With all of us spending more time at home this past year, it’s not surprising that so many took to the already competitive housing market to look for a new place. Some of us, though, stayed exactly where we were, remodeling instead to make the most of the homes we know and love.
Whether your goal is to renovate your home this year or sell it, making home improvements can increase your home’s value. The real estate experts we spoke to here say the following projects can 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 are 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 can also be a smart idea, Ross says, noting that “most homes do not have this feature, so adding one sets you apart from the competition when it is time to sell.”
The national average to build an addition is approximately $46,430, according to HomeAdvisor. The actual cost varies from $5,600 to $125,000 or more, depending on the scope of the project.
2. Clean and declutter
Deep cleaning and decluttering your home can add more than $4,000 to its resale value, on average, according to a 2019 HomeLight report. Buyers appreciate a clean, pristine home, but if you don’t plan to move, you could benefit from making better use of your space, getting more organized and having less clutter to stress over.
While cleaning and decluttering are inexpensive, these tasks still require a lot of work. You can begin by going through cabinets and closets and starting 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.
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,” Ewald 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.”
It can cost between $150 to $400 to make this quick upgrade, according to Fixr, or an average of about $200.
Other ways to improve your home’s efficiency and value include replacing old, leaky windows, installing energy-efficient home appliances and adding insulation to your home.
4. Spruce it up with fresh paint
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 professor and personal finance expert who has flipped homes over his career, says you should start by repainting 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.
To switch up the paint in one room, you can expect to spend between $2 and $6 per square foot, HomeAdvisor reports.
5. Work on your curb appeal
Improving curb appeal is a big step you can take to boost your home’s marketability. In fact, curb appeal can account for as much as 7 percent of a home’s value, according to a 2020 joint study by the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Alabama.
Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes with Belgard, says there are plenty of 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 [National Association of Realtors] estimates you’ll recover $5,000,” Raboine says.
A new paver patio or outdoor kitchen can also add to your home’s value, and make your property a lot more enjoyable and livable if you don’t plan to sell just yet.
6. Upgrade exterior doors
Also in the vein of curb appeal, replacing an old front door can work wonders, Wiedman 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 Company, says to remember your garage doors, too. Replacing a garage door recoups 94.5 percent of the cost of the project, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value report, so it can be well worth the investment.
“The front of the home is the first thing you, your neighbors and prospective buyers will see,” Oliver 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.”
7. Give your kitchen an updated look
Many buyers zero in on the kitchen as the central feature of a home, so if yours is outdated, it can ultimately affect how much you garner from a sale. Likewise, if you aren’t able to utilize your kitchen fully due to layout, space or other concerns, you won’t be maximizing the space.
If updating your entire kitchen is too big of an undertaking, a minor remodel could still have an impact on your home’s value — think coordinating appliances and installing modern hardware on your cabinets. This project, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report, recoups 77.6 percent of the expense, which is about $23,450. A remodel like this might entail refacing the cabinets and countertops, repainting and installing a new sink.
8. Stage your home
If you’re planning to list your home for sale and want to up its value, home staging can pay off. Eighty-five percent of staged homes sell for 5 percent to 23 percent over list price, and move off the market in just 23 days, according to the Real Estate Staging Association.
Staging costs $1,500 on average, according to Fixr, but the cost can fluctuate based on your needs and your home. Staging services range widely, and can involve simple tasks like decluttering and depersonalization (e.g., removing family photos or specific decor) or bringing in rented furnishings, repainting and more.
How to finance home improvements
Whether you plan to sell your home or just want to enjoy it more while you live there, it’s important to consider how you’ll pay for these value-added 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.
Personal loans allow you to borrow a fixed amount of money with a fixed interest rate. These loans are unsecured, meaning you don’t have to put your home or other property up as collateral to get approved. Many personal loan lenders let you borrow as much as $35,000 for home improvements — sometimes more — which you can then repay over time. The rates for a personal loan can vary widely, so be sure to compare options to get the lowest-cost loan for your project.
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, work like credit cards, and come with variable rates and a line of credit you can borrow against.
These borrowing options require you to put your home up as collateral to qualify. The good news is, you could score a lower interest rate with one of these types of loans compared to a personal loan or home improvement loan. In addition, no matter which option you go with, the interest might be deductible if you use the money to make eligible home improvements.
0% APR credit card
If you need to borrow a small amount of cash for your home improvement plans, you might be able to skip the loan and go with a 0% APR credit card instead. Many cards have no interest payments on balances for up to 18 months, which can be ideal if you have a smaller-scale project in mind. A credit card can also work well if you’re able to pay your contractor with it.
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, costing you more.
If you have built equity in your home and you’re looking to do a major renovation, a cash-out refinance could provide you with the funds you need while getting you a lower rate on your current mortgage. The refinancing process is just as paperwork-heavy as taking out a mortgage, however, and there are closing costs to consider. If you go this route, take the time to shop around for the best refinance rates so you maximize your savings.
With additional reporting by Sarah Sharkey