8 Crucial Kitchen Improvements You Should Make Before Selling Your Home

kitchen improvements

By: Lauren Dieben

Preparing to list your house? If you want to get top dollar, start sprucing up your kitchen now.

“The kitchen is often the centerpiece in a home and the place where most of the entertaining happens,” says Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, owner and managing broker of Prestige Realty Group in Miami. “Sellers should not cut corners.”

A killer kitchen is one of the best ways to sell your home. Before you list your place, start making some of these improvements to help swing buyers in the right direction.

1. Refresh your cabinets

If your cabinets are looking drab and dated but are still in good shape, you don’t need to replace them. Instead, pick up some good paint and brushes or a paint sprayer.

“Sometimes a quick ‘face-lift’ to the kitchen cabinets can go a long way,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says. “Refinishing existing cabinets is more cost-effective than replacing them completely, and can make a big difference when updating a kitchen.”

Before you start putting down the dropcloths, be mindful of your color palette—you’ll want to stick with neutrals to appeal to most buyers.

“If cabinets are darker natural wood or a polarizing color, we recommend painting either soft white or greige,” says Julie Busby, founder of the Busby Group in Chicago.

2. Upgrade to quartz countertops

Today’s buyers aren’t so keen on granite, and they’re definitely not looking for laminate. If you splurge on one upgrade in the kitchen, make it quartz countertops.

“I recommend using quartz in the kitchen,” says Brad Whittaker, an agent with Realty ONE Group Pacifica in Longview, WA. “It is always a nice, hard surface, and there are so many designs and colors to choose from.”

Plus, quartz is more durable and environmentally friendly than other materials, which is especially important in a busy kitchen.

“More sellers are incorporating quartz into their kitchens than traditional material like marble, because it is less porous and therefore less likely to stain,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

3. Update the lighting

If your light fixtures are old enough to vote or order a beer in a bar, it’s time to replace them (or at least give them a very thorough dusting).

Swap in new fixtures over the island and kitchen sink, or increase your kitchen’s appeal by installing recessed lighting on a dimmer.

“Under-counter lighting also adds a nice touch,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

4. Invest in a good (quiet) dishwasher

If your appliances have seen better days, replacing them with midrange stainless-steel appliances is a safe bet, Whittaker says. Top-of-the-line appliances might not be worth the splurge—you won’t always see a return on that investment.

The one appliance that’s worth spending a little more? The dishwasher.

“Always spend good money on your dishwasher—$700 plus to make sure that it is quiet,” Whittaker says.

5. Bring in a crisp, new backsplash

Installing a neutral, clean backsplash can win you points with prospective buyers.

“Backsplashes can make a huge difference,” Busby says. “If the current one is busy or dated-looking, we recommend going with a classic white subway tile or any other neutrally colored tile.”

Plus, a new backsplash paired with upgraded countertops “can even make dated appliances look more current,” says Simon Isaacs, broker and founder of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL.

6. Brighten up the color palette

“Dark kitchen cabinets with dark granite is a thing of the past and can make a home hard to sell, especially to millennial buyers,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

Aside from painting dark cabinets and replacing countertops, choose a bright, neutral paint color for the walls. A light color can also help make modest-size kitchens look a little more airy and spacious.

7. Add premium touches

Quarantine has turned many of us into home cooks, and that means buyers are looking for luxe touches throughout the kitchen where they’re spending more time than ever.

“Most of today’s buyers are self-proclaimed foodies and expect a well-thought-out kitchen,” Isaacs says. “Sophisticated wine fridges, filtered water spouts, and pot fillers are becoming the norm nowadays.”

Busby agrees: “If you have space for a beverage or wine cooler, buyers love this added bonus.”

8. Give the kitchen a serious deep clean

Nothing turns buyers off quicker than a kitchen with the “yuck” factor: food stains, filthy fridges, and even junked-up baseboards.

“Keep it clean, bright, and shiny,” Whittaker says. “There are lots of gloss surfaces in a kitchen, and to see them dull, scratched, scuffed, or chipped is a turnoff to most buyers.”

