Preparing Your Home for Sale – Which Home Improvements Make the Most Sense?

With the prime selling season right around the corner, this is the time to fix things and make the improvements required to get top dollar for your home when you put it on the market.  Factors to consider when deciding how much to do to your home:

  • Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market?
  • Is the house in a great location or a challenged location?
  • How does your house stack up against the competition?
  • What can you afford to spend to improve the house?

Every home benefits from getting spruced up before putting it on the market, but which home repairs make the most sense?  If you look at most Cost vs Return studies on renovations, the return is almost always less than 100%.  It doesn’t make sense to lose money on getting your home ready for sale, so best to stick to changes that will make the home more salable – take care of things that are dated, broken, or dirty and worn looking.


Everyone wants hardwood flooring, so if you have it under your wall-to-wall carpeting, take the carpeting up and have the floors refinished.  I have heard sellers ask – “can’t you just tell them there is hardwood under there?”  Sure, I could, but there are 3 factors that will cause this strategy to bring you less money.

  1. The buyer has no way of knowing the condition of the hardwood under the carpets. They don’t feel comfortable taking on the unknown.
  2. While you might think it would be easier for them to take care of it before they move in than it would be for you to move all your furniture and do the floors, the buyer may not have the time or money to do the work before they move in.
  3. Most important, buying a house is an emotional decision. Your aim should always be to show the house in its best possible light so buyers will fall in love with it and be able to imagine their life in the house.  You are asking them to imagine what the house will look like when all fixed up and most buyers don’t want to put that effort in on your behalf.

If you don’t have hardwood, get the carpets cleaned.  If they are really bad, you should consider replacing them with a neutral color carpet.

Whatever you do, DO NOT put in laminate floor on any level of your home except the basement.  One of the most offensive “updates” in the eyes of buyers is laminate flooring. Without exception, every buyer immediately says “we’ll have to take that up” when they see it.  If you can’t afford hardwood for those rooms, put in carpeting.

Ceilings & Walls

  • Paint is one of the best returns on investment you can make in your home. Get cracks filled and put on a fresh coat of neutral paint.  For suggestions check out my Paint Inspiration board on Pintrest.
  • In the process, remove wallpaper. The likelihood the new buyer likes wallpaper is slim to none.
  • Paint or remove wood paneling. It absolutely dates the house.
  • I have never met a buyer who likes textured ceilings. If you can have them smoothed, do it.  But I will say this – if the house is on point in every other way and the buyer loves it, they may accept the textured ceilings – reluctantly.

Kitchen and Baths

Kitchens and baths sell a house.  And updating them is the biggest pain for buyers to address.  It means having contractors in the house and possibly doing without a kitchen or bath for extended periods of time.  Not to mention, most buyers don’t have the cash on hand for major renovations after buying a house.  So it is worth getting the kitchen and baths to at least decent, if not excellent, condition.

Oddly enough, anything up to the 1940s is usually aesthetically acceptable to buyers.  Anything from the 1950s to the 1990s is not – it just seems dated.

SO if your kitchens and baths are from the older period, you can probably get by with paint and updating old appliances and counter tops, sinks and fixtures.

If your cabinets are solid wood (which they typically are in older houses) I believe it is worth having them painted.  New wood cabinets are insanely expensive.  If not, you can consider having them refaced, but even this will cost several thousand dollars, so be sure the cabinets are decent otherwise.

If your appliances are ancient, replace them – with Stainless Steel appliances.  I am seeing design suggestions that charcoal, gold and copper appliances are on trend, but those are too new to be universally accepted.

If your counters are Formica, replace them.  You don’t need granite, but you do need something more up-to-date – butcher block, quartz, soapstone.  The right choice depends on the price point of your house.  You don’t want to overdo it for your neighborhood.

The most on trend high-end kitchens are now white cabinets with grey stain and marble (or marble look-alike) back splash and counters that are grey and white.


If your bathroom tile is dated, have it painted white or replace it – you can replace with waterproof bead board to save money and make it look more timeless.

Think long and hard before you take tubs out of older bathrooms.  Cast iron tubs are insanely expensive and preferable to the plastic insert tubs.  Consider having the tub painted.  I had it done to one of my claw foot tubs and it came out great.

No Hollywood lights!

No big unframed mirrors!


No Brass

Shiny brass is out and really dates your house.  Matte black finishes are what is on trend.  Brushed nickel runs a close second.   If you can’t afford to replace your home’s hardware, paint it!


Curb Appeal

This is one of the changes you can make that will actually have a higher than 100% ROI.  People make their decision about how much care and maintenance you put into the house by how it looks when they pull up.  This means – have grass, have plantings, take care of chipping paint, replace banged up doors – front and garage.



Take down dated curtains.  If you are in doubt, examples are – anything that is swag or draped over a curtain rod, anything lace, anything flowered.  Today’s buyers don’t even go for curtains at all and lean towards simple shades.

Take down all your family photos.  No one wants to see them but you and you are leaving so you can hold off and put them back up in your new house.

Strip out all the clutter.  Your house should look like a room in a furniture show room  They don’t have kids toys stored anywhere in those rooms, don’t have remotes lying on the tables, etc.

If it is broken, loose, chipped, fix it!

Major Structural and Mechanical

You might believe that putting in a new furnace, new roof, new electrical panel, new windows, air conditioning, etc. will make your house more valuable, but I believe you should only replace these things if they are at end of life and about to die.  Why is that?  Because if a buyer is going to fall in love with the house, it will be when they drive up and when they come in and look around.  If they don’t like the house, they will pick at those things.  If they love the house, they will then start figuring out what it will cost to replace those things.  But they have already decided that those are maintenance things they will need to take care of to get this house they love.   Taking care of those things also does not mean that they have to stall moving in or be displaced from the house.

However, if you have signs of issues – cracks in the foundation or joists, signs of pest damage, signs of water damage, etc. take care of it. These things will scare off buyers.

Final Thoughts

Spend according to what you can afford and what makes sense for your price point.  It would make no sense to put a $100,000 kitchen into a $300,000 house.

If you can’t afford the money or time to do most or any of this, then you must price your home accordingly. You can’t have ignored upkeep for 20 years and expect to get the same price as a house in your neighborhood that is in mint condition.  That just defies logic.  Find out what your house would sell for “as-is”, what it would sell for if fixed and updated, what that would cost you to achieve, then make your fix-up and pricing decisions accordingly.  That is where I come in.  If you are selling this spring, we need to talk now so you have time to make updates in time.  It might seem like spring will never come, but it will be here in one month.  Are you ready?

Michelle J. Lane
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

If you need help, call me.  I’d be glad to go through the house with you and make suggestions.