“With every project you do, you bring out a part of yourself, and it seems to be quite a good way of expanding a person.” – Kate Beckinsale
If you’re considering putting your house on the market, make sure you know how to get the most bang for your home-improvement buck. A $1,000 investment in upgrades and a few days of work over a weekend could be the difference between a lowball offer and getting your asking price. On a $100,000 to $200,000 home, it could put an extra $5,000 to $10,000 in your pocket. .
But to get the best return on your investment, you need to make the right type of upgrades.
In a Bankrate.com article this month, Jay MacDonald advised homeowners to keep resale in mind when making improvements. His tips:
1. Select neutral colors to create a “blank canvas” for potential buyers.
2. Upgrade the kitchen first.
3. Paint everything in sight. It’s the quickest and most inexpensive makeover technique.
4. Focus on the floors. Whether wood, tile, laminate, or vinyl, make sure they’re inviting, and not cracked or discolored.
This is sound advice. But there are a few key points that MacDonald doesn’t mention.
To make a good first impression and lure drive-by shoppers to stop and investigate your property . . .
* Landscaping is critical. A small investment in sod, shrubs, and flowers can add a great deal of curb appeal and make a house seem like a home. The labor is cheap if you look in the right places — or, better yet, do it all yourself. Get ideas by driving around the neighborhood and snapping some photos of the area’s nicest homes. If you’re lucky, a friend or relative who’s a gardening buff may even volunteer to design the whole project just for the fun of it.
* Make sure the front door is sanded and freshly painted, and that outside lights near the door are in working order. If the mailbox is on its last legs, replace it.
* A simple picket fence along the front property line can also make the house look more inviting. These used to be expensive but now you can get cheap, easy-to-assemble, and durable fence sections — in wood or vinyl– at the big home-supply stores.
To make a good impression inside your home, focus your improvements in these areas . . .
* If the bathrooms are in decent shape, you don’t have to do expensive remodeling to make them shine. Scrape and re-grout areas where the grout is dirty. Pop a new lid on the bowl if necessary. A new medicine cabinet may cost $20 to $30 but can make a big difference. Make sure all the minor amenities are there and in good shape. Have a clean soap dish or soap dispenser on the sink and drape nice towels over the towel rack.
* It costs very little to replace electrical-outlet covers and switchplates, yet they give the impression that the house has been well-maintained.
* Make sure all windows are clean, and open the drapes or blinds to let light into all areas of the house. Well-lit areas appear larger and reinforce the idea that you’re not hiding anything.
* If you have a stereo or radio in the house, put on some classical music at a moderate volume. And put a few plants or vases of flowers around. The more pleasant an experience people have walking through your property, the more likely they are to think “I could enjoy living here.”
* And, of course, make sure the home is spotless. Retail buyers are your primary customers. Many of them can’t see beyond the dirt.
By spending a few days and a minimal amount of money on some minor improvements, you can expect to get offers of 5% more than if your property looks unkempt. And that can make a difference of thousands of dollars in your pocket.
(Ed. Note: Justin Ford is the editor of Main Street Millionaire, ETR’s real-estate investment success program.)