A sparkling-clean oven is also non-negotiable, Whittaker adds.

“No one wants to bake inside your gunky oven,” he says. “Remember, if you want top dollar for your home, you need to sell it as if you have taken top-dollar care of it.”

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5 Sweet Tax Deductions When Selling a Home: Did You Take Them All?

tax deductions selling your home

By: Margaret Heidenry

You may be wondering if there are tax deductions when selling a home. And the answer is: You bet!

Sure, you may remember way back to 2018 and its new tax code—aka the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—changed some rules for homeowners. But rest assured that if you sold your home in 2020 (or are planning to in the future), your tax deductions when you file with the IRS can still amount to sizable savings.

Want a full rundown of all the deductions (as well as tax exemptions or other write-offs) at a home seller’s disposal? Check out this list to make sure you don’t miss any of them.

1. Selling costs

These deductions are allowed as long as they are directly tied to the sale of the home, and you lived in the home for at least two of the five years preceding the sale. Another caveat: The home must be a principal residence and not an investment property.

“You can deduct any costs associated with selling the home—including legal fees, escrow fees, advertising costs, and real estate agent commissions,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax and Consulting in Rockville Center, NY.

Just remember that you can’t deduct these costs in the same way as, say, mortgage interest. Instead, you subtract them from the sales price of your home, which in turn positively affects your capital gains tax (more on that below).

2. Home improvements and repairs

Score again! If you renovated a few rooms to make your home more marketable (and so you could fetch a higher sales price), you can deduct those upgrade costs as well. This includes painting the house or repairing the roof or water heater.

But there’s a catch, and it all boils down to timing.

“If you needed to make home improvements in order to sell your home, you can deduct those expenses as selling costs as long as they were made within 90 days of the closing,” says Zimmelman.

3. Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000, Zimmelman says. So if you were dutifully paying your property taxes up to the point when you sold your home, you can deduct the amount you paid in property taxes last year up to $10,000.

4. Mortgage interest

As with property taxes, you can deduct the interest on your mortgage for the portion of the year you owned your home.

Just remember that under the 2018 tax code, new homeowners (and home sellers) can deduct the interest on up to only $750,000 of mortgage debt, though homeowners who got their mortgage before Dec. 15, 2017, can continue deducting up to the original amount up to $1 million, according to Zimmelman.

Note that the mortgage interest and property taxes are itemized deductions. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled when it went into effect.

To make matters a tad more complicated, those figures changed once again in 2020, increasing to $12,400 for individuals, $18,650 for heads of household, and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly.

5. Capital gains tax for sellers

The capital gains rule isn’t technically a deduction (it’s an exclusion), but you’re still going to like it.

As a reminder, capital gains are your profits from selling your home—whatever cash is left after paying off your expenses, plus any outstanding mortgage debt. And yes, these profits are taxed as income. But here’s the good news: You can exclude up to $250,000 of the capital gains from the sale if you’re single, and $500,000 if married. The only big catch is you must have lived in your home at least two of the past five years.

And remember that capitol gains are calculated on the cost basis of your home, not the original purchase price. What’s cost basis? Say you purchase a home for $400,000, then spend $100,000 on improvements, you would have a cost basis of $500,000. A married couple could then sell for the home for $500,000 (after living there two years) without having to pay any capital gains taxes.

In other words, the higher your cost basis, the smaller your tax bill once you sell. Just remember to keep track of every single home improvement receipt.

Finally, look for the rules of this exemption to possibly change in a future tax bill.

Ralph DiBugnara, vice president at Cardinal Financial, says lawmakers might push to change this so that homeowners would have to live in the property for five of the past eight years, instead of two out of five.

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6 Coronavirus-Friendly Home Upgrades That Cost Less Than $10K—and Will Bring In Offers

home upgrades

By Kathleen Wilcox

Getting a home improvement project to pay off is notoriously tricky. There’s no guarantee you’ll recoup the money you pour into a bathroom remodel or an outdoor kitchen. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic has made completing even minor projects more difficult, as many nonessential construction projects have been halted.

