Is digging up the backyard to put in a pool worth it? What about upgrading a tired-looking kitchen with gleaming marble countertops? And what about installing high-tech speakers—throughout the house?
If you’re planning to renovate your home, you may already be asking yourself these very questions. But when it comes to increasing your home’s appraisal value, the answer to them isn’t always a resounding yes.
To help ensure that your reno dollars are well spent, we asked real estate experts across the country to weigh in on the top five home improvement dos that can boost resale value—and five don'ts that just aren't worth the extra expense.
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Renovation to Do: Upgrade Your Kitchen
All of our experts agree that a kitchen renovation should be at the top of your list, since it's the heart of a home—the room where families spend most of their time. But where to start? A couple of givens include upgrading to stainless steel appliances and installing countertops made from engineered stone or granite, because these fairly easy changes will improve the aesthetic appeal of the space. Details can also make a difference, like putting shiny knobs on cabinets and purchasing a sparkling new faucet for the sink.
Another wise kitchen upgrade? Knocking down a full or half wall, so you can connect the kitchen to a den or living room. “It makes the kitchen feel more spacious," says Phyllis Rockower, owner of the Real Estate Investors Club of Los Angeles in California. "If you’re cooking, you can still hear what people are saying during a party, or keep an eye on your kids while they’re playing.”
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Renovation to Do: Revamp Your Bathroom
A toilet that looks old, cracked or dirty (or doesn’t flush properly) is a turn-off—and the same goes for a vanity, which should be eye-catching and practical. “Install a vanity that recesses into the wall, so it saves space,” advises Alen Moshkovich, a broker for Douglas Elliman in New York City.
Proper lighting can also be a great value booster, such as adding a window in the bathroom, so natural light can illuminate the space.
There's one other more simple fix that homeowners tend to overlook: Reglazing a tub, rather than getting a new one, will save you money and upgrade the look of your bathroom.
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Renovation to Do: Go Green
“In the last four to five years, there’s been a growing demand for green housing,” says Tom Ferstl, a commercial and residential real estate appraiser at Ferstl Valuation Services in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Making your home more energy efficient is a plus—anything that helps keep heat in during the colder months and out during the warmer months will help.”
The changes can be small, such as adding storm doors or a ceiling fan in each room. Or they can be large, like double- or triple-paning your windows.
Want more ideas on how to renovate your home in a green way? Check out Regreen, a site created by the American Society of Interior Designers Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council.
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Renovation to Do: Invest in a Sprinkler System
Many homeowners don’t want to be bothered with maintaining a stunning, landscaped garden, so planting tons of tress, bushes or flowers isn’t necessarily going to elevate your home’s value. But everyone wants green grass, so adding a sprinkler system that automatically turns on and off is a good investment, says Ferstl, because it allows a buyer to keep a lawn looking good without much work.
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Renovation to Do: Install Built-In Speakers
High-tech homes stand out ... and will impress buyers. Your best bet is to centrally wire a sound system in your home, and put a speaker in every room, so you can control music from anywhere in the house with one remote. Rockower also suggests installing surround sound in the den or living room (basically wherever you watch TV), which makes watching movies or sporting events more exciting.
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Renovation to Avoid: Putting in a Pool
You may think that a beautiful backyard pool will make buyers flock to your home, but many families don’t want to deal with the maintenance or the liability of an accidental drowning. “It’s an especially bad investment in the northeast and the northwest, where you have few hot months to actually use a pool,” says realtor Brendon DeSimone, a member of the National Association of Realtors and an expert contributor to Good Morning America and HGTV.
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Renovation to Avoid: Converting a Bedroom
Turning a bedroom into a room that’s specific to your interests—such as a wine cellar or a library—is a risk. Once you start embedding wine refrigerators or bookshelves and customizing the space's structure, the room becomes less valuable, because the next owner may not want to spend money renovating that room. “If you insist on doing it, at least make it easy to ‘un-do’ later when you want to sell,” says DeSimone.
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Renovation to Avoid: Laying Down Carpet
Don’t bother carpeting any room in the house. “Natural hardwood flooring is what everyone wants these days,” says Moshkovich. Plus, wood floors tend to be easier to clean, they don’t show as much dirt and they’re better for family members who suffer from allergies. “If you're looking to save, engineered wood is cheaper than 100% natural wood—and it still looks good,” suggests Moshkovich.
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Renovation to Avoid: Installing Ornate Lighting
Buyers like bright lighting, but if you empty your wallet buying an over-the-top chandelier, you probably won’t get most of your money back, notes Ferstl. “Some people go all out when decorating a dining room, but the next owner may want to turn the dining room into a bedroom, so it’s often a waste," Rockower says. Her recommendation: Opt for subtle high hat or recessed lighting or get a basic chandelier or hanging fixture from Home Depot—you can find a bunch that look good for under $100.
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Renovation to Avoid: Redoing Your Garage
“I’ve seen some people turn garages into family rooms or play rooms—and then have a hard time selling their house,” says DeSimone. “Most people want a garage to stay a garage.” Not only do buyers want to protect their cars from rain and snow, but they also need a place to put dirty outdoor stuff, like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, shovels and garbage cans. Bottom line: Don't go glam with your garage!