What To Update Before I Sell My Home

If you’re selling your home, you have to look at your home with a stranger’s eye.  It can be weird and uncomfortable, because you’ve lived there for so long, and you’ve probably overlooked some things for a long time.  Cracks in the drywall, the wine stain in the carpet, the giant creepy spiderweb in the corner of the mud room – you’ll see a ton of stuff to do, and it may seem overwhelming at first.  Clean up is easy, but when you start talking about actual money, it gets complicated fast as you add up the costs and look at the value of your home on the market.  Here are some tips on what is cost-effective and brings Buyers in the door:

The Systems

These are not sexy, exciting things, but they are very, very important.  A bath or kitchen remodel seems great, even if expensive, because you’ll end up with that glass tile you’ve always wanted and it will all be new and fancy.  But, if your roof leaks or the furnace is on it’s last legs, Buyers won’t even see the new copper fixtures in the master bath.  Pay attention to the HVAC, plumbing, roofing and electrical first, and if any problems are found, get them fixed.  Not only are they a potential safety hazard, Buyers are wary of buying a home that needs so much maintenance.  Some problems can be solved with a wrench and a new filter, but some may need a professional repair.  Make sure you get a licensed professional for these kinds of repairs – a Buyer can be also be turned off by repairs made by Uncle Joe, and may ask for receipts or certifications.    Fixing a problem with your systems always adds value, since the value of your home with a leaky roof or old fuse box is much lower than the market value of a similar home with no system problems.


Seems basic, but painting can be one of the most cost-effective updates you can make.  A good can of paint costs $35, but adds tremendous value, making a home feel fresh and clean to Buyers.   Before you paint, take care of any old nail holes or paint chips with a little Spackle, and make sure to primer any dark paint surfaces.   Also, tape any trim in the room – a messy line of paint on every door frame makes the entire house look sloppy, and makes Buyers wonder about how the Seller took care of the rest of the house.   Some advise using only neutral colors of white or beige, but don’t be afraid to use a little color – light yellows and blues can make a smaller house seem airy, and a deeper tan or green can set off a nice modern home with cathedral ceilings.  Just stay away from super saturated colors like Navy Blue and Adobe reds, and if you have a kid’s room with bright red paint and a clown mural, paint over it – even if the Buyers have kids, something so personal makes it hard for them to see their little princess in that room.   Spend some time oiling hinges and cleaning light fixtures, and all new cover plates on the lightswitches and outlets will add to the new, clean look of the rooms.


Kitchens can be enormously expensive to update, and rarely do you get what you’ve invested in it back at the time of sale.  Unless your kitchen has old plywood cabinets and Harvest Gold appliances, an inexpensive update may be enough to make it attractive to Buyers without losing a lot of money.  Start with paint, and from there, replace the faucets and clean and oil all of the drawer slides and door hinges.  If your cabinets are in good shape, consider replacing boring hardware with something more snazzy.   A little more expensive, but consider adding new pendant lighting over an island, or a tiled backsplash over the counter tops.  Many times, a trip to the local discount store like Restore can uncover just enough glass tile for your project or a brand new high end faucet – a quick weekend updating the kitchen can pay off, even if you don’t replace all the cabinets or the flooring.


Much the same as kitchens, but with more plumbing to worry about.  First, make sure you clean the bathrooms – behind every toilet, under every sink, wipe out the drawers and clean out the shower door track.  If your grout is dirty, take the time to clean it well, and and remove and re-caulk the bathtub, shower, sink, or anywhere else there is a caulk line.   If you have hard water, make sure to get every trace of rust off the tub and sink, and replace shower heads if they’re dirty or have calcium deposits.  Bathrooms upgrades can be expensive because of tile, and if your tile is good looking, I’d make sure it’s clean and leave it alone.  Again, clean drawer slides and oil hinges, and if your medicine cabinet is old and dirty, consider a replacement.   Lighting upgrades and faucet replacement are other good options for the bathroom, and you can consider the same kind of cabinet hardware and backsplash upgrades as the kitchen.  Again, check with a local Restore for good deals on fixtures, tile and lighting.