And while it might seem crazy to take on a big-ticket project in a time of economic uncertainty, many home buyers are still looking for turnkey properties with attractive amenities. So if you’re a seller with a house in need of a little TLC, you should focus on relatively low-budget upgrades that will seriously juice your home’s value.

Below, our experts spill on the improvements under $10,000 that buyers are perennially interested in, plus the trending ones whose popularity is likely to last.

Deep cleaning: $500 or less

Scuffs on doors, counters, cabinets, and walls; a ring of scum around a drain; cobwebs in basement corners; toys or tools peppering lawns and patios—these all look bad in the eyes of potential buyers. Luckily, eradicating these blemishes doesn’t take much.

“Deep cleaning is one of the most important things you can do for a little money that dramatically increases your value in the market,” says Heather Wendlandt, a real estate agent with the San Diego-based Team Kolker. “The Magic Eraser and elbow grease can go a long way.”

She says deep cleaning, plus basic paint touch-ups, can increase home values by thousands.

Front-door upgrade: $2,000 or less

Thee front door is the first part of a home that a potential buyer will interact with, so it’s worth lavishing attention on every detail. A fresh coat of paint, new hardware, or updated accessories like house numbers, door knockers, and attractive lighting are all easy and relatively inexpensive to obtain.

Wilmington, NC–based real estate agent-turned-blogger Rebecca Fernandez says that when she was given a listing that sat on the market without activity for months, a front-door upgrade helped make a difference.

“I convinced the homeowners to provide me with a budget of $500,” Fernandez says. “It was a very small Cape Cod home, painted dark beige, with an unflattering wood front door. To add contrast, I purchased black vinyl shutters and painted the door a dark red. Next, we cleaned up the front lawn and purchased a door mat, flowerpots, and mums, since it was autumn, and we wanted it to have a fresh, seasonal look. After those minor tweaks, with new pictures online and the added curb appeal, we drew multiple buyers and sold the property quickly.”

Touchless fixtures and fresh-air systems: $200 to $5,000

During the pandemic, certain fixtures have become more relevant—and coveted—than ever.

What buyers want right now are touchless fixtures like sinks and toilets that eliminate your need to come into contact with a germ-filled surface, says Scott Campbell, team leader at Cedarburg, WI’s Re/Max. Both of these upgrades cost a few hundred dollars to install around the house.

Another pandemic must-have is excellent airflow.

“Updating mechanical systems and adding a RenewAire system that pulls fresh air into the home every few hours is a huge plus for buyers,” Campbell says. “Ultraviolet air exchanges that help kill viruses are also smart investments and very practical for home showings during the pandemic.”

Better kitchens and bathrooms: $9,000 or less

Kitchens and bathrooms that look outdated or cheap can sink the value of an entire home.

Tracy Jones, an associate with Re/Max Platinum Realty, witnessed firsthand how a kitchen face-lift boosted her home’s value.

“During the years we’ve done some hefty renos, but resurfacing our kitchen cabinets cost less than $4,000. We replaced the cheap-looking plywood cabinets with white doors and custom-built drawer fronts with soft-pull hardware,” she says. “We also upgraded the 1990s Formica countertops with granite for $4,000, creating a modern look.”

Jones believes these upgrades helped them bring in a profit. They bought the home for $189,000 in 2006 and sold it for $425,000 in 2020.

Bathrooms can also make or break a deal.

Erik Wright, owner of New Horizon Home Buyers in Chattanooga, TN, says he helped renovate and flip a home that cost him $80,000 and was sold for $140,000. Of the $15,000 he invested in home improvement, Wright put $9,000 toward upgrades on the kitchen and bathroom, including light fixtures, new cabinets and counters, fresh towels, and new vanities and faucets. All told, he cleared $45,000, primarily through minor tweaks.

Backyard upgrades: $500 to $10,000

Backyards are now thought of as an extension of the home.

“For those in the suburbs, pools, koi ponds, and fountains are newfound hot-selling items,” says Neal Clayton, licensed partner at Engel & Völkers in Nashville, TN. A small water feature that makes a soothing impression can be purchased and installed for as little as $500.

