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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
| Updated March 2018
Homeowners are sometimes hesitant to upgrade when it's time to sell. After all, you won't be living there much longer, and home remodeling efforts only increase home values by 57% of the average project's costs, according to Remodeling magazine's 2018 Cost vs. Value report.
But think again, sellers. The cost of inaction can be far greater than the small loss you'll incur on any home-improvement projects. "Making small upgrades over time serves a seller immensely," says Brian Lewis, a real estate broker with reality firm Compass. These don't have to be break-the-bank alterations, either. "Even merely keeping the color palette up-to-date will go a long way. Getting stuck in time with your home isn't a smart move and is rarely rewarded financially at sale time," he adds. In fact, it may cause your house to linger on the market longer. As a result, you'll likely have to pay ongoing mortgage, maintenance and staging costs.
To make the most of your remodeling budget, focus on features that most home buyers really want to see. Updated for 2018, our slide show reveals several coveted home features sought out by today's buyers.
This slide show was created using the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) 2017 Home Buyer Preferences report, part of which identifies the most desirable home features among recent and prospective home buyers with a household income ranging from $100,000 to $149,999. Estimated project costs come from Homewyse.com. Except where noted, costs reflect materials and contractor labor.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 92%
Cost to install: $1,000 to $10,000 depending on scope of project
More than anything else, homeowners want a room other than the guest bedroom to stack all the clean laundry in until it finally gets put away. A separate laundry room topped the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) list of most-wanted home features by buyers. "Having a separate room [to use for things such as folding or ironing clothes] helps to keep the mess out of your living space . . . potential buyers will see it as a huge benefit," says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm.
If you don't have an existing laundry room and want to add one, the basement is usually the easiest (and cheapest) place to put it, Sullivan advises. The utility lines are already there, and in many cases the basement is unfinished, so you won't have to demolish anything first. Adding a laundry room in the basement can cost as little as $1,000, he adds.
However, homeowners who prefer a laundry room or laundry closet (which fits just a washer and dryer) closer to the bedroom level can expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 for installation, Sullivan notes.
Cost to install: $65 to $132 per fixture
Illuminating a well-manicured lawn with exterior lighting can help grab potential buyers' attention before they even set foot in the front door. In fact, exterior lighting is the most-wanted outdoor feature, according to the NAHB. Options include spotlights, walkway lights and pendant lights.
Aesthetics aside, exterior lighting also serves as an added safety feature for your home, says Daniel Hurst, co-owner and general manager of Hurst Design-Build-Remodel, a Middleburg Heights, Ohio-based home remodeling company. Motion-sensor lights, for example, turn on automatically whenever there is movement outside your house.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 90%
Cost to install: varies (appliances), $270 - $800 each (windows)
Would-be buyers looking to limit utility bills will likely be drawn to properties with energy efficiencies, such as Energy Star-qualified windows and appliances. "Buyers are most impressed with smart, energy-efficient choices that in no way limit their comfort, but in every way save them money in the long run," Lewis says.
Energy-efficient windows can trim heating and cooling costs by 12%, while individual appliances, such as an Energy Star-certified washing machine ($500 to $1,800 at Home Depot), can save homeowners $45 a year or more on their utility bills.
Energy Star-qualified windows have an invisible glass coating, vacuum-sealed spaces filled with inert gas between panes, sturdier weather stripping than regular windows and improved framing materials -- all of which reduce undesirable heat gain and loss in the home. An Energy Star-certified dishwasher (ranging in price from $225 to $1,664 at Home Depot) uses soil sensors to assess how dirty your dishes are to minimize water use.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 89%
Cost to install: $631 per fixture with light kit and remote control
Ceiling fans were the most-wanted decorative home feature by potential buyers, according to the NAHB's report. In addition to improving a home's aesthetic, energy-efficient versions (available at Home Depot ranging in price from $41 to $700) can also help lower cooling costs when used in conjunction with an air conditioner during the warmer months.
Once your home has reached the desired temperature after running the A/C, use the ceiling fan. When running the fan, you're creating a wind chill effect that helps keep the people sitting in the room feeling cool. You should be able to raise the thermostat level by four degrees without a reduction in comfort while the fan is in use, according to Energy.gov. If you live in an area with a moderate climate during the spring and summer months, you may be able to use the ceiling fans alone and lower utility bills even more.
It's important to note that if you're looking to cut energy costs, ceiling fans shouldn't be left running in unoccupied rooms. Also, Energy.gov recommends that ceiling