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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7 Important Home Repairs to Do Right After Moving Out

home improvement

By Daniel Bortz

Congratulations: You’re moving out, and on to your next home! Now all you have to do is pack up your things and skedaddle, right?

Not so fast. If you’re still trying to sell your current home, you’ll want to make sure it looks its best, which means you might have to make a few repairs. And there’s no better time to do this than after you’ve removed all your boxes and furnishings since this means you’ve got plenty of space to get the job done right (and with minimal mess).

Granted, you might have already made some upgrades during the early stages of sales prep … but moving out means you could uncover a whole lot more. And trust us, buyers will notice!

Of course, if you’ve already sold your home, you’re off the hook … but if not, it will behoove you to do these seven upgrades after moving out. Don’t worry, they’re fairly easy, and they’ll make a big difference helping you find a buyer who’ll pay top dollar.

1. Patch holes in walls

Seeing walls with holes—even small holes left by nails—is an immediate turnoff to home buyers, says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design at The Home Depot. But you don’t have to repaint your entire house to have your home looking fresh again. A little spackling, followed by spot painting—a cinch if you’ve kept some original paint—will do the trick. (If you don’t have any leftover paint, peel a dollar-size piece from the wall and bring it to the paint store so they can match the color for you.)

If you have only a few holes and scratches, you can fill them with spackling compound, which is sold in small quantifrecities. For a greater number of gashes or holes, use joint compound, which is sold in quarts or 5-gallon buckets.

2. Add a fresh coat of paint to rooms that are outdated or painted in loud colors

Love that plum paint color you chose for your master bedroom? Home buyers might not! The good news is, painting a room is an easy, low-cost project you can do yourself. Selecting the right hue, though, is crucial.

“Neutral colors are generally the safest choice, as they blend with many different decor styles,” says Hunter Macfarlane, Lowe’s project expert. “Gray is a popular color to paint a room before selling, as it gives the walls depth while still tying furniture and other decor items together.”

Moreover, “a fresh coat of paint never hurt resale value,” Fishburne says.

3. Replace old outlet wall plates

This is another quick and budget-friendly way to make a space feel cleaner and updated, Macfarlane says. Proceed with caution, however: Old wall plates can be a fire hazard if they’re cracked or damaged in any way. If you suspect there’s an issue, hire an electrician to replace the wall plates for you.

4. Clean carpeting

Dirty and dingy carpets are huge eyesores, which is why David Pekel, chief executive officer at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, recommends that homeowners give their house’s carpeting a good cleaning after moving out. You can amp up your vacuum with rug-cleaning products such as powders, foam sprays, and liquid shampoos available at grocery and hardware stores. For stained areas, use a bristled brush to work the cleaning solution into the carpet before allowing it to dry and then vacuuming up.

To remove embedded dirt, you may need to use a powerful industrial-style carpet-cleaning machine, like a Rug Doctor, which sprays hot water with a detergent over the carpet and extracts it with a high-powered vacuum. Industrial carpet cleaners have more washing and sucking power than most consumer carpet cleaners, but they’re expensive to buy—about $400 to $700—so it’s more economical to rent one from a hardware store for about $25 to $30 per day.

5. Clean hardwood floors

Many home buyers swoon over hardwood floors. So if you have them, make sure they’re glistening after you move out.

“Wood is probably the easiest floor covering to keep clean, but you have to use the right cleaning products,” says Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis.

Most wood floor installers or manufacturers recommend cleaners that contain isopropyl alcohol, which dries quickly, and are available at home supply stores. To make your own solution, simply add a capful of white vinegar to a gallon of water, which will help dissolve grease and grime on the floor but won’t strip the finish. To remove shoe scuffs, rub marks with a tennis ball, which cleans without scratching the finish.

Under no circumstances should you use a steam mop, Miller warns.

“Steam is horrible for wood floors. It opens the pores in woods and damages the finish, causing irreversible damage to any wood floor,” he says. Here’s more on how to clean hardwood floors.

6. Replace or refresh old hardware

Swapping out old cabinet and door hardware is a simple, low-cost project you can tackle in a day that will make your home more visually appealing. All you need is a screwdriver and a free afternoon. Want to save some money? Keep your existing hardware and give it a makeover with spray paint—a few light coats can breathe new life and personality into rusty old knobs and pulls.

7. Improve the look and functionality of your master bathroom

A full bathroom remodel is expensive; on average, it costs $10,344, according to HomeAdvisor. Just a few changes to your master bathroom, though, can make it one of the most stylish rooms in your house.

Simple touch-ups, like regrouting and recaulking bathroom tile, will make the room look newer. In addition, swapping out inefficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads for products that aid in water conservation can add real appeal to prospective homebuyers who are looking to lower their water footprint (and lower their water bill!). A low-flow toilet, for example, uses 20% less water than a standard toilet, and water-saving showerheads can help families save almost 3,000 gallons of water a year.

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