“Fire pits and outdoor kitchens with basic cabinetry are also frequently requested as people find creative ways to expand their living spaces,” Clayton says.

Home office: $10,000 or less

Home offices were on their way out before the pandemic, but they are all the rage now. Converting a room and buying all of the furniture, accoutrements, and shelving cost well under $10,000, experts say.

If you’re on the fence about carving out a home office space, consider this: Many buyers won’t consider a home these days if it doesn’t have a place where working or schooling from home is feasible.

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6 Home Upgrades Buyers Want in the COVID-19 Era

outdoor space

By Lauren Sieben

If you imagined 2020 was the year you would finally list your house for sale, you may have hit the brakes on those plans when the coronavirus pandemic arrived.

But now, we’re more than six months into the COVID-19 era with no clear end in sight. As many people continue working and logging in to school from home, the real estate market is again heating up with buyers eager to upgrade to a new home.

So stop putting it off: Now is the time to step on the gas in preparing your home to sell. We talked with experts to learn which home improvements will hit the right note with buyers during the pandemic (and beyond).

1. Upgrade your outdoor space

Most of us are suffering from an acute case of cabin fever these days. It’s little wonder that outdoor space has become more important than ever to prospective buyers.

“Even pools are becoming more popular in areas where they weren’t before,” says Bill Walker, chief operating officer of Kukun, a web resource for home improvements.

If you live in a cooler climate, extending the usability of your outdoor space will be a big draw for buyers.

“Get a low-cost outdoor heater and area rug to stage the space as an outdoor living room,” says Francie Malina, a real estate agent in New York’s Westchester County.

2. Create a functional home office or classroom

Many workers aren’t heading back to the office until 2021 or even later, which means home office space is at a premium, along with space for kids to log in to their virtual classrooms.

“People need a dedicated space for multiple people to be able to be on calls at the same time,” says Walker, who currently works at home alongside his wife, and his kids attending school virtually. “It definitely creates challenges when we all need to be on calls and need space to work.

Even if you don’t need two home offices or a remote learning station for your own family, consider staging your home to show the possibilities for buyers.

“Staging a guest bedroom as a home office or classroom is a good idea,” Walker says. “The potential buyer can see the room being used in a versatile way and visualize it for themselves.”

Plus, most of us host guests in our guest rooms for less than a month per year, Walker says—and probably even less during the pandemic.

3. Add separation of space

Open floor plans are so 2019.

“Open floor plans are losing a bit of luster,” Malina says. “Homeowners are looking for distinct spaces for family members to work or study.”

If your space isn’t well-segmented, you may want to create separate spaces by adding barn doors or pocket doors—or even room dividers for a quick and easy solution.

Having distinct rooms helps to minimize volume from other people’s activities, and can also create a different feeling in each part of the house.

“As people are spending more time at home, they want room and different environments to not feel stuck inside,” Walker says.

4. Add space for a home gym

Many people are forgoing the gym during the pandemic, preferring to work up a sweat from home to minimize risks of coronavirus transmission. That means people are looking for space to house gym equipment, from yoga mats to treadmills and stationary bikes.

Your home may not have the space for a fully equipped home gym, but you can still carve out a corner where home buyers will be able to picture their future at-home HIIT workouts or yoga flows.

5. Give your in-law suite a makeover

If you have a guest house, this can be an attractive feature for buyers right now—especially those with multigenerational households, or people looking for a potential source of rental income.

“With people bringing elderly family members home, [additional dwelling units] are a good option, especially if there is a kitchen and bathroom,” Walker says. “Even if this space isn’t used for personal reasons, it can be an investment property.”

6. Spruce up the laundry room

Concerns about cleanliness and hygiene have been at an all-time high during the pandemic, which means “laundry rooms are more important than pre-COVID,” Malina says.

People are doing laundry more often after running errands, and many of us have become more diligent about washing our bed linens. Plus, who couldn’t use more room for ironing, folding, and hang-drying clothes?

“Having a dedicated space to do laundry is a wonderful luxury, and buyers often want the space to be beautiful like the rest of their homes,” Malina says.

