Hey friends! Today, we are continuing our renovation Q+A series and the question we are answering is, “What increases the value of your home versus just makes it sell more quickly?”

I’m sure we’ve all watched flip shows on HGTV. There are things that add dollar for dollar value to a home, things that wouldn’t add value but may attract more buyers (aka help the sale to happen quicker), and then there are things where you, the owner, need to realize it’s just for you and it does not add any value to the home. Being educated about the difference in these things can help you make the most possible profit on a home you plan to sell—whether it’s a flip or your own home that you know you will want to sell at some point.

I am not one of those people who makes EVERY choice based on the future sale, though. If I was, I never would have spent money installing bright yellow tropical wallpaper. But I do think it’s an important consideration for the bigger renovation decisions! Pretty much none of us have an unlimited budget (I know I don’t!), so we want to use our renovation choices to create a home we love more but also a more valuable home for the future sale … even if it is down the road.

Here are the top three things I believe add actual value (with a lot of little opinion things after that!):

1. Kitchen and bathroom renovations. If done on a moderate budget, renovating an outdated kitchen into an appealing kitchen is at the top of the list. There are so many things people look for in a kitchen and a lot of it is taste, but I do believe that in this current market, in the area where I live, that a white kitchen is most appealing. I say that because so many people in different demographics are drawn to a clean, bright, white kitchen. If you are planning to live in the house for years before moving, I consider it very important to choose countertops that will not stain or age, like quartz.

Bathrooms are equally important. A really outdated bathroom can detract buyers. And a fresh bathroom with a reasonably priced renovation can add value to a home.

2. One stunning room. I believe that there should be one “wow factor” room in every home. These are the kinds of rooms that make buyers fall in love. This can be a room with big windows, a kitchen with a big island, a sunrooms or a deck … something with a big emotional impact. The kind of room where you walk in and visualize your family making fun memories. If you can find a way to upgrade a room to have this quality, it will likely add dollar for dollar value to your home.

Just like dressing a person, find your home’s best qualities and play them UP.

3. Floors. I know this may sound kind of boring, but refinishing wood floors so that they all match (why do so many homes come with multiple floor stains??) and are fresh and damage free can add value. Having floors restained is one of the less expensive projects you can hire out and it adds value. The wood floor color for a lot of homes built in the 1930s to 1990s was medium yellow/orange-ish wood. Swapping to either a very dark or very light stain can make the home feel more modern and fresh. Darker colors can also conceal imperfections that happen with age.

Now, there are so many things that can go either way! Should I add a deck? Should I get all new windows? Should I build an addition onto our home?

These, and so many more, are questions for your local realtor. Most realtors are more than happy to give you opinions or even come walk through your home and suggest ways to add value without risking losing money. So much of it will depend on your location, your local market and the current value and what you paid for your home.

In our homes, we try to do our best to stick mostly to value-adding investments. But there are things we have done, like painting our home white and wallpapering that may not add the exact value that we paid … but it’s possible they could. Our personal strategy is to balance things that make us insanely happy and things that we assume a next buyer could fall in love with. But it’s an assumption and that is an important realization. So we try to make wise choices, but at the end of the day we’re more concerned about loving the home we live in today.

One last tidbit! I am a believer that not moving saves money. When you move a lot, you spend more money just furnishing on the actual move and setting up each new space. So for that reason I believe the smaller upgrades that make you not want to move are also a worthy investment.

OK! I am passing this over to Mandi now, who has owned two homes.

I once read that worrying about your home’s resale value is like signing a prenup before entering into marriage. At first, I thought, how true! But now that I’m in my second home (and only marriage), I’m realizing that the analogy doesn’t exactly hold water. Sure, you can make some bold decisions when decorating or renovating, but the fact remains that most people plan on one day selling their home. If you’re in the autumn of your life and feel quite settled, resale isn’t something to have near the forefront of your mind. But statistically, millennials are more likely to move around in their careers are well as their geographic location. So, if you’re a millennial and also a homeowner, you’ll most likely find yourself one day needing to sell or rent your home. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make some fun choices in renovating your home. But you should be aware of some of the best ways to financially invest in your renovation choices.

