"There's enough inventory out there right now that buyers can find what they like without having to compromise," says Harrison Tulloss, a ZipRealty agent based in Raleigh, N.C. "They don't have the money or inclination to put in a down payment, get a loan and then turn around and spend more cash to do exactly what they want to improve a property."
Planning home improvements that pay you back at the time of sale requires a strategic vision as well as design, finish and product selections that welcome the widest possible range of buyer tastes. Drawing on tips from real estate pros, along with Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report, here are 10 home improvements that pay you back when you sell.
Front entry doors: Curb appeal is the first step in a successful home sale, and installing a beautiful, high-quality entry door is a simple home improvement that delivers impact both in buyer drive-bys and online listings. A new entry door will also help lower home energy costs and stand up to weather extremes.
Attic bedroom: Converting an attic into useful living space is a smart way to add value and attract those shopping for multigenerational family homes. "Parents are moving in with their kids and vice versa, or people are combining their incomes to live in a bigger house," says Renee Mayhall, RealEstate.com managing broker for the Carolinas. "So we see buyers focusing on properties with a higher number of bedrooms and baths to accommodate that."
Decks: Building a deck is one of the least-expensive ways to extend your living space. Composite decking is a great low-maintenance option, and even building a deck from pressure-treated wood can bring a return on investment of up to 80 percent at the time of sale. (Also see Best Landscape Design Options.)
Siding: A tight, tidy home contributes to curb appeal and takes major home improvement worries off a potential buyer's list. Spruce up your home's exterior by repairing or replacing siding for an eye-catching, protective finish. And for way less than the cost of siding replacement, consider adding easy-to-install decorative trim elements made of high-density polyurethane foam to spruce up an otherwise dull exterior. (Also see Siding for Your Home: Which Should You Choose?)
Kitchen: The kitchen is a major selling point for a home, and its appearance and layout can often be a deal-breaker. Improving your kitchen doesn't have to be a huge investment, however: just replacing countertops, key appliances or cabinet hardware can transform a kitchen's look and impact. (Also see Minor Kitchen Renovations Help Sell Your Home.)
Windows: Installing replacement windows is a pre-sale home improvement that pays for everyone, with the seller earning valuable energy tax credits and the buyer enjoying lower home energy bills. Says Tulloss: "Especially in older homes, buyers always seem to appreciate when new, better windows have been put in. People like the energy efficiency aspect now more than ever."
Basement: Make the most of this bonus space by finishing it for use as an apartment, office or entertainment zone ─ more great ways to appeal to multi-generational households.
Bathroom: Along with kitchens, bathrooms tend to age easily, so neutralize potential design objections by replacing the vanity, installing efficient fixtures and choosing hardware that facilitates easy access for all. (Also see Increase Home Value With Bathroom Renovations.)
Backup power generator: With the aging electrical grid becoming less reliable, access to backup power is essential for a home. Gone are the days of bulky, smelly, portable gas-powered generators: You can now have a neat, compact standby generator installed right next to your outdoor AC unit that can repower most of your home within seconds of losing electricity from the utility.
Additions: If done wisely and in a way that won't price your home out of the local market, additions are valuable home improvements. Add a second story, expand into a master suite, enlarge the garage or create an extra bathroom for a busy household.
A final thought comes from Atlanta agent Katrina Walker of RealEstate.com. "Of course your home is your castle, and you want to be pleased with the way your home looks while you're in it," she says. "But you don't want to put in things that are extremely personal. For instance, choose colors that are neutral. I'm not saying that everything has to be beige and bland, but you don't want to pick colors that the average person isn't going to like."
Tom Kraeutler is a home improvement expert for AOL Real Estate and host of "The Money Pit," a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.