5 Home Improvements That Add the Most Value

Not all updates done to a home add value from a return-on-investment standpoint, so deciding which home improvements to focus on to add the most value is paramount to be able to spend your hard-earned money smartly.

As a matter of fact, most home improvements carry significant sunken costs when it comes time to sell. My experience as a Realtor® as well as in real estate investing has helped me compile a list of the best areas of your home to emphasize for budget-friendly home improvement ideas in order to realize the greatest return on investment.

The home improvements that add the most value to a property from a resale perspective are the kitchen, bathrooms, curb appeal, back yard, and finishing touches.

The focus of this article is not on complete overhauls, where the margin for realizing a return on investment is very thin. Here, we look at strong home renovation ideas for resale potential.

This article will break down each area of the home that adds the most resale value and give a brief description of the areas of focus for each project. It is important to note before we continue that unless you have a proven eye for design, it is best to appeal to as wide a range of potential buyers as possible!

Kitchen Renovations

Kitchen Value Add Potential
UpgradeCostReturn on Investment
Fixtures and KnobsLowMedium
Crown MoldingHighLow

Increasing home value from renovation typically starts with the kitchen. The kitchen is widely regarded as the main gathering place in a home, an area where families are able to spend the most time together. Due to this fact, it is often going to draw the most attention from prospective buyers. Now, that doesn’t mean every buyer is looking for a gourmet chef’s kitchen that cost forty thousand dollars to renovate, it simply means buyers prefer a kitchen that is both functional and is up to date with modern standards.

To bring your kitchen from basic to custom, the easiest project to tackle is installing knobs and pulls on the cabinetry. Not only is it the easiest and quickest project in the kitchen, but it brings the highest rate of return in resale value.

Other high-end finishes such as backsplash, faucets and elegant woodwork will unify the custom look but cost more money to install and bring a lower rate of return. If these projects are completed by yourself and by using cost effective materials, the increase in value can far exceed the cost of installation, adding value to your home and cutting down the time your home will spend on the market.

A new set of kitchen appliances is often not required if preparing your home for sale – I recommend not replacing them unless you will be living in the home for some time and able to enjoy the updated appliances prior to selling.

For an in-depth breakdown of how to tackle kitchen projects, see our articles on removing backsplash and installing kitchen cabinets!

Bathroom Renovations

Remodeled Bathroom
Bathroom Value Add Potential
UpgradeCostReturn on Investment
Bathroom VanityMediumMedium
Fixtures and KnobsLowLow
Shower Door and TileMediumHigh

The bathrooms are an important place to renovate, as there are many cost-effective home upgrades that can be made. Over 70% of the homes on the market in Phoenix, Arizona (the second largest real estate market in the nation) over the past year have been listed with builder-grade bathrooms. Builder-grade is a broad term that can be loosely explained as bathrooms having bare mirrors, standard or dated faucets, no hardware on cabinets, composite or fabricated countertops, dated doorknobs and towel racks, and standard or dated light fixtures.

Not only are homes with updated bathrooms selling for more (4-6% more on average in the Phoenix market) but they are selling faster, with an average time on market of 12 days compared to 37 days for those without updated bathrooms.

Updating The Mirror

In smaller guest bathrooms or two or three-piece washrooms, the mirror is typically no bigger than a standard wall-hung framed mirror. Removing the glued on, builder-grade mirror and replacing it with an economical purchase from your local thrift store immediately transforms the bathroom from cookie-cutter to custom, something majority of buyers will appreciate.

Mirrors are typically held in place by a track on the bottom, small J-hooks on the top, and construction adhesive. To remove the existing mirror, first remove the J-hooks on the top by removing the screws used to hold them in place. Place duct tape or painter’s tape on the mirror in a large “X” formation to keep the mirror from shattering and take a metal putty knife and pry it between the mirror and the wall, working around the top edges of the mirror. Increase the leverage used as you work your way down the wall and the mirror should break away from the wall.

Another way to transform the mirror in a bathroom is to leave it on the wall and frame it out with pieces of trim. Simply buy the required length of your favorite trim from your local hardware store, prime and paint to match your décor or vision, and attach to the wall around the perimeter of the mirror. It can either be affixed using construction adhesive to the mirror itself or finishing nails outside the outer edges of the mirror.

Custom Countertops

From my experience, the best place to spend up in the bathroom is on the countertops or a new vanity. It is most cost-effective to purchase an entire slab of your stone of choice to be used in multiple bathrooms as opposed to buying a single piece of stone. Shop around for a company that sells stone countertops by the slab and bring them the dimensions of each counter required. They will cut each to dimension and drill out faucet holes for you, saving you money on install and saving you money by creating multiple counters from one slab.

Another option would be to simply add a new bathroom vanity. It would like be more cost effective and would be much simpler to upgrade.

Light fixtures, faucets, doorknobs and towel racks can all be purchased relatively inexpensively from your local hardware store or online retailer and come with easy-to-follow installation instructions. Changing these hardware items helps unify the décor and provides a custom look many home shoppers look for when purchasing a home.

