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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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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Home-Showing Tips That’ll Persuade Buyers to Bite

By: Angela Colley

Having an open house is the exciting part of selling a home, but let’s face it: It takes a lot of work to get there.

Once you’ve made repairs, chosen a Realtor®, real estate agent or listing agent, and then decided on an asking price, your home is almost ready for market—but first, how about a little primping and polishing? Or maybe a lot of primping and polishing. This is where an open house for potential buyers comes into play.

Showing tips for a successful open house—and a big sale

After all, you want your home and your open house to make a great first impression on buyers—and that’s where we can help. To host an open house and show your home in the best possible light, it’s worth listening to these savvy seller tips and step-by-step advice.

Stash your stuff during an open house

When you’re just living in your home, a bit of clutter is business as usual—but for a buyer, a mess can spell doom.

You know the drill: video game cartridges in the bathroom, toolbox in the kitchen, tuxedo shirt inexplicably in the garage. But know this as a first-time seller: All this disorder can be deadly during an open house.

That’s because clutter can make even spacious real estate look cramped and dirty, distracting from a home’s assets and putting off potential buyers, says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

Smart open house ideas include paring down your belongings, by going room by room and boxing up anything you haven’t used or worn in at least six months.

What’s that you say? There’s nothing you’re not using? Try anyway—it’s important for an open house. You’ll probably be surprised by the stuff you won’t miss. (Bonus: You’ll have less to move later.)

One area where you’ll want to be merciless as you stage for an open house is your kitchen counter. Remove everything but your coffee maker, so that people (and potential buyers) will think, “Wow, such a huge kitchen!”

And to allow home buyers to really envision themselves living there, you’ll also want to depersonalize by removing items such as the framed photos, report cards on the fridge, or your kid’s collection of “Star Wars” snow globes. But don’t declutter by just stuffing those things in the closet.

“Closets often end up being the dumping ground to store all the clutter that was visible,” says McGlone. “Which is never good, because closet space is an important buying consideration. You want potential owners to be able to see the true amount of space in each closet (and buyers are going to open every door to peek inside and gauge how much real estate is in there).”

Instead, real estate agents say that it’s a good idea for sellers to stack boxes neatly in the attic, basement, or, best of all, a storage facility. The perceived extra space you add to your home could be worth the rental cost and then some.

Stage to sell for a successful open house

These days, home staging is all the rage in the real estate world: On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for a whopping 20% more than ones where home sellers just kept their furnishings in place.

And while you can hire a professional stager for your open house, you can also cop a few of their tricks and tips for free—and maybe snag a buyer fast.

For instance, hanging curtain rods higher can give the illusion of taller ceilings. Well-placed mirrors can make rooms appear bigger and brighter during an open house.

Want to go the extra step as you prepare for your upcoming open house? Paint your walls white, layer in neutrals, then add pops of color with pillows or a cashmere throw on the couch, for a cozy glow.

“I always think to move the furniture toward the walls during an open house to make it feel like there is more space,” McGlone says. Push furniture out and away from each other to open up floor space, but be careful to keep window space clear.

Conceal flaws whenever possible; if the view from a window isn’t great, put up sheer curtains so that the light comes in but the scenery stays hidden, say real estate agents.

And as with all your possessions, think “Less is more,” although stagers do sometimes strategically add furniture (such as a cozy reading chair in a bedroom corner) to give a future buyer the illusion of more space. Go figure!

Boost curb appeal at your open house

Finally, it’s time to take a hard look at the outside of your house, the way a neighbor or buyer might do. After all, that’s the first thing buyers will see when they pull up, so you’ve got to work that curb appeal hard.

For starters, take a good hard look at the paint. If it’s looking dull or dingy, try power-washing first.

You can rent a power washer from most home improvement stores; a good wash can take off layers of dirt that make your home look shabby.

Most professional paint jobs come with a 25-year warranty, and if you’re long past that, it may be time for a new coat.

At the very least, slapping a coat of paint on your front door will give you the most bang for your buck—because that’s what buyers will see up close before they even knock.

Door paint aside, your yard also needs to be in order. Overgrown trees can make a home seem dark and creepy. If your trees are touching any part of your house, you should scale them back. If your front lawn is lacking in shrubs and flowers, add some.

Even in winter, you can find hardy plants, such as evergreen boxwoods and holly bushes.

Also, make sure your lawn is mowed, and if you have a pool that’s open, keep it sparkling (your neighbors appreciate a pretty lawn and pool too).

“A dirty pool will remind people how much upkeep there is, even if they asked for a pool,” McGlone says.

Once you’ve gotten your home looking fantastic both inside and out, it’s time to break out your camera and spread the news (on social media, too) that it’s up for grabs: with an eye-catching real estate ad for your open-house flyers or open-house signs, of course!

