20 things that can alter the
value of your home
When you're house-hunting it's important to be
able to identify the things that increase the value of a home and
those that actually detract. The seller and his agent, after all,
will try to convince you that rail line that runs through the backyard
is good because it provides extra green space. Here are 10 features
that can add value to your home, and another 10 that could reduce
the sales price:
1. An updated kitchen. "Kitchens
are critical," says Robert Irwin, author of "Home Buyer's
Checklist." "Today, people like a big kitchen with a lot
They look for solid surface counters and high-quality
flooring, such as wood, laminate, tile or stone. And they want newer
appliances in working order.
Even if it's not huge, it should have "countertops
that are serviceable that aren't going to have to be replaced soon
and cabinetry in good condition," says Alan Hummel, past president
of the Appraisal Institute. "It has to be well-appointed and
large enough to fit your needs."
And it doesn't hurt if it opens onto another
room. "A lot of families are looking for that openness,"
It helps to have a window over the sink, says Don
Strong, a remodeler with Brothers Strong Inc., a Houston remodeling
Be wary if renovations are out of character with the
community, such as granite countertops in a subdivision where plastic
laminate is the norm.
"Will you sell faster? Yes," says Hummel,
CEO of Iowa Residential Appraisal Co., in Des Moines. "Will
it sell for more? Not if the appointments you've done are significantly
higher quality that the rest of the neighborhood."
2. Modern bathrooms. Buyers
are looking for "master baths that give a little room to roam,"
A big asset: spa or whirlpool tubs. "I'm always
entertained by the people who have them in the master bath and don't
use them," says Ron Phipps, principal broker with Phipps Realty
& Relocation Services in Warwick, R.I. "But it's a big
Some other features buyers are seeking: separate showers
with steam and/or multiple jets, double sink, separate room for
And make sure the plumbing and hot water heater
can handle the job. The pipes have to be large enough to carry an
adequate volume of water and the hot water heater has to be big
enough to accommodate it. "You need a bare minimum of a 75-gallon
hot water heater, and most of my customers have 100 to 150,"
says Kurt Mittenbuler, a home inspector with Kurt Mittenbuler &
Associates in Chicago.
"You don't want to see that false economy of
a $30,000 bathroom but nobody spent $15,000 to upgrade the pipes,"
3. A well-appointed master suite.
"People are really excited about master
suites," says Hummel. The wish list: a luxurious bathroom,
lounging areas and walk-in closets.
4. Natural materials. "People
like natural materials," says Phipps. "Ceramic tile, hardwood
floors, granite. We've gone back to a real appreciation for historically
true materials. And simulated works as well. The look is very popular."
In floor coverings -- especially bathrooms or kitchens
-- look for ceramic tile or wood rather than linoleum, which can
tear, says Strong.
In the rest of the house, wood or laminate products
are a plus over wall-to-wall, says Gary Eldred, author of "The
106 Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)".
But if you have carpet, it should be a good product
and well maintained so that "a person doesn't have to walk
in and think, 'I'm going to have to spend five grand right off the
bat," says Strong.
5. Curb appeal. "A
good first appearance on a home can add as much as 5 percent to
10 percent to the value of the home," says John Aust, president
of the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers. "Homes
in a neighborhood tend to vary about 10 percent from house to house,
assuming all other things are the same."
6. A light, airy spacious feel. "People
buy space and light," says Myra Zollinger, owner/broker with
Coldwell Banker Realty Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. "I have
yet to have anybody walk into a really dark house and say, 'I love
Richard "Dick" Gaylord, member of the executive
committee for the National Association of Realtors, agrees. "That's
a very big feature," he says. "I haven't sold many homes
that aren't bright and airy."
7. Good windows. "People
are looking at exposures and windows," says Phipps. "It's
been a cold winter for most of the country and energy efficiency
is very important."
Insulated windows are always a plus, says Strong.
"Typically, they pay for themselves in five years," he
says. The cost: for an average 2,600-square-foot home, estimate
about $10,000 for new windows, he says.
