To upgrade, or not to upgrade?

© 2009 Lucy M. Quinn/U.S. Navy

© 2009 Lucy M. Quinn/U.S. Navy

We’ve discussed the need for a strategy when you’re ready to sell your home in the past. An important part of that strategy is the budget, and one of the biggest parts of that is what needs to be fixed. Repairs can be obvious in terms of necessity – you wouldn’t sell a house with a leaking ceiling, for example, or an A/C unit that broke a year ago. But beyond the clear line-items, it can get difficult to decide what needs to be upgraded and what doesn’t. There are many things to consider when planning what to make shiny and new, and a balance should be struck to ensure the best return on your upgrade investments.

Some of the most major factors affecting what upgrades are worth the buck are purely situational. When you’re selling in the dead of winter, it might not be a good time for a roof replacement. You also might want to consider the current market temperature; your new asphalt driveway might want to wait if your house could potentially be on the market long enough that a second upgrade will become needed. Perhaps most pertinent, however, is the status of your competing inventory. Do some research to discover the kinds of features that your comparables are advertising. If you’re the only house in the $150k range without a brand-new refrigerator, it might be worth considering catching up to your rivals.

In general, you can be a little wary with the aesthetic parts of the interior. In terms of flooring, consider your buyers as well as your situation. Most buyers will want hardwood; if carpeting is covering your hardwood, you can remove it and get it refinished. If your sub floor is plywood, however, carpeting is not the worst thing to keep. Make sure it is a neutral color, however; you don’t want a potential buyer being turned off by a color scheme leaning too boldly in a different direction than their vision. In terms of ceramics, it might be best to avoid getting ceramic tiles installed unless it’s for a specific aesthetic reason – for example, an arched entryway – that makes sense with it. As always, make sure to repair any chipped or cracked tiles and clean the grout.

The same sort of advice goes for ceilings and walls. Buyers will be looking at ceilings, but they’re not just looking for leaks. They don’t want to see stains, cracks, or any sign of wear – it may be worth a repaint if any of these unsightly things are notable enough that a new viewer would spot it on their first walk-through. Be sure to update any dated wood paneling and wallpaper. If it reminds you of your office building from the eighties, it might be time for a change.

The big returns come when you consider your kitchen. In general, high-end kitchen remodels don’t return as much as mid- or low-range remodels; unless there’s an obvious trend with comparables, don’t feel the need to get a fancy new dishwasher. Cabinets, however, stand out, and should be resurfaced or replaced if they need to be. If the doors are painted, add a fresh coat. And try to aim for granite countertops – if you can’t do granite, make sure that yours will stand up on its own. Updated faucets and sinks are the big sellers here – the last thing a buyer wants is leaks, and new faucets are a great way to show your buyer you’re on the same page.

There’s also money to be made on the outside of the house. If your roof is in any state of disrepair, bite that bullet – your buyer will be immediately turned off by a chipped roof or any leaks. Make sure to patch cracks in sidewalks, resurface driveways (if the situation permits), plant flows, caulk windows and doors, and make sure that your doorknobs are fixed. In terms of doorknobs specifically, make sure that they’re brass if possible. Brass doorknobs are known to self-disinfect, and have an added bonus of looking great with most kinds of hardwood.

Overall, imagine yourself as a buyer. If you’re looking around and noting the repairs that need to be made, you’re already making your purchase conditional. A fixer-upper will always lose out to a comparable with the investments in repairs already made. You should be able to tell your buyer in full conscience that they will be able to walk into the house and live from day one. That said, be careful with your upgrade spending – if there’s an opportunity to save money on aesthetics, you might want to have pause. Your buyer will have different taste than you, and you don’t want to spend money on a perfect color scheme only for the buyer to repaint. The process of figuring out what upgrades make sense for you can be difficult, but the smartest sellers handle the challenge as an opportunity to take control over their sale.

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