5 Best and 5 Worst Home Improvements for Resale Value

Tim Lucas
Military VA Loan editor

by Realtor® and U.S. Army Veteran Ed Kunkel, Jr.

What is the value proposition for improvements to a home when selling?  That is a great question.  The challenge is in knowing if the added improvement will automatically add value to a home, and/or add appeal to the home, or neither.

There seems to be lots of buzz about the subject, and what is best to do to get the most bang for your buck.  I cringed a bit when I read statements online about the average return on investment (ROI) for each type of improvement.  The truth is, you can’t accurately determine ROI if every market is different.

My biggest piece of advice is to first ask your Realtor® the best course of action that will first and foremost – get your home sold, and work from there.  Some owners may be pleasantly surprised with how a few simple improvements will make a big difference, while others may be better off focusing on a quick sale.  What’s tragic for a professional like me to walk in on is an improvement effort that was very expensive and not necessary, or worse, an improvement that was not done correctly and has to be redone with additional expense.

If you are all about resale when it comes to home improvements, here are some items NOT to do. These are on the ‘do not recommend’ list for improvements to help you sell your home down the road:

  • Swimming pools
  • Sun rooms
  • Extensive landscaping (ie. Koi pond, exotic plants, elaborate irrigation systems, etc.)
  • Modifications to a home or property for a unique purpose that is not for a common buyer to appreciate, such as a:
    • Music studio
    • Shooting range
    • Doomsday prepper hideout
    • Science lab

That being said, there’s also the question of what is your own preference for quiet enjoyment of your property?  Some of these in the list may appeal to you, and if you designed them anyway, it would not be about improving resale.  As long as you understand what the project is, and more importantly, what it’s not (a viable improvement that adds resale value), then enjoy the American dream and do your thing!

Moving on from that, the subject at hand is that you want to get your home sold.  It goes without saying that you want the biggest dollar amount at the bottom of the settlement statement when you close the deal.

Top 5 Home Improvements for Resale Value

So, it’s worth the time to see a professional that knows your market, and can make recommendations that are best suited to bring the most value for your home.  Let’s talk first about the top 5 improvements that can add the best appeal and value to your home:

1.      Have a new attractive front door installed. 

Take a good look at your front door.  If it has dings and damage, or the door jam, hinges or screen door are beat up, make them look nice. You want your front door to make a great first impression. Buyers want to find a charming, inviting home that gives them that warm, ‘this is home’ feeling.  Doors can be expensive, so planning ahead for a sale at one of those home improvement stores never hurts.

2.      Install new vinyl windows

If you have aluminum windows, I don’t care how clean and well kept they are, they are still aluminum windows.  Nobody wants them in today’s market.  It’s all about energy efficiency and a longer shelf life.  Vinyl windows are a better design, more energy efficient, and will last longer than aluminum ones.  I won’t kid you. They’re expensive. But see if you can qualify for a rebate or energy saver program through the manufacturer, installer or your local power company.

3.      Install a new roof 

Lots of factors play into this subject, and I have seen people get burned that otherwise did not need to buy a new roof.  This is all the more reason why you should ask your agent first what they recommend before you open your wallet.  Your roof may be viable enough for another 5-7 years, and would pass the lender’s required “Roof Cert” – the certification from a licensed roofer stating the estimated life remaining. If you get an acceptable roof cert, there’s no need to replace the roof.  You may also end up negotiating a shared cost between you and the buyer if the roof does need to be replaced.

4.      Upgrade the kitchen

5 best and 5 worst home improvements for resale value

The focal point of most every home is commonly the kitchen.  It contains food, and people like to eat – especially during special occasions.  A kitchen upgrade can be reasonably cost-effective if it’s done right.  Cabinet facings might do the trick to make the kitchen pop, or a touch up on paint, or maybe a new countertop, or even put in tile or granite.  Ask your agent what materials and style will give you the most bang for your buck in your area.

5.       Do some simple landscaping. 

Simple, meaning, don’t overdo it on the yard ornaments.  People enjoy open and private space, reasonable to low maintenance, and an established yard plan that’s clean and shows some pride of ownership.  Make sure the grass is cut and cleaned up, sidewalks and driveways are swept, flower beds are weeded, etc.  No need for Koi ponds, or naked statues.

5 things NOT to do to your Home to Increase Resale Value

These next categories of improvements may be useful or practical for your interests now, but are not recommended to be made to improve the value or sale ability of your home:

1.      Don’t install custom modifications or additions for a specific use. 

Examples of this are music studios, home offices, hobby rooms, labs, and other custom rooms.  Even if it’s simple to ‘reconvert’ the modification into something more practical, the fact that the modification exists is going to be an unwanted distraction to a buyer more often than not.  Get your agent’s opinion if you are unsure.

2.      Don’t put in a swimming pool

Unless you live in a neighborhood and climate where swimming pools are the norm, and your home would look out of place without one, don’t install one in hopes of increasing value.  Pools are high maintenance, an insurance risk, and a danger to small children.

3.      No garage conversions

These are a tough sell, point blank.  It may be ok if there’s a garage on the property that replaces the conversion.  The added square footage should not be counted toward your dollar per square foot average, as the conversion detracts from the useful intent of the home.

4.      Don’t waste money on upgrades you can’t see

This could be new piping, insulation, a new furnace, water softener, attic fans, etc.  These are all great upgrades to enhance the creature comforts we enjoy, and they will contribute to the desirability of a home, but not necessarily the direct value.

5.       Don’t complete improvements improperty and risk code violations

Nothing is more tragic to witness than seeing a home improvement that screams “amateur hour.”  Or even worse, have a home go into pending sale with a buyer, only to find out after an inspection that an improvement was not done correctly, and the buyer subsequently cancels the sale.

You don’t save money by doing it yourself, unless you are well within your skill set or you are being supervised by someone that has the skill set.

This article is my intent to enhance your ability to be successful in your endeavors, and I hope you find it useful!  Please, again, ask for help from professionals to guide you in your journey.  My clients receive a vendor list of trusted professionals that help them with just about everything that has to do with getting them ready for the market and sold, let me know if I can help you.

Ed Kunkel, Jr. is a Managing Broker/Realtor® at Keller Williams Realty in Olympia, Washington. Visit Ed here. Ed’s Military History: Veteran – U.S. Army and Air Force Reserve; Highest rank, E5; 11 years combined military service.