It took James Peterson only six days to sell his house for the full asking price. He did it, says Dallas-Fort Worth real estate agent Geoff Walsh, by making some strategic improvements that were key to getting the house sold. Walsh -- Peterson's neighbor as well as his agent -- advised him to upgrade the appliances and countertops in the kitchen, replace worn carpet and tile, and add some simple landscaping.
In Peterson's neighborhood, where comparable homes sell in the $400,000 range, the investment paid off in a quick and profitable sale.
How much money a homeowner should put into enhancing a property for sale is a thorny issue. You don't want to spend too much, because you're unlikely to get it back. But you also need to make upgrades that will help your property compete in a crowded market.
When determining how much to spend, consider price range, region, and what comparable homes for sale in the neighborhood are offering. "You can overdo it for the neighborhood, and your home is not going to command a higher price as a result of [the home improvements]," says Matthew Coates, a Phoenix, Arizona agent with West USA Realty Revelation.
Coates suggests spending around 1 to 2 percent of your home's value for home improvement costs. That means, for a $200,000 condo, a seller would spend between $2,000 to $4,000 on pre-sale upgrades.
Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start, so here are eight home improvement ideas that can help get your home ready for the market for a minimal amount of money:
Turn a closet into an office: Pat Conley, a Chicago-area home stager, says it's a fairly easy task to revamp closets into offices by adding an electrical outlet and installing shelves and a desk. (She's also turned closets into a wet bar, and remodeled unused open space for yoga and meditation.)
Replace toilets and clean grout: A rusty toilet or black grout can give the appearance that your bathroom is dirty and old. Instead of footing the bill to remodel the entire bathroom, try some quick fixes for improvement, such as buying a new toilet, cleaning the grout, replacing the shower head, or installing a surface-mounted medicine cabinet or shelves for more storage.
Update light fixtures and ceiling fans: Brass light fixtures and '70s-era ceiling fans can make a place look dated. One cost-effective home improvement idea, Coates says, is to spend a few hundred dollars at a Lowe's or Home Depot, and replace old lights with either brushed nickel or bronze fixtures, track lighting or recessed lighting.
Paint your walls and consider moldings: "A good coat of paint can go a long way," says Brendon DeSimone, a real estate agent with Paragon Real Estate Group. Most buyers prefer neutral colors, such as off-white or beige (plain white is too stark, and dark colors can make the interior look smaller than its actual size). Another home improvement is base or crown moldings. If painted in the same color as the walls, they can visually elongate the height of the room.
Get new interior doors: Nothing screams cheap like featherweight doors, which are often plywood and hollow, so think about upgrading to heavier, solid doors made by manufacturers like Simpson, TruStile and Jeld-Wen.
Stain cabinets and upgrade the kitchen island countertop: Instead of ripping out cabinetry, a less expensive improvement is to change the appearance by stripping and re-staining the cabinets. Older, out-of-style oak cabinets can be concealed with white paint or an antiqued faux finish. For properties priced at $400,000 and above, granite is usually expected, Walsh says. That's an expensive upgrade, but you can reduce the cost by sourcing materials directly from a stone yard.
Match your kitchen appliances: If comparable homes in your price bracket and neighborhood don't have stainless steel and state-of-the-art appliances, then it might be a waste to upgrade, says Coates. However, he notes that buyers like appliances to be color-coordinated -- for example, all white or silver.
Invest in landscaping: Because curb appeal is what reels in potential buyers, it's important to make the outside of your home look attractive, too. A few low-cost ideas are to pull out weeds, mow the lawn, and cut back overgrown trees or shrubs. Other home improvements include adding fresh mulch, planting a couple of rose bushes in your front flower garden, or lining the entryway with a colorful assortment of flowers in pots.
Whether it's replacing the carpet or painting your walls, your home improvement strategy should be uniquely tailored to what your home needs to be competitive. To sell his home at the desired price, Peterson was advised to make some considerable enhancements to his property or resort to unloading it for less.
But some homeowners may find that no matter how much they invest, they will be unable to realize those gains in terms of a sale price. "You are going to reach a point of dimishing returns," says Walsh."If you spend $7,000, you may not get $7,000 back. But you have to put your best foot forward with the amount of inventory out there."