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It Just Makes Cents! 7 DIY Home Improvement Projects That Promise Serious ROI

By Laura Sieben

DIY home improvements can be great feel-good projects. You get to learn a new skill, use your hands, and take pride in something you create yourself.

But let’s face it: Your DIY project doesn’t make sense if it won’t make cents. In other words, it needs to pay off when it comes time to sell your home.

“The key to winning the ROI game with home improvement is to take a less-is-more approach,” says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor.

If your goal is to earn a return on your DIY investment, DiClerico suggests taking on smaller improvements that will have a big impact on buyers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t outfit your house with the latest technology—if you’re making an improvement that you’ll love and enjoy, go for it. But if you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and tackle a project that will offer serious bang for the buck, try one of these home improvement projects next weekend.

1. Refresh your kitchen cabinets

“If the cabinets are in good shape, adding a fresh coat of paint or stain will dramatically transform the feel of the entire kitchen,” DiClerico says.

Be warned: Even though painting isn’t very difficult, it’s still time-consuming. You’ll need to remove the doors and drawers to ensure a clean finish. “But in terms of skill level, it’s something even novice DIYers can handle,” DiClerico says.

And remember, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to any painting project.

“You could lose some buyers with a sloppy paint job,” says Scott W. Campbell, a real estate agent in Milwaukee. “If you truly want to increase ROI, a good paint job takes time and patience.”

2. Create curb appeal

Making a great first impression on home buyers is one of the quickest ways to boost your home’s value.

“Landscaping and gardening are the biggest ones that also are simple,” says Kendall Bonner, a real estate agent in Lutz, FL. “Curb appeal has a significant impact on buyer’s purchasing decisions.”

Aside from adding tasteful foliage and keeping your lawn manicured, a few strings of café lights can also improve your home’s outdoor space and curb appeal. Don’t forget to paint old fences and prune overgrown plants.

3. Give your front door a makeover

Want to boost your home’s curb appeal but don’t have a green thumb? Spruce up your front door instead. All it takes is a few coats of paint. (The same rules apply: Work slowly and carefully to avoid drips and roller marks.)

“A fresh pop of color at the front door is a great way to enhance your home’s curb appeal for not a lot of money or time,” DiClerico says.

4. Create a backyard deck

“Outdoor living is hugely popular, even more so since the pandemic, since people are looking to expand their home’s usable living space,” DiClerico says.

Creating a new deck is possible to do yourself, but “it’s not for the faint of heart,” he adds, especially if you’re putting in concrete footings for the deck posts. This project is best for intermediate to advanced renovators, and it helps to have a few friends on board to assist.

Keep the design simple—avoid any tricky changes in elevation—and work with pressure-treated lumber instead of hardwoods that are tough to cut and screw into, DiClerico says.

5. Brighten up the basement

You don’t need to spring for a fully finished basement to appeal to prospective buyers.

“Spraying the basement unfinished ceiling with flat black latex paint can make big difference to clean up a look, and spraying the walls,” Campbell says.

To take your project to the next level, you can add carpeting and adjustable lighting. By cleaning up the basement, you can help prospective buyers envision a space that will fit their needs, whether it’s as a rec room, play area, or home gym.

6. Add more storage

“Anytime you add usable living space to the home, you increase its value,” DiClerico says. “That’s true now more so than ever given all the time we’re spending at home.”

Making an addition to your home might not be realistic. But smaller improvements, like adding a pantry in the kitchen, a new storage unit in the garage, or even closet organizers, add valuable storage space to your home and will pay off when you’re ready to sell.

7. Make small repairs and keep up with maintenance

It may not be as satisfying as tackling a big project, but staying on top of your home’s basic maintenance is just as important and promises serious ROI.

“Many of today’s buyers are staying away from fixer-uppers in favor of move-in ready homes that won’t require frequent repairs,” DiClerico says.

Seemingly small problems like a leaky faucet, loose gutter, or missing light fixture can be a red flag.

“When buyers see things like that, they think to themselves, ‘What else is wrong with this house that I can’t see?’” DiClerico says. “Spending a few hundred dollars on these small repairs will let the buyer know that this house has been cared for.”

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