Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
Even if you’re not planning to sell your home any time soon, when you consider remodeling, you face this inevitable question: How much will this improvement add to the value of my home?
Surprisingly, much of the time the answer is not as much as it costs to make the improvement.
But some home renovations pay off more than others. For example, do you know what the top-ranking home improvement is for resale return on investment? It’s replacing your garage door, which on average adds 93.8% of the amount you spent to the value of your home, according to Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report for 2022.
Other home upgrades that add value and will recoup the largest percentage of your costs include adding a manufactured stone veneer, a minor midrange kitchen remodel, and replacing the siding of your home.
Experts say that the most valuable renovations give a potential buyer the best first impression and speak to the things they care about most (like kitchens and bathrooms). They also warn that gutting a kitchen, bathroom, or entire floor of your house can be hugely expensive — and you almost never recoup your renovation costs. If you want home renovations that will add value to your house, here’s where you should focus your attention.
1. Update exterior siding
Curb appeal is a huge factor in how a buyer feels about a house — and how you feel about living there. Real estate experts agree that improving how the exterior of your house looks can add greatly to its resale value.
“It doesn’t have to be a ton of money,” say Jennie Berger and Gregory Kyler, residential redevelopers and licensed general contractors who co-own Property People in Chicago. “Add a stone veneer, or change the front siding to something more decorative.”
Little changes can make a big impact; people will pay more for a house that looks attractive and would make them happy to come home.
2. Repaint the exterior
“One of the easiest and least expensive projects is to paint the exterior,” says Ryan Fitzgerald, a Realtor and owner of uphomes.com and Raleigh Realty in North Carolina. He referenced one home for which he spent $4,000 to paint, and it looked so good that he decided to raise the list price by $25,000. “It might even draw multiple offers based on the paint job, which could add another $25,000 to the final price.”
Just be sure to stick to neutral colors that will have the broadest appeal. Homebuyers always look at photos online before visiting the house — sometimes even buying based on the photos without an in-person tour — so you don’t want to turn anyone off because you painted your home a crazy color that you, but no one else, loves.
3. Update the front door
One of the best low-cost home improvements to improve resale value is updating the front door.
“The biggest bang for the buck is the front door, everyone says,” reports Tomas Satas, real estate investor, landlord, and house flipper with Windy City HomeBuyer. “Change the front door if it’s an old wooden door that’s beat up or an aluminum door that’s bent.” Steel doors are popular for being energy-efficient and sturdy, and you can recoup from 70% to 90% of your cost.
Even if your door isn’t damaged, a fresh coat of paint and an eye-catching color will add to the perceived value of your house. Think like a marketer. “If you paint the front door, that’s going to add significant value,” says Fitzgerald. “It will pop in photos.” Replacing old exterior elements, such as doors and siding, can yield a better financial return than bigger remodeling projects, such as additions.
4. Improve the landscaping
It’s not just what the house itself looks like but what’s around it as well. Some minor landscaping can make a huge difference in the attractiveness and appeal of your home to a buyer. You don’t necessarily need to hire professionals for an extensive overhaul. Experts recommend planting flowers or adding hanging pots, trimming the bushes and trees, and cleaning up the yard.
“Just make sure you don’t go overboard,” say Berger and Kyler. “You may want to be the prettiest house on the block. But for resale purposes, that isn’t always necessary and can even work against you.” If your house looks as nice, or just a tad nicer, than the other houses on the block, you’ve found the right balance.
5. Repaint the walls
You might want to live in a house where every room has a different color of paint, or you simply adore floral wallpaper. But if you’re getting ready to sell, you’ll improve your resale price if you strip the wallpaper and paint your interiors in neutral colors.
“Most buyers like a clean slate on which they can envision putting their own design or decoration stamp,” say Berger and Kyler. “It’s better to freshen up the walls with a light, neutral tone and accessorize with bolder colors to create the pop and contrast you seek.” You want the owners to think the room is versatile, and they can paint if they want to, but won’t be forced to by your design choices.
6. Redo the floors
Floors are everywhere in your house. If they look bad, buyers are going to undervalue your house. Refinishing your hardwood floors and replacing old carpeting are home improvements that pay off.
Don’t break the bank by adding expensive flooring to a home you’re planning to sell. Many buyers can’t tell the difference between hardwood and luxury manufactured floors. Plus, faux wood is easier to maintain and better with pets like dogs.
7. Update kitchen cabinets and hardware
Kitchens are a key area where you can increase your home value with a renovation. That’s because would-be buyers often overestimate how much a kitchen would cost to update, so they’re looking for a space that’s already up-to-date.
Fortunately for homeowners, experts agree that you don’t need a $50,000 budget and a total kitchen makeover to take your cooking space from drab to wow. But if you have more to spend, the kitchen is where you want to use that budget. “Very likely you’ll make twice what you invest,” says Fitzgerald.
If you’re looking for a less-expensive fix that will yield a big return, start by updating your kitchen cabinets. “Kitchen cabinets are not very expensive,” say Berger and Kyler. “Get rid of those old brown cabinets.”
You don’t need to replace them. Refinishing and painting cabinets and then swapping out the hardware for new knobs and handles will save you money while adding to your home’s resale value when buyers see the finished product. You can even do these projects yourself without needing to hire a contractor.
Look for quality but less-expensive hardware for your cabinet remodel. Amazon Basics even has a line that experts say looks really nice when installed.
8. Replace kitchen counters
If you’ve got old laminate kitchen countertops, you’ll want to replace them with a trendier material. But look for ways to save. “The Chicago market is flooded with Chinese quartz that is cheaper than granite,” says Satas. “You can find stuff for pretty cheap prices, and some places sell it precut.”