Upgrade and Update Your Curb Appeal

Home Curb Appeal
Curb Appeal Value Add Potential
UpgradeCostReturn on Investment
Power Wash ExteriorLowHigh
Clean GuttersLowLow
New Much/Rock BeddingMediumHigh
Stain Garage DoorLowHigh
New Front DoorMediumMedium
Driveway Repair/PowerwashLow-HighHigh
Proper LandscapingLow-HighHigh

Home upgrades that add value without breaking the bank; in other wordsx Curb appeal, or how your home looks from the street. This is your best chance at a lasting first impression. It is the first thing prospective buyers will see when pulling up to your home and should be clean and inviting.

Simple projects to update your curb appeal at no cost to you include:

  • Trimming trees, bushes and shrubs
  • Pulling weeds
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Raking fallen leaves, tree limbs and rock areas
  • Removing old mulch in planter beds and foliage areas

These simple project make a massive impact to the curb appeal of the home. Replace any mulch removed with natural or colored varieties.

Garage door and front door updates make a big impact and can be transformed at minimal cost. For dark-colored garage doors, take a rag and bottle of olive oil and rub the oil into the garage door. The garage door will be instantly brought back to original condition, erasing the fade from the sun. For light-colored garage doors, a quick coat of paint is your best bet!

A bold color choice for your front door makes your home stand out from the others in the neighborhood and can be completed for under $30, a fraction of the cost of replacing the door with a custom piece. Double check with your home owner’s association for an approved color pallet before painting.

Fixtures like door hardware and exterior lighting complete the updated look and are an easy and inexpensive way to highlight the transition from outside to in. For a quick impact project, rent a power washer from your local hardware store and give your vinyl siding or stucco exterior a quick face lift.

Create an Inviting Back Yard

Backyard Value Add Potential
UpgradeCostReturn on Investment
PoolVery HighLow
Outdoor KitchenHighMedium
Hot TubHighLow

Homebuyers in today’s market desire living spaces that carry the inside out. Our job in finding the home improvement projects that bring the highest rate of return is identifying the areas that appeal to the broadest spectrum of prospective buyers. The scope of back yard renovation can be as simple as decluttering and staging or as in-depth as a full back yard makeover.

The focus of a back yard makeover should be to create a functional space for prospective buyers to be able to envision their family spending time together. Visit our sister article for a complete breakdown of how to install your own sprinkler system in a full back yard renovation.

Smaller tasks that create a big impact include trimming or replacing overgrown trees, shrubs or bushes, power washing the exterior, hanging string lighting, and staging areas of the yard to highlight intended use.

Items such as pools, hot tubs and decks are often not worth the time, money and effort to install as they will not retain value in resale. For this reason, the decision to install these features should come down to personal enjoyment as opposed to adding value to your home.

Finishes – Fresh Paint, Hardware and Fixtures

Finishes and Other Value Add Potential
UpgradeCostReturn on Investment
New PaintLow-MediumHigh
Ceiling FansMediumMedium
Garage FlooringMedium-HighLow-Medium
Finished BasementHigh-Very HighMedium
Door Knobs and HandlesLowMedium

Finishes are often overlooked in the search to add value to a home but create one of the largest impacts for the least amount of investment. Anything you can do to remove items from the mental checklist of to-do items for a potential home buyer as they walk through your home is a task well worth your time and effort.

A simple fresh coat of paint goes a long way in accomplishing this goal. To break up the seemingly monumental task of painting an entire house, divide the home into manageable chunks, completing one room in its entirety before moving on to the next. With the appropriate lead time, planning and motivation, you can completely paint the interior of your home in as little as a day per room.

Prior to painting, ensure you complete any repairs to drywall and settling cracks in addition to removing all outlet covers. Some homeowners can save time by not taping off baseboards and ceilings prior to painting, but if it is your first time painting I would highly recommend not skipping this step. It will save you time in the end by making sure the prep work is done right.

Replacing lighting fixtures, chandeliers and ceiling fans gives the home a finished feel and is often an overlooked selling feature. In addition to being quick updates, the total cost of replacing every fixture in the home is typically under $1,000, creating an impact versus cost ratio that is weighted heavily in your favor.

Remove and replace any dated door hardware with more modern door knobs. Any gold or brass finishes in a home leftover from the 90s give the feel of a neglected domicile, leaving prospective buyers thinking about what else in the home has been neglected. Door knobs and handles can be purchased in bulk from your local hardware store or an online retailer and can be installed in minutes!

For those stubborn gold or brass hinges on interior doors, save time and money by simply painting over them to match the color of the trim. If you decide to replace them, take a screwdriver and pop out the connecting pin from the bottom before unscrewing the attaching screws in the door frame and door. I recommend taking one of the hinges with you when purchasing new ones to ensure they are the same size.

The overall goal when renovating with the thought of adding value to a home is to keep the buyer in mind. Appeal to as large of a demographic as possible, keep things focused on utility and function, and don’t overbuild for your area. Make sure the finishes chosen are uniform throughout, which helps with continuity and is appealing to human nature. With simple and inexpensive choices, your home will increase in value and will sell much quicker than those on the market with dated features!

Luke Miller

Luke Miller is a writer, real estate professional, rental property investor, and home renovation enthusiast based in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up in Iowa in a self-sufficient household where he learned the skills to do everything from plumbing, drywall, to basic handyman repair for everyday problems. He enjoys sharing his vast experience and his continuous learning with fellow DIY enthusiasts.

Recent Posts