old saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression is true in home selling. However, spending many thousands of dollars replacing the exterior siding may not be the best use of your money to make that impression. If your siding is in good shape, consider painting it or simply power washing it until it shines. Always fix any holes or damage, but a bit of refreshment might be all it needs.

Do Add a Stone Veneer Instead

If your house needs a new look to sell, leave most of the home’s siding alone and replace part of it with a stone veneer instead. Popularized in the 1950s, the look still sells. Relatively inexpensive to install, stone veneer improvements can realize 92% ROI.

7. Don’t Build Extra Storage Spaces

Closet space and storage areas are nice to have. The trouble with spending money on renovations to increase storage spaces to gain a return is that everyone, including your potential buyer, has a different idea of what storage should look like and how it needs to function.

Do Downsize

Save your money trying to impress buyers with vast storage options. If it looks like your home has inadequate storage space, spend some time downsizing or removing excess items before it goes to market.

8. Don’t Install Major Landscaping Features

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Outdoor kitchens, ornate gazebos, extravagant water features, fountains and putting greens are all on the “no” list when it comes to ROI. Your current landscaping may need a little refresh, but that’s where it should stop to get the most bang for your buck.

Do Focus on Curb Appeal Instead

If you’ve already replaced the garage door and added a stone veneer, you’re nearly done. Before the first day on the market, mow the lawn, power wash the walkways and trim the hedges. Make sure that you’ve had significant cracks in the concrete repaired.

To really make an impression with very little investment, consider hiring a reputable lawn care service to get your yard looking its best. Returns of 80% and more happen when sellers focus on curb appeal over major landscaping projects.

9. Don’t Buy the Latest Fixtures

You’ve decided to upgrade your bathroom and kitchen plumbing and lighting fixtures. Expensive, trendy faucets and lighting can sell for well over $1,000 each. The ROI on them is zero from a buyer looking for something more traditional. Save the guesswork and the cash you’d otherwise spend on expensive fixtures and find lesser-priced options.

Install Good-Enough Fixtures Instead

Faucets and light fixtures can be found in any price range. Except for some specialized functions, they all do the same thing. If your kitchen and bath need new equipment, aim for products in the $100 to $200 range. These fixtures are priced reasonably and provide functional attractiveness.

10. Don’t Replace Mechanical Systems

If your furnace doesn’t work and your roof has holes, they need replacement. But, when replaced, HVAC, plumbing and electrical infrastructure, water heaters and other unseen systems don’t add home value. However, they can bring down the value if they don’t operate. Roofing ROI hovers around 55%, and they aren’t cheap to install. If you can sell your home without putting money into replacing mechanical systems, you’ll have more money in your pocket when you move out.

Do Keep Up On Maintenance Tasks

Neglected maintenance tasks will be discovered quickly by the buyer’s home inspector. Instead of spending hard-earned cash on replacing systems, spend that money on keeping your home’s existing systems in top shape. Cheap, easy and high ROI fixes include replacing worn doorknobs, cleaning out the rain gutters and repairing sidewalk cracks, among other similar items.


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