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5 Home Staging Ideas That Work Wonders During Winter

fireplace burning logs

Winter is the time of year when most home buyers, like bears, retreat to their own cozy homes and hibernate. So what if you have a house you must sell right now, regardless of winter.

Despite what you’ve heard, winter can actually work to a home seller’s advantage. With fewer homes on the market, it’s easier to stand out with some home staging—i.e., a few little tweaks to presentation that make your place shine like that crown jewel you know it can be.

So before you throw up your hands and take a home-selling hiatus, try these home-staging ideas for the winter months to make your house stand out.

Don’t skimp on curb appeal

If you live in a snowy climate, you know there’s little you can do about the white stuff piling up outside. But you can stay on top of your yard maintenance, so buyers have an easy path to your front door and walk away with a feeling that your place is easy to maintain. Shoveling the driveway and paths to your home is a must. And you’ll want to clean out your gutters, so ice isn’t backing up and giving the impression that you have roofing issues.

You can also add some winter-themed outdoor decor.

“I love putting evergreens next to the door and on the porch,” says Rebekah Scott, real estate broker for Atlas Real Estate Group in Denver, CO. “Everyone knows how elegant evergreens look with snow on them, so it’s a good way to really showcase the snow.”

If you can, now’s also the time to make sure your front door has a fresh coat of paint. A bright, colorful front door will stand out all the more in the snow, and that can really wow your buyer.

Turn up the heat

Many homeowners like to keep the thermostat set down in the 60s to save on their heating bills, but you don’t want a potential buyer to think they’re visiting a house that’s hard to heat.

“A cold house can hurt the sale,” explains Scott. “When a buyer enters the house and wants to hurry up and get out of there because it is so chilly, it probably means they are going to have a bad memory associated with the home, no matter how great it is. You want to provide a warm and inviting environment so buyers will want to take their time and linger. “

To make buyers feel they’re right at home, turn up the thermostat. You’ll also want to fix any drafty spots around the house. You may be fine shoving a towel under the front door to keep the cold air out, but buyers will not look kindly on linens on your floor, or a chilly breeze on their feet.

Fire up the fireplace

Not only is it a good way to ensure the house feels warm, but making use of the fireplace is a good way to show off a great feature of your home.

“I love when a home has a fireplace, and I can highlight that feature by turning it on during open houses,” says Scott. Whether it’s wood-burning or you have gas logs in that fireplace, by lighting that fire, you’re giving potential buyers a window into what it would be like to cuddle on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and their feet in front of the fire.

“Hitting all of the buyer’s senses creates a memorable experience that will hopefully lead to them purchasing the home,” she adds.

No fireplace? Play up the warm ambience with candles, fur throws, and other items that give off cozy vibes.

Add seasonal scents

It’s always wise to clean your house and make the place smell nice and fresh, but the winter months are a time to focus on seasonal scents, Scott says. That means mulling seasonal spices such as oranges, cloves, and cinnamon on the stove, to go along with freshly baked holiday cookies cooling on a rack in the kitchen.

Music should also be seasonal, though not too heavy on the silly Santa songs. Scott suggests some smooth jazz that evokes the festive feel of holiday entertaining.

It’s not a bad idea to have hot coffee on hand, says Dale Schaechterle, broker/owner at Realty Executives Integrity in Milwaukee, WI. Not only will it cut the cold, but it can boost the mood of potential buyers.

Pump up the holiday decor

You don’t want to turn your home into the real-life version of Clark Griswold’s over-the-top house in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” but Aaron Bowman, of Mazz Real Estate in Tolland, CT, says the holidays can actually make it easier to sell a home, if you decorate well.

“The main reason is that buyers like to picture themselves in the home hosting holiday get-togethers, and it’s much easier to show them the potential of a house when it’s decorated for the winter months,” he says.

He recommends a big wreath with a bright red bow on the front door and some (electric or battery-operated) candles in the windows. Avoid blow-up lawn decorations or anything over-the-top or garish inside and out, favoring the sort of classic decor you’d expect to see on a greeting card.

And if the holidays are over, and you’re still showing your home, remove the decor immediately! Got that?

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Selling Your Home? Don’t Neglect These 6 Maintenance Tasks—or Else

wash windows racoon on brick wall rake leaves

By: Wendy Helfenbaum

If you’re a homeowner, you already know that keeping your property in tiptop shape requires dedication and patience for ongoing maintenance. But what if you’ve put your home on the market, or even accepted an offer? Perhaps you’re thinking: Not my problem anymore.

Sorry, folks, we’ve got news for you: Just because you’re selling doesn’t mean you’re off the hook from routine maintenance tasks—and that’s especially true if you’ve already vacated the house.