There are a lot of variables when considering replacing items that are existing in your home. A lot of that depends on the quality, age, style, and ecological impact of each item. I’ll go over a few key items that people often consider replacing in their homes.

1. Windows and Doors. You may have original windows which are single pane glass, but they are in beautiful shape and add to the character of your historic home. If you’re not seeing a huge impact on your HVAC bills, I would recommend keeping your original windows and leaving the decision up to future owners. Most people looking for historic homes are heartbroken when the see original items have been replaced with new fixtures, especially if they’re composed of synthetic materials. Some window and door companies offer “heritage” lines of products, which are often the most expensive offerings. But “heritage” styles will be in keeping with the quality and style people expect in historic homes, while offering the ease of use and R-value (insulation) of modern construction.

If your home is not historic and was built in the 1950s and beyond, and your windows and doors aren’t so classically appealing, then new ones would add huge value to your home. If your windows and doors are difficult to open, contribute to heating/cooling loss, are rotted or damaged, and have no style appeal, then replacing them should be at the top of your home makeover list. You can replace them with high quality windows or doors that will look nice, age well and add style to your home. Or you can replace them with something like inexpensive vinyl windows, which might help your home sell, but wouldn’t necessarily add to the overall value of your home, because they don’t age well. If you’re planning to stay in your home for a long time, spring for the higher quality, more expensive windows and a nice looking fiberglass door. Planning to leave? Replace your junky windows with simple, double-pane vinyl ones, and buy an inexpensive front door with mass appeal.

2. Flooring. Flooring is such a subjective element in a home! Some people are perfectly happy with wood-look vinyl or laminate, while others are very turned off by it. In flip houses, you’re more likely to see vinyl and laminate because it photographs well and has the appealing look of wood. However, as great as the advancement in synthetic flooring materials may have gotten in the past decade or so, there’s really nothing more beautiful in quality and visual appeal than real wood.

Hardwood flooring is an investment that you’ll definitely see a return on when selling your home. Depending on your square footage, flooring may be the most expensive renovation item, especially if you’re having someone else install it for you. But because it can be refinished, unlike engineered hardwood, it will last forever. If spots become water damaged, you can replace pieces of it, but it’s definitely a safer choice to not use hardwood in areas that see a lot of water, such as entryways and kitchens. (Obviously, don’t use hardwood in bathrooms!)

When choosing tile, if you’re looking to make an investment with your choice, don’t go for something trendy like patterned encaustic tile. I’m a fan of this look, don’t get me wrong! But it will look dated in 10 years, and you may wish to replace it. A fun style choice, but not an investment. I would recommend taking a cue from the era and style of your home and choosing a tile that works well with that. For instance, if your home has southwest or European-style influences, materials like saltillo tile, limestone, or brick will be timeless flooring options that go well with trendy interiors, but will always feel like a good fit in your home. If you’re not sure what kind of tile styles go with your home, try a simple Google or Pinterest search for your style home + tile. “Craftsman Home Tile Flooring” will give you a lot of options to choose from that will go well with a craftsman-style home.

3. Paint vs Wallpaper. Wallpaper is never an investment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wallpaper if you want that look for your home! If you’re planning to sell within the next year or two, I wouldn’t waste the money. Most house-hunting people will be very turned off when they see wallpaper, as wallpaper is basically house-hunting code for “fixer upper.” But if you’re planning to get your home ready to sell years after you’ve installed wallpaper in your home, it’s really not that difficult to remove and repair your wall. Elsie’s tropical wallpapered guest bedroom looks amazing, but when she goes to sell her home one day, it’s not going to be a huge deal to remove and repaint the walls in that room to give it mass appeal. (Especially if the installers prepped the wall and applied the wallpaper properly!)