Well-placed skylights are also a good touch to add
value, says Phipps.
8. Landscaping. Mature
trees "are worth $1,000," says Strong.
And having outdoor spaces with touches such as pergolas
and Victorian garden swings "can be very helpful," says
Appraiser John Bredemeyer remembers one $250,000 home
in Omaha that had no landscaping at all. "It was stark,"
says Bredemeyer, national chair of government relations for the
Appraisal Institute, a professional group for real estate appraisers.
"It just stood out as unappealing."
Conversely, you don't have to spend a fortune on plants,
either. Just keep it "typical with the neighborhood,"
9. Lots of storage. Nothing
beats an oversized garage, some attic space and plenty of closets.
"If you have a two-car garage, do you have extra space for
those things we all have -- bicycles, lawn mower, snow blower?"
says Hummel. "Space is important."
A nice plus in the master suite? "His and hers
walk-in closets," says Irwin.
10. Basement. "If
it's dry, it's a plus," says Kenneth Austin, co-author of "The
Home Buyer's Inspection Guide." "But it's a negative if
it has water problems."
A finished basement adds even more value. "Ten
years ago, nobody cared," says Mittenbuler. "Now everybody
On the flip side, here are 10 things that could
harm your home's value:
1. A pool. Forget
what you might have heard. An in-ground pool in most parts of the
country doesn't automatically raise the value of your home. "I
would stay away from pools if you can at all avoid it," says
Having a swimming pool will automatically limit your
market when it comes time to sell, he says. "It's constant
upkeep, they get cracks, the equipment goes down and it's expensive
to replace, and the liability is high."
Others consider it a mixed blessing. "For the
people who want the pool, they're willing to pay for it," says
Austin. "But there are an awful lot of people who don't want
Consider your home value and location. In a million-dollar house,
not having a pool is a detraction, says Irwin. "But they won't
give you much more" if you do have one.
2. No garage or small garage. Unless
you're living in a condo, retirement community or historical or
in-town neighborhood, most buyers will look for at least a two-car
garage. "If you don't have a garage, it's a real negative,"
says Austin. "If you have a one-car garage, that's a problem,
3. Garbled floor plan. Small
rooms and bathrooms, an inconvenient floor plan or a layout that
requires you to access bedrooms or bathrooms through other rooms
will detract value from your home.
4. Outmoded appliances or systems.
Who wants an electrical system or plumbing system
incapable of handling modern conveniences? Would you buy a home
if the appliances were worn or broken?
Phipps remembers walking into one house with clients
who casually opened the oven door -- and it fell off.
5. Stale or overly personal decor.
Sure, red is the hot wall color right now, "but
for how long?" says Hummel.
"We've gone into houses where they've had purple
walls or electric green," says Austin. "It's a turn-off
to many people."
6. A bad roof. Roofs
are expensive to replace and a good roof is considered standard
equipment in a house. If your roof has problems, expect to take
a hit in the price.
7. Bad location. Phipps
remembers one neighborhood with a significant difference in value
between the even- and odd-numbered houses. The reason? The odd numbered
ones backed on an interstate highway, as well as some ugly utility
As a result, "the even-numbered houses were worth
about 10 percent more than the odd-numbered homes," he says.
8. Poor maintenance. "If
you've got an old roof and outdated paint, I don't care if you've
updated the kitchen, you won't even get the buyer out of the car,"
"If you know you've got to have something fixed,
fix it," says Zollinger. Otherwise, people "will subtract
the cost or not make an offer on the house. And if people think
the house hasn't been taken care of, they will wonder what else
they're not seeing."
9. Environmental hazards. Besides
being a danger to human health, lead, mold or asbestos can kill
10. A laundry list of needed improvements.
"It detracts if you have to do work,"
says Gaylord. "A house that you can move in today -- and it's
livable -- is fine."
But a list of must-dos just to conduct everyday life
will scare off a lot of potential home buyers. "Especially
with first-time buyers," he says. "Most of them are [already]
scraping just to get in."
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.