9. Add a backsplash
Backsplashes are trendy, and people look for them when checking out your kitchen. Adding a backsplash if you don’t have one is an easy home renovation that will add value when you go to sell.
You don’t need to go fancy or expensive to add some wow factor. Satas recommends using adhesive vinyl backsplash tiles if you want to draw the eye without breaking the bank. “I was skeptical at first, but they’re very highly rated on the Home Depot website,” he says. “You can even do it yourself with a utility knife.”
10. Update your fixtures
It’s the little things that can make a big difference when you’re renovating for resale value. Replacing fixtures, from lighting to door knobs and switch and outlet covers, can be an inexpensive upgrade that can nudge your resale value in the right direction.
“Fixtures are probably the cheapest thing you can do,” says Fitzgerald. “Just grab some fixtures that are more modern, and your house will sell for so much more.” He had a client who spent around $1,500 on upgrades like light fixtures and door knobs, and he bets she recouped that investment five times over when she sold her house.
Swap outdated chandeliers for a low-cost, high-impact update. Look for options on Amazon, or if you’re crafty, you can sand and spray old chandeliers to create a modern new light fixture.
11. Update your bathrooms
Experts agree that it’s easy to overspend on bathroom renovations, but it’s not necessary. Your first job is to make sure the plumbing is solid, so leaky pipes don’t undermine your cosmetic makeover. After that, you can easily save money by refinishing rather than replacing bathroom elements.
If you can’t replace your vanity, perhaps repaint it and add new hardware. Tubs in outdated pink and green colors can be painted white with an epoxy paint that is long-lasting and looks like new. Clean up the toilet and maybe repaint the walls. Add in a more modern showerhead and fixtures, and your bathroom remodel will increase your home value without you paying for a pricey bathroom gut.
12. Add a bathroom
Adding a bathroom will not always increase your home value, but in specific cases, it can be a home upgrade that pays off. The key is the bedroom-to-bathroom ratio. If you have a two-bedroom home with one bathroom, adding a bathroom is nice, but you might only recoup a small percentage of your investment. But if you have a four-bedroom house with only one bathroom, adding a second will really add resale value.
Look around at the other houses in your neighborhood. If your home has fewer bathrooms than comparable houses with the same number of bedrooms, then a bathroom addition is worth it. It’s an especially good investment if you can repurpose space within your home — such as converting a closet into a bathroom — rather than be forced to add space to your house.
13. Finish that basement or attic
Renovations within the existing envelope of your home — those that don’t require you to build an addition or expand the roof and foundation — often return more value than building extra rooms onto your home. For one thing, they’re much cheaper.
If you have a substantial basement or attic space that’s unfinished, consider turning it into livable, usable space. “People will seek out finished basements,” says Fitzgerald. “They’re everyone’s favorite room in the house. Such a nice value-add; you could probably recoup 70% of the upgrade cost.”
Just be sure you take care of any necessary fixes before you start adding bedrooms, bathrooms or rec rooms in your basement. You don’t want to spend money on a renovation and then have your basement flood. Also, if you plan on adding a bedroom, make sure it’s a legal one, meeting the minimum size requirements of your area and offering two means of egress.
14. Add a deck or patio
Livable outdoor space has become extremely important since 2020, when the pandemic had people staying at home, and decks and patios have become popular with homebuyers. How much of your renovation costs you’ll get back may have to do with where you live and how long the outdoor season is.
“You will definitely recoup your costs when you go to sell your home in a place like North Carolina,” says Fitzgerald. But building a deck in Alaska will clearly have a different ROI than building one in Hawaii.
Experts recommend going with low-maintenance finishes, otherwise you’re likely to fall down on upkeep, and the deck won’t be in top shape when you’re ready to sell.
If you can’t afford a deck, at least clean up your backyard when you’re getting ready to sell. Reseeding patchy lawn areas or removing dead trees or unsightly bramble can help make your yard look more inviting, rather than something buyers feel they’ll have to throw money at once they move in.
15. Update your garage door
Remodeling magazine’s report shows that updating your garage door is the best renovation for recouping costs. The garage door may be something you overlook, but making sure it works properly and looks nice can help you nudge your home price just that much higher. If you can reuse the motorized opener, this home renovation will cost less than if you have to replace the electronics.
16. Add a garage
Adding a garage to a home without one can improve your home price — in the right market.
“In Chicago, the streets are narrow and some places densely populated with rentals, so if you have a single-family home without a garage, then you don’t have a place to park,” say Berger and Kyler. “Adding a garage would definitely add to your resale value.”
Fitzgerald notes that you will likely make some of your investment back, but you probably won’t be making money on the addition. If you’re going to benefit from a garage while you’re living in the house, it’s certainly not a bad investment. But if you want to know whether you can recoup most of your costs when you go to sell, check with real estate folks knowledgeable about your particular neighborhood and area.
17. Do a deep clean
If your budget is tiny, the simplest home improvement you can make to add resale value is to clean it. Give your house a deep clean, from the floors to the walls, and everything in between. You can hire professionals or throw on some old clothes and devote a weekend to doing it yourself.
“I’ve bought houses that had vinyl windows that looked like they’d been through a fire, that’s how dirty they were,” says Satas. “I made those windows look like they were brand-new with some Fantastik, a toothbrush and a magic eraser sponge.” Get your carpets deep-cleaned, wash the stains off your cabinets and get the rings off your tub.
A deep clean won’t cost as much as a major home renovation, and your sparkling fresh home will look more enticing to homebuyers.