If your home has a basement, spend some time down there, assessing it as a Buyer would.  Finished or not, there should never be a musty smell or any visible mold or dampness.  If you have a musty smell or water issues, have a basement contractor come out for a free estimate – it may be something small, but it may be something expensive.  Either way, a damp basement is almost always a deal killer for Buyers, and it will impact your home’s value a great deal.    Once that is taken care of, you can decide how to present the basement.  Do your deep cleaning, take care of any discoloration on the walls with paint, and seal any cracks in the floor.  Then, you probably want to stop – while a full finished basement is great and adds value, it doesn’t usually add much, and almost never pays for itself.  Most buyers are completely okay with an unfinished basement – if you give them a dry, clean surface to work with, they can finish it as they choose once they’ve lived there awhile.

Exterior Issues

There are big, expensive things and small, cheap things you can do to fix up the outside of your home for Buyers, and they can pay off through enhancing the curb appeal.  Curb appeal is sometimes the most important thing to spend your money on, since if the outside is lousy, they will never see the great improvements you’ve made inside.  On the less expensive end, look at your landscaping and take care of problem areas – make sure you trim the bushes outside the window (unless you have those giant bushes in the front of the house – just cut those down entirely and get some nice box hedges), and in the Spring, plant some annuals around the sidewalks and driveway.  One of the biggest impacts for the least money can be two simple planters on the sides of your front steps.   Put grass seed down on thin areas, and repair any exterior lighting or cracks in the sidewalk.   On the more expensive side, look at your siding – if it’s old and losing it’s color, think about replacing it.  Not only will it make your house look much better, but you will be adding energy efficiency to the home.  Another big ticket item that can pay off is your garage door.  If it’s dented, discolored, crooked or just ugly, replace it with a new door – not only will it look better, it will be safer, which will help with Buyers who are getting financing with an FHA loan.  Another nice, relatively cheap upgrade is a patio or deck.  If your yard is fit for one, install a small deck or patio space that will make the yard look more welcoming and fun.

Extra Spaces

In terms of adding on, think carefully about spending the money to add on to your home, or finish unused space like an attic or mud room.  Big, expensive room additions rarely return a very good percentage of your investment, and depending on what and where you’re adding it to, you may run into expensive problems like land grading and HVAC additions.  If you have an easy to renovate area, it may be worth it – some insulation, drywall, paint and flooring can be cheap and easy, but an attic that needs a stairway and a separate furnace will not return your money except in very limited circumstances.  If you have potential space to finish, empty it out and clean it well, but you may be better off leaving it unfinished so the Buyer to pay for the upgrade.

Bad Upgrades

Home offices – I’m not even sure what this would entail – a built in desk and shelves?  Either way, skip this one – the return on your investment is terrible, and sometimes negative if the Buyer needs that room for a bedroom.

Whole House Generator – These get pricey very quickly, and rarely does a Buyer care about generators.

Sun Room – Enclosing your front porch is a bad idea, even if you end up with more interior space.  Exterior space is important as well, and an enclosed porch often ends up looking big and ugly.

Family Room – Not a terrible thing, but the return on the money you spend is not that great, especially if it’s a new addition as opposed to a unfinished existing room.  Most homes already have a good living room, and while an extra family room is great, it just doesn’t add that much value.

There’s lots to think about in terms of upgrading your home for sale, and since it’s about money, it’s good to be smart about it.  Your Real Estate Agent can help you with this – they can look at comps and see what you’re competing against.  If every home on your block has a nice deck, you may want to think harder about that investment versus a kitchen upgrade or basement remodel.  Just remember that you’re not going to be enjoying that space, so focus on the money.  Getting more out of a sale means you can add or upgrade your new home, not theirs.

Thinking of selling your home?  Call or text me at 219-765-2062, or email me at ericag@mccolly.com to discuss the best way to get the max value out of your home!

Erica Guelinas

Erica Guelinas

Broker Associate
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