With prices for housing surging to new highs this year in many parts of the United States, you may be toying around with the idea of selling your home. After all, you could sell for top dollar and pocket the difference, then move somewhere cheaper with a lower cost of living.
Or maybe you plan to stay exactly where you are, in the home you know and love. Regardless of how much your home is worth, sometimes it’s easier to just stay put — even if your home isn’t exactly what you want.
Some improvements can make your house easier on the eyes. Others can increase your home’s utility, make it bigger or make it more comfortable for your growing family.
Whether you want to build equity or sell for top dollar, plenty of home improvement projects are worth considering. The real estate experts we spoke to said the following projects may provide the most bang for your buck.
1. Add usable square footage
Adding more usable space to an existing home can make a lot of financial sense, and that’s especially true in areas with limited available real estate where land and space may be finite.
Benjamin Ross, a Realtor in Corpus Christi, Texas, says that homes are valued and priced by the livable square feet they contain, and the more livable square feet, the better. As a result, adding a bathroom, a great room or another needed space to a home can increase function and add value.
Adding a separate mother-in-law suite is also a great idea, Ross says. “Most homes do not have this feature, so adding one sets you apart from the competition when it is time to sell.”
2. Clean and declutter
According to a 2019 survey from HomeLight, deep cleaning and decluttering can add more than $4,000 to a home’s resale value, on average. If you don’t plan to move, you can also benefit from making better use of your space, getting more organized, and having less clutter to stress over.
Cleaning and decluttering is inexpensive, but it still requires a lot of work. Go through cabinets and closets so you can make a donation pile. Clean out drawers and other storage areas of your home as well, making sure you’re not keeping anything you don’t need or want.
A deep clean and subsequent cleanings for upkeep can also make your home more attractive and more livable. And when you go to sell, buyers prefer a clean, pristine home with almost no exceptions.
3. Make your home more efficient
There are many ways to improve your home’s efficiency, and they don’t all involve tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades. Scott Ewald of Trane, an HVAC company, says installing a smart thermostat is a great way to improve efficiency and save money, for example.
“The right smart thermostat will allow a homeowner to control their home’s climate from anywhere, giving them the power to manage energy costs regardless of whether they are sitting on the couch or away on vacation,” he says. “Such investments in home tech – particularly when connected to the HVAC which is the largest mechanical system in the home – provides a strong selling point and highlights the home’s overall comfort, functionality, energy efficiency and convenience.”
Other ways to improve your home’s efficiency and value include replacing old, leaky windows, buying energy-efficient home appliances and adding insulation to your home.
4. Spruce it up with fresh paint and flooring
Paint is magic, and that’s true whether you’re upgrading the paint inside or outside your home. A fresh coat of paint can make even dated exteriors and interiors look fresh and new, and it’s not that expensive, either.
Timothy Wiedman, a former college professor and personal finance expert who has flipped homes over his career, says you should start by painting any rooms with an “odd” color scheme.
For example, did you let your then-11-year-old daughter paint her bedroom “hot pink” 16 years ago? If so, that’s a good place to start.
Rob Fountain, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Partners in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says that “everyone loves newer carpet and fresh paint.”
Very few homebuyers, he says, are looking for a fixer-upper. Instead, they hope to move right in.
“Moving and buying a house is stressful enough,” Fountain says. “They don’t want to have to touch up paint and rip out carpet before they move in.”
5. Work on your curb appeal
HomeLight’s second-quarter 2019 survey of real estate agents found that the exterior of your home may play a bigger role in your home’s value than you think. The survey showed that 76 percent of top real estate agents nationwide agreed that improving curb appeal is the No. 1 step a homeowner can take to boost their home’s marketability.
According to their figures, basic lawn care like cutting the grass, fertilization treatments and weed control can add $1,000 on its own. If you’re wondering how to increase the value of your home, these low-cost measures can be a good starting point.
Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes with Belgard, says there are plenty of other ways to boost your curb appeal. An overall landscape upgrade can go a long way, for example.
“Installing a front walkway of pavers along with stone planters, shrubs and mulching will cost an estimated $6,000, and the NAR (National Association of Realtors) estimates you’ll recover $5,000,” he says.
A new paver patio or outdoor kitchen can also add to your home’s value and make your property a lot more enjoyable when the weather is nice.
6. Upgrade exterior doors
When it comes to adding value to your home, replacing an old front door can also work wonders, Wiedman says. He says in the late ’90s, he and his wife replaced an old, ugly door with a solid mahogany door with a frosted, oval piece of lead glass. He stained the door himself to save money, and the result was “simply stunning,” he says.
Randy Oliver, president of Hollywood-Crawford Garage Door Co., also says to remember your garage door when it comes to curb appeal.
“The front of the home is the first thing you, your neighbors and prospective buyers will see,” he says. “Garage doors often take up the most amount of space on the front of your home, so installing a modern glass panel door or a rustic wood door will dramatically improve your home’s appearance.”
According to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Study, replacing a garage door recoups 97.5 percent of the cost of the project.
How to finance these important home improvements
As you figure out how to add value to your home in order to sell or enjoy it more while you live there, make sure to consider how you’ll pay for your list of new projects. You can absolutely save the cash to pay for home improvements as you go, but there are plenty of financing options that can help you remodel your home sooner rather than later.
The following financing options help improve homes, and they may be more affordable than you think.
Personal loans let homeowners borrow a fixed amount of money with a fixed interest rate and a monthly payment that will never change. These loans are unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put your home up as collateral to get approved.
Many personal loan lenders also let borrowers access up to $35,000 and sometimes more, then pay it off slowly over time with a low, fixed interest rate.
Home equity loan or HELOC
Home equity loans are similar to personal loans in that you receive a lump sum of cash with a fixed interest rate and fixed monthly payment. Home equity lines of credit, also known as HELOCs, however, work like credit cards, as they come with variable APRs and a line of credit you can borrow against.
Both of these borrowing options require you to put your home up as collateral to qualify. The good news is you may be able to score a lower interest rate since this is a secured loan.
Make sure to compare home equity loans and HELOCs to see which one might work better for your home improvement needs. Also note that, no matter which option you go with, the interest on your loan may be deductible if you use the money for home improvements and if you itemize deductions on your tax return.
0% APR credit card
If you need to borrow a small amount of cash for your home upgrade plans, you may be able to skip over loans and go with a 0 percent APR credit card instead. Many cards let you avoid interest payments on balances for up to 18 months, which is perfect if you need to buy paint or inexpensive supplies to spruce up your home. A credit card can also work well if you’re able to pay your contractor for remodeling expenses with a credit card.
Just remember that, if you don’t pay your balance off by the time your 0 percent APR offer ends, your card’s interest rate will reset to a much higher variable rate.