| Selling | By Anslie Stokes

Choosing whether to renovate before selling – or how to renovate – is both an art and a science. But deciding where to spend your renovation dollars relies on one calculation to estimate what you should do: return on investment.

The return on investment compares what you spend on a renovation with the renovation’s direct impact on your selling price. You can, theoretically, tear down your house, rebuild it, and have it be a profitable investment.

You could also replace nothing except a single drawer handle and have it be a profitable investment. But that doesn’t mean that everything you do will have a positive return on investment – or that every positive-ROI renovation is worth your time. It’s important to strategically choose what you renovate to get the highest return.

We’ve put together our best rules for deciding if, and how, to renovate your home before selling.

Rules for Renovating Before Selling

  1. Go visual, but don’t slap on a bandage
  2. Don’t overbuild
  3. Maintain consistency
  4. Don’t limit your buyer pool
  5. Choose high-ROI rooms


Go Visual, But Don’t Slap on a Bandage

The renovations you do before selling should primarily change the visual appearance of your home. Whether it’s painting, updating your flooring, changing your fixtures, or even staging your home, investments that aren’t obvious to a buyer are less likely to influence your sale price.

The projects with the highest return on investment are some of the cheapest, with the highest visual impact: decluttering, painting, and cleaning.

If the home flipping market has taught buyers anything, it’s to be wary of a quickly-renovated house. Many renovators tend to cover up problem areas instead of addressing them before sale. We don’t recommend this – inspectors find problems and buyers will notice major flaws whether they’re covered or not.

When doing renovations before selling, ensure that they make a visual impact and have broad visual appeal – but don’t slap a bandage on anything serious and expect buyers won’t notice.


Don’t Overbuild

When deciding what renovations to do before selling, compare your home to similar ones in the neighborhood. You never want to price your home out of its home, which can make the home harder to sell.

While adding an extra room, an additional bathroom, or a fully-modern kitchen may sound appealing, buyers don’t want to pay $600,000 for a home in a neighborhood where the average price is $500,000.

In general, you shouldn’t expect to recoup renovation dollars that bring your home’s price higher than the neighborhood’s average.

A good way to avoid this is to get your house appraised, and then compare it to other homes that have sold in the neighborhood. Alternatively, if you’re ready to sell, a real estate agent can help you do a comparative market analysis, which will compare your home with your competitors’. If you ever have any questions about renovations that earn ROI, talk to us!


Maintain Consistency

One of the best places to put your renovation dollars is into standardizing the look of your home. You don’t want to shell out for a minimalist, contemporary kitchen if the rest of your home is a charming, Queen-Anne-style rowhouse.

Likewise, if you can identify one area of your home that’s behind the times, while the rest of your home is similarly styled, you should consider putting your renovation dollars into updating that one room.

Take a good look at your home’s architecture and design style, and try to identify which areas might seem outdated. These may be the best places to add in a modern touch.


Don’t Limit Your Buyer Pool

When doing renovations that sell, always keep your buyers in mind. Buyers have unique tastes, individual styles, and personal preferences that we can’t always design for. But what we can do is neutralize your home’s decor, appealing to the largest swath of buyers, and ensuring that we won’t alienate anyone with bold design choices.

This helps buyers imagine what the home will look like when they move in. Painting over dark walls can brighten up an entire room. Neutralizing controversial design elements like shag carpeting, wainscoting, or colored ceilings helps more buyers see the character and architecture of your home, rather than focusing on easily-fixable features.


Choose High-ROI Rooms

The rooms with the highest ROI are kitchens, bathrooms, and high-traction areas like hallways and foyers.


A great kitchen is on most buyers’ top five necessities list when searching for a new home. So it’s no wonder that strategic kitchen remodeling is the best place to put your renovation dollars before a sale.

A typical kitchen remodel can recoup about 60-100% of its investment cost. If you’re looking at a $10,000 remodel, strategic changes and upgrades can net you an extra $20,000 on your sale price.

The key here is a strategic remodeling, in a way that neutralizes décor while showing off your home’s potential.

In kitchens, appliance upgrades, material quality improvements (especially switching to light-colored countertops), and adding new faucets can have a major impact on your sale price without limiting your buyer pool.


There’s something charming about an old-school home…until you walk into an old-school bathroom. Even charmingly historic homes need updated bathrooms.

Changing your faucet and lighting is a quick, inexpensive fix that can have a major impact in your bathroom. Because bathroom square footage is often small, updating flooring, re-tiling the shower area, and painting are also high-impact, high-ROI fixes.

Consider picking low-flow and energy-efficient fixtures when updating bathrooms. Buyers are looking for homes that won’t break the bank, and having these kinds of fixtures tells them that they’ll be saving money over time.

High-Traffic Areas

High-traffic areas like your outdoor walkway, foyer, and living room are some of the best places to put your renovation dollars. Not only are buyers likely to see them more than once in a single tour, but they also make a strong impression. You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “curb appeal”, and it’s true for your indoor entranceway, too.

Changing the flooring, updating lighting, painting, widening hallways or removing walls can all be great investments into your indoor entranceways.

Not sure what renovations to do? We’d love to chat! Contact us to talk renos, return on investments, and how you can use them to get more for your home. Give us a call at 202.270.1081 or email us at anslie@thestokesgroup.com.

The Stokes Group is a team of dedicated professionals who have passion for the real estate business and will advocate for our clients with the utmost honesty, integrity, and confidentiality. We believe in building solid relationships with our clients and that starts by getting to know who we are. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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