4. Kitchens and Baths. I definitely agree with Elsie that kitchens and baths sell homes! But they’re also the most expensive rooms to renovate. Even if you renovate an outdated bathroom with the most basic, bottom tier bathroom fixtures, you will definitely see a return on your investment. If you choose fixtures more style specific or out of the box, you’ll make it more difficult to sell your home in the future. But as someone who is about to install a vintage yellow sink in my powder room, I would say not to let resale value dictate your every move. Just be aware that strong style choices for permanent fixtures will definitely impact the resale value of your home.

As far as kitchens go, there is a lot that’s determined by your local real estate market. If you’re concerned about resale value, take Elsie’s advice and ask a realtor if there are any renovation choices you should avoid which might negatively impact your home’s resale value. Open shelving versus upper cabinets is a hotly debated topic in today’s design world. I’m a big fan of combining the two, but in my current kitchen, I went with full-on open shelving. If I end up having to sell our home one day soon (which isn’t in my plans), I would consider adding at least a small portion of upper cabinets so as not to alienate an entire section of people who have ugly dishes and/or hate dusting.

Replacing your cabinets with something a step above builder grade is always a wise investment, especially if you go for a timeless door style, such as shaker or a simple applied-moulding style. If new cabinetry is not in your budget, refacing or replacing the doors will also make a huge impact. Countertop material is something that goes in and out of style, so be aware that if you invest in whatever the material of the moment is (like marble), it might cost a ton of money and end up looking dated in a decade or so. Many people in my region are still installing speckled granite countertops thinking they’re making a wise investment, but ripping out a countertop like that would be one of the first things I’d do if I got my hands on those kitchens! Stone material or quartz in a medium tone without extreme veining or speckling would be a safer investment.

5. Lighting. In my opinion, lighting isn’t really an investment item when it comes to renovating your home. Fixtures are easy to change, as long as you are keeping them in the same location. If you have your heart set on a $3,000 chandelier for your entryway or dining room, just know that your purchase likely won’t impact your home’s value any more than a simple fixture with mass appeal might.

If your bathroom came equipped with ’80s strip-bulb vanity lighting or ’60s swag lights, you could replace them with almost anything and make an improvement while also making an easy investment. Listen, I’m actually a fan of some ’60s swag lights, but I know that I’m in the minority, and there’s usually something that would look better. Typically, sconces at face level are the best option for bathrooms (as they offer the most flattering light to human faces), so if you’re not sure what type of lighting fixtures to use in your bathroom, I’d definitely go for sconce placement at around 5-6′ from the floor. But the actual fixtures you use are less important, as they’re not super expensive to replace.

6. Curb appeal. Fixing up the outside of my home has not traditionally been in my wheelhouse, but it’s something that I’m beginning to look into more and more because I know it is probably the biggest home investment along with kitchens and baths. I love fixing up each room inside of our home, but the exterior is super important because it’s the first impression your home will make. Damaged siding or untidy flower beds are warning signs that a homeowner isn’t so good at home maintenance. What other issues might there be within the walls of the home? That’s what I always wonder when I see exteriors suffering from neglect.

Pristine siding, stain-free stucco, and crack-free brick is one aspect of curb appeal. Tidy landscaping, a clean and damage-free roof, well-maintained gutters, properly stained/painted woodwork, and pristine exterior lighting are the next features people will notice. After those features are attended to, replacing smaller accessories like doorbells, doorknobs, and house numbers will really add a high-quality feel to your home and offer a great first impression to visitors and, one day, potential buyers.

There’s so much to consider when deciding where to make your dollars count during a home renovation, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed! My advice is not to hesitate too much when making a bold, out-of-the-box design choice. But make sure that when you’re spending a lot to make a change in your home, you’re choosing something that will look good and function well many years down the road.

We hope this advice has been helpful for those of you who are planning or considering your own home renovations! Let us know if you have questions and we’ll answer in the comments below. – Mandi

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson and Mandi Johnson. Photography: Amber Ulmer.

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