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Don’t fix these things when selling your house

Wide shot of family with toddler walking though dining room of home for sale during open house
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Wide shot of family with toddler walking though dining room of home for sale during open house
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

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Before putting your home on the market, it’s important to prepare it, so it’ll look its best to prospective buyers. Getting a home in show-ready shape typically involves decluttering interiors, sprucing up the curb appeal and investing in key repairs around the residence.

But don’t get carried away. Pouring too much money into the home can be a losing investment: It won’t substantially improve your house’s appeal or asking price, leaving you out-of-pocket for unnecessary expenses. So it’s important to know where to draw the line. Here are some of the things homeowners need not fix when listing a home for sale, and the reasons why.

Why you shouldn’t fix everything before selling your home

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to focus on fixing items that may impact your home’s sale price. Beyond that, money spent on repairs and replacements may be wasted, as prospective buyers may not find the improvements necessary or even notice the work was done at all.

“Buyers see a big picture of the home. They generally aren’t crawling under the house or in the attic to look to see if there are minor cracks in the foundation or old water stains on the roof,” says Julie Upton, a Realtor with Compass in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Before embarking on repairs, reach out to a real estate agent for advice and input about projects that make the most sense — and tend to translate into better offers.

What should I fix?

There are indeed some fixes you’ll want to tick off your list, but be sure to do your homework before spending too much money. Upton suggests concentrating on things buyers typically notice most.

“Buyers see flooring, walls, kitchens and baths,” says Upton. “They focus on beautiful main living spaces. That is where you should start.”

You need to address basic wear-and tear in these areas. For starters, fresh paint is a must, says Upton; in fact, she advises against even listing a home without repainting the interiors first. Updating or refinishing hardwood flooring is also important.

In fact, wood-floor fixes are one of the few remodeling projects that actually recoup more than their costs, according to the National Association of Realtors “2022 Remodeling Impact Report.” Refinishing hardwood floors returns 147 percent of the expense, while installing new wood flooring returns 118 percent.

Although it’s a less sexy fix, updating an aging or faulty heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) system can also be a good idea in order to make prospective buyers feel confident about the house’s condition and habitability. Maybe they can’t see it, but they sure can feel it, especially if the weather’s warm.

“The number one repair is HVAC during any summer home sale,” says Dustin Fox, a Realtor with Pearson Smith Realty in Ashburn, Virginia. “If your air conditioning is toward the end of its life and the thermostat can’t keep up with the set temperature, buyers — and buyer’s agents — will notice.”

Finally, don’t forget about sprucing up the spruce trees and other foliage around the house — landscaping is also key, Upton notes.

What not to fix

Just as important as knowing what to fix is knowing what you need not bother with. Certain improvements just won’t matter much to most prospective buyers, and you needn’t put yourself to the expense or hassle of addressing them.

Minor electrical or plumbing issues

Often buyers will not care about small, isolated electrical and plumbing problems — the light switch attached to nothing, the faucet that drips a bit before stopping. “Just disclose these issues and let the buyer deal with it,” says Upton.

Old appliances

Real estate listings love to name-drop snazzy brands or tout a “newly outfitted” kitchen/bathroom/laundry room — and certainly, state-of-the-art appliances can be appealing. But not having them is rarely a deal-breaker. And in a hot market that favors sellers (like the current one), these items may not need to be upgraded or replaced, says Keri Rizzi, a Realtor with HomeSmart Homes and Estates in White Plains, New York. Only “if a property is not selling after some time and the feedback repeatedly comes in stating that the old appliances are keeping buyers from making offers, then sellers should take that into consideration and adjust their price accordingly, or replace the appliances.”

Aging windows

Of course, you want your windows to be clean and sparkling (all the better to show off views of that new landscaping). But don’t bother to actually replace them. Not only is changing windows a costly endeavor, it’s often one that will not prove valuable when listing your home on the market.

“We never recommend replacing windows,” says Fox. “We’ve rarely had a client not move forward with an offer because the windows are old.”

Outdated floor coverings

While it’s worth the investment to refinish or resurface hardwood floors, don’t bother dismantling dated cosmetic features, like wall-to-wall shag carpeting or psychedelic-patterned tiles (assuming it’s in decent shape). Buyers probably won’t adore them, but they probably won’t be fazed either: Such treatments aren’t a big deal to tear up and replace. Besides, someone might like a retro look.

Major room upgrades (that you can’t finish)

Avoid starting projects of any type, including room upgrades, that may not be completed prior to listing your home for sale. Works-in-progress can negatively impact a prospective buyer’s impression of your home. ”A half-finished anything looks worse than just leaving it as is,” says Upton. “It also sends a signal that the seller ran out of money, so a buyer may think they can offer less because they believe the seller may be in financial distress.”

What should you do to help sell your house?

While you don’t want to go overboard on making repairs prior to putting your home up for sale, there are some steps that can help your home sell more quickly and are worth the investment.

  • Staging: Staging makes a home more desirable and helps sell a home much faster compared to a non-staged home, says Dino DiNenna, a Realtor with Southern Lifestyle Properties in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Plus, it can increase the selling price of a home by 20 percent or more,” says DiNenna.
  • Curb appeal: You only have one chance to make a first impression with buyers, so investing in your home’s front and immediate environs is money well spent. “When the exterior of a home has a good curb appeal, it means it is attractive to look at and inspires confidence. Good curb appeal can help to sell a home faster and at a much better price,” says DiNenna.

If you’re struggling to sell your home fast, weigh the feedback you may be getting from prospective buyers and buyer’s agents and consider making investments in some of the areas that are causing concern. You may also want to consider selling your home “as is” (meaning that a buyer will get the property in its exact, current condition), adjusting its price to reflect the fact you won’t make any additional repairs or upgrades.

Bottom line

You’ll incur plenty of unavoidable costs when selling a home, so it’s important to keep a lid on the ones you can control. Sure, you want your house to be in good shape, but — counterintuitive as it sounds — not every fix is necessary when putting your place on the market. While it’s important to spend the time and money ensuring your home makes a good first impression, some repairs can be skipped or may even be a turn-off to prospective buyers.

Before spending a great deal of money on repairs and renovations, talk with an experienced real estate professional about the projects to prioritize. You want your dollars to go where they’ll have the most impact, garnering you the best offer, and offering the most return for your fix-up.

Written by
Mia Taylor
Former Contributing Writer
Mia Taylor is a former contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation's leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor