These Home Updates Paid Off When I Sold My House – A Real Life Example

A common question we get from home sellers is “Will I see a positive ROI if I make this update on my house?” or “Should I renovate my home before I put it on the market?” Good questions, although hard data points to prove since there is no way to actually compare the various scenarios in real life. You only sell once, and you either do or don’t make the updates.

My husband and I recently sold our home and had the same questions. There was about $15,000 worth of updates I wanted to make. I had a hunch these updates would add some value and make the house stand out when the home was on market – but it was just a hunch. Naturally we had concerns about spending the money and not seeing a return on our investment. This article breaks down the areas we addressed and shares our overall experience and results.

Overview

Although in good shape – we had tackled big projects along the way (new roof, new exterior paint, new deck, appliance and system maintenance, etc) – the home was nearing 50 years old and it had been 20 years since the previous remodel. It was starting to show its age.

The overall goal here was to add some “wow” factor back into the house by updating some of the appearances into the current decade, upgrading in some areas and tidying things up. We performed the updates right away when we were considering moving (about a year before we sold). It was nice to not feel rushed in the process and to be able to enjoy the updates while still living there. A little bit of up-front work took a lot of the pressure off when it was time to sell.

What we did

Paint – $2000

We had lived in the home for 10 years and had only refreshed the interior paint in a couple of rooms. The walls looked shabby and you could see the wear and tear when you walked through the home. This one was a no-brainer – new paint will always make things look fresher and newer. We also made smaller repairs – drywall imperfections and cracks, molding scuffs, and some minor water damage. I changed out the colors in a couple of rooms with more modern colors.

Doors – $1500

Our house had a mish-mash of doors. The upstairs doors were all matching with a 6-panel design. The downstairs had really bad hollow-core, banged-up, poorly whitewashed doors. Originally I wanted to update all with solid-core doors. I love how a nice solid door makes a house feel (I think it makes the home feel higher-end) but have you ever counted the number of doors in your home? The tally in our small 2600 sqft home was 20! At around $200 per door that was over budget and I didn’t feel the overall quality of the home called for that type of upgrade. For $1500 though we upgraded the 5 basement doors to match the upper level and had all the scuffs painted. The basement instantly looked better.

Door Hardware – $1500

Each door in the house had really cheap shiny brass bulbous doorknobs. Ugly. So we looked at replacing all of the door hardware.  Turns out there’s a lot of hardware on a door – doorknob, hinge, strike plate… plus specialty options like deadbolts, flushbolts and kick plates. We wanted to use a mid-grade product to give a more expensive, polished feel to the home. All told we were looking at $1000 in hardware plus labor costs to swap it out. This was one of the hardest upgrades to pull the trigger on. In the end though – so worth it. The door hardware really upgraded the home and brought it into modern times – and so nice to have the feel of a substantial doorknob in your hand with perfectly working parts.

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Kitchen Counters, Backsplash, and Undermount Sink – $8500

Technically there was nothing wrong with the kitchen, but it definitely felt dated with dark granite tile counters and terra cotta orange walls.  I am always drawn to light and bright kitchens, so a lot of this was a personal style choice. I also wanted to create a kitchen that people would have a positive emotional reaction to and really stand out in people’s home search. All told, we spent about $8500 in this room – adding new Quartz countertops, a subway tile backsplash, and an undermount sink. We also had the walls painted a bright neutral color. These updates really modernized the kitchen and gave it a fresh feel. In fact with its open floorplan, the whole house just showed better.

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Light Fixtures – $750

For the most part the lighting fixtures in the home were pretty standard-issue Home Depot – nothing too fancy, very safe. We did decide to update the dining/entry lighting as well as outdoor lighting – just to add something that fit the age of the home and provide an upgraded feel. Total cost here was around $750.

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Deferred maintenance – $750

There were a few neglected areas we tended to – appliance fixes, trim, tile re-grouting, broken window seals. These are areas you should budget for if you can. No one wants to take on your deferred maintenance!

The Result

We put the house on the market in June during a very hot Seattle seller’s market. We set a realistic asking price after carefully touring and reviewing all comparable homes in the neighborhood and accounting for some drawbacks of the home – for instance a funky layout and bedrooms below-grade. We did receive 5 offers within a week and the house was bid up by 10% – far and away exceeding what we thought the home would sell for. Although a lot of this can be attributed to market conditions – I do believe that the time, money and updating that we put into the home really made the home stand out, causing an emotional reaction from buyers – and contributed to the successful quick sale.

In summation, try to look at the home through the eyes of a potential buyer. Deferred maintenance items should definitely be taken care of before selling. Think of this exercise as less about adding value to your home, but more about supporting your asking price and making the property more attractive to a buyer.

Also, one thought I was left with was “Why didn’t I make these updates sooner?” Don’t just make updates to sell – do them for your enjoyment too!