1. Kitchen Is King
Matt: And sometimes queen. Unless your home is falling down around you, the smartest place to put your hard-earned dough is in the kitchen. When I hold an open house, the first thing buyers do is make a beeline to the kitchen. That's where all the “magic” happens, so to speak. Now, I can give you the whole speech about putting down tile, stone, nice under-mount sink and yada yada yada. We have all heard it a million times over to put stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. We get it! Instead think about your layout and workspace. They call it the triangle. Basically it is the space where your cook area, sink and dishwasher meet to create an effortless flow when working. How far is your cooktop from your sink? Is your dishwasher close to the sink? Are you tripping over stools and a butcher-block table to get from one corner of the triangle to the other? If you have the means to invest some money into your kitchen, make sure to place all your new toys into a nice flowing workspace.
Nicole: I totally agree. I have seen so many people put in expensive goodies and never fix the bad flow. Spend the money on the layout — it never goes out of style. If you have a great layout, plugging in new appliances, hardware and cabinets can be quick and easy.
2. Basement or Attic Renovation
Matt: If you have a basement or a big attic, finish it out. Whether it's making the man cave of your dreams or an extra bedroom for your ever-expanding family, finishing your basement or attic can inject instant equity and square footage into your home. Just make sure a permit is pulled and all the codes are followed. If not, the square footage may not be added to the rest of the house and may not be considered a “livable” space. Different states have different codes, so make sure to hire a contractor that's on the ball.
Nicole: This is one that I would disagree with having so high on the list. I think overall basements are a gamble. Attic space to master suite — yes. Basements are more likely to help you sell, but usually buyers will not pay more for them. If a house is small and lacking space, sometimes.
3. Boost the Bathroom
Matt: You don't have to go crazy: Install new fixtures, re-grout the shower, add crown molding and brighten up the room with some paint. I really like the new textures they have for wallpaper nowadays. Yes, you heard me: wallpaper. A little texture can make a bathroom go from a plain Jane to a beauty queen. Just a few little improvements in a bathroom can be a really smart way to spend your money.
Nicole: Having removed way too much wallpaper, I have to say nix it. A great paint job and nice architectural detail is easier and will be timeless. Something as simple as a new mirror and light fixtures can make the dingiest of bathrooms look fresh and fabulous. I consider wallpaper trendy and a pain-in-the-backside in bathrooms because of all the moisture. If you do go that route, have the Super Glue handy to reattach the seams.
4. Remove the Paneling and Popcorn
Matt: The two things that scream “I'm old and I need help in a bad way!” The first is wood paneling. Don't fool yourself, that look is NEVER coming back. Especially if you have the old MDF wood panels with the high-gloss finish. Rip it out and put up some drywall. If you really like a “wood” look, use reclaimed wood installed horizontally. It looks amazing, it's not a huge or expensive project and it will instantly throw some value into your home. The second must-go item is popcorn ceilings. I am not going to go into too much detail because it is obvious. A home that looks modern will fetch a more modern home value.
Nicole: I agree. The only time I keep wood paneling is if it is knotty pine and matches the era of the home. It is real wood and not the stuff you see sold in large panels at the local big box. Houses built post-WWII usually came stocked with a knotty pine in the attics and basements. In the right element it looks fantastic. Always keep in mind the market value of your home; some projects will outprice your home for the neighborhood. Sometimes it makes more sense to give the paneling a nice paint job vs. the cost of drywall; either way, bright and fresh wins out. For popcorn ceilings — no doubt in my mind — just drywall right over them. Usually there's a reason they're popcorned: cracks and bad seams.
5. Engineered or Real-Wood Floors
Matt: Notice I wrote “engineered or real” and not laminate. People are getting very educated when it comes to wood floors. They can sniff out the cheap laminate stuff.
Nicole: I only half agree — I am still not totally sold on engineered flooring. I deal with real products only. And honestly, shopping around at liquidation centers or salvage yards, my real hardwood floors always come out cheaper than new engineered products. Oak flooring can be picked up for cheap and you can dress it up with different stain.
6. Update Plumbing
Matt: If you have old, rusty iron pipes and fear that you have ingested enough metal in your drinking water to build a small ship, you might want to consider replacing the plumbing. Believe it or not, an appraiser takes the plumbing into heavy consideration when assigning the value to a home. Back in the day, it used to be a huge undertaking with walls being torn up and drywall flying everywhere. Nowadays though, re-piping is usually done with PEX (basically plastic tubing) that is extremely reliable and can be run through your walls like an extension cord. This means less holes and a lot less mess. It also means less money spent on materials and labor. Heavy metal should be only used to describe music and not the water in your home.
Nicole: Yes, yes — it is all about the guts. No sense in putting good money into a home when the mechanics are bad. This is a win-win situation. The scariest thing for new owners is the thought that something huge like plumbing or electrical will need work. Plus, people always think these updates cost much more than they actually do.
7. Brighten Up Your Space
Matt: No one likes a dank, dark living space. Well, some people may like that sort of thing, but not anyone that likes keeping up their home's value. Throw in some can/recessed lighting in the kitchen and bathrooms to brighten the place up.
Nicole: I have seen too many lights. Simple touches like dimmer switches make a dramatic change to any room.
8. Adding Attic Insulation
Matt: If the insulation in your attic is not up to par, close to 30 percent of the nice, warm, comfortable air that your furnace is producing is going out the window. Laying insulation is an easy DIY project and the materials are pretty inexpensive.
Nicole: I love insulating. Not really, but what a relatively easy update. Also, just simple caulking around doors and windows can save you a bunch of money. You may have to sacrifice a weekend, but it will be worth it.
9. Furnace/HVAC Replacement
Matt: This is usually not on the top of anyone's mind when it comes to home improvement, but between the rebates and the energy savings, replacing a forced-air unit can start to pump not only comfort, but money into your living space. When I show buyers a home, if they see a new furnace/HVAC unit, I usually hear a sigh of relief.
Nicole: I don't totally agree. I only suggest this if you are going to be in the home a long time. Typically, you need at least five years to reap the benefits from the cost savings vs. the cost of the unit and installation. Of course, if yours is old and not working, go ahead and replace it. I just had a real estate client that was shocked that his new $15,000 furnace would not bring him a $15,000 increase in price.
10. Front Yard Makeover
1. It tells your neighbors that you take pride in your home and neighborhood.
2. It makes your home stand out.
3. It's so easy! I always look online in spring when people are splitting their perennials: I have yet to have to purchase anything, since people actually give stuff away. Also, invest in an edger — clean lines are a favorite on my list — as they can dramatically transform a yard.