Sure, a well-cared-for house shows better: Small things like broken doorbells and leaky faucets make buyers wonder if your property also has bigger issues elsewhere. But more important, a little routine maintenance can help you avoid a catastrophic problem down the line (e.g., burst pipes, roof leaks, critters moving into your attic) that could devalue your property and derail that sale.

To prevent minor issues from escalating into full-blown, money-sucking, sale-killing problems, focus on these six important areas you can’t afford to neglect.

  1. Keep up the yard and walkways

Whether you’re still living at the home or not, you’ll want to make sure to keep your landscaping tidy—remove dead tree limbs, rake leaves, and clean out flowerbeds.

If your home is already vacant, have someone tend to the yard regularly so that grass and weeds don’t detract from your home’s appearance, suggests Kyle Hiscock, a Realtor® with Re/Max Reality Group in Rochester, NY.

“If your home does not have a well-maintained exterior, (potential buyers) will keep driving,” he cautions. “Plus, this kind of neglect can be a bull’s-eye for vandals to break into your property.”

Consider having lights on timers so the house doesn’t look dark all the time, and arrange for driveways and walkways to be plowed weekly in the winter months. And don’t let mail pile up in the mailbox.

  1. Clean the gutters and check the roof

This one’s easy to forget about, even when you don’t plan on going anywhere. But when it comes to gutter and roof issues, neglect can cause a dangerous domino effect.

Overflowing gutters can damage your foundation, and also lead to drainage issues. And, of course, you don’t want buyers seeing puddling water as they approach your house.

Just ask Alise Roberts, owner/broker at Alise Roberts & Company in Bellevue, WA. In the rainy Pacific Northwest climate, she frequently has to remind her clients to keep sidewalks clear of moss and clean gutters of pine needles and leaves.

“Buyers, seeing the house when it’s raining, will also see your gutters overflowing,” she says. “That’s a terrible first impression.”

And then there’s the roof. Of course, it’ll be examined during the home inspection, but it would behoove you to do it before putting your home on the market. Small roof cracks can remain undetected for years, causing water to slowly infiltrate your home and damage ceilings and walls.

“If water starts to penetrate a property, it can be a very difficult sale,” Hiscock notes. “Water in basements or in homes is one of the top three things buyers are scared of.”

  1. Service your heating systems

It’s not sexy, but the hidden guts of your home need regular attention, whether you’re still living there or not. That means having your HVAC systems professionally serviced.

First up, your furnace: If you get it addressed before you list your home, it won’t smell like dust when you crank up the heat during an open house on a chilly day. While you’re at it, have the duct work and filters cleaned as well. And if you have baseboard heaters, vacuum those out, too.

(Speaking of heat, Roberts suggests keeping the thermostat at 66 degrees Fahrenheit when agents are showing your house so buyers can visit your place comfortably. This will also avoid any issues with pipes freezing or bursting.)

Have a chimney? Be sure to have it inspected and cleaned as well.

“You want to make sure there are no cracked flue tiles, and that from the exterior, there are no gaps in the mortar between the bricks,” Hiscock explains. “Otherwise, you could potentially have the chimney fall over onto the house, and that’s a very expensive fix.”

  1. Keep the critters out

If you don’t want to add “family of raccoons included” to your listing (and pay the hefty tab for getting them out), inspect the inside and outside of your home for any areas that need to plugged up. Take care of holes from damaged siding or fascia under the roofline—and do it promptly.

“In a colder climate, squirrels look for somewhere warm to go, and they’ll find their way into your property,” Hiscock says.

Stove and dryer vents, for example, should be covered with wire mesh to deter pests.

  1. Wash your windows

Most people associate sparkling windows with spring-cleaning, Roberts says. But if your house is on the market, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is—you need to get those babies squeaky clean.

“If buyers walk through your home and all they see is dirty windows, that’ll really mar the showing process,” she says.

Make sure to wipe them down after a bad storm, when they’re especially likely to show muck and grime buildup.

  1. Check the calendar

Depending on what time of year you bring your house to market, pay attention to any details that scream, “We don’t live here or care anymore,” Roberts says.

That means tackling seasonal tasks such as clearing away lawn mowers in the fall and storing shovels in the spring.

“Too often, I see a seller’s patio furniture still outside during the winter time. To me, that’s not a good reflection on the property,” Hiscock says. “It shows deferred maintenance and lack of caring, and can really turn off a potential buyer.

“If a seller can’t put away their patio furniture and lawn mower, what makes you believe that they’ve actually maintained the property all the years they’ve been there?” he adds.

Staying on top of these regular tasks will make it easier to sell your home with fewer headaches. Plus, it’ll preserve the value of your property, and potentially, the thickness of your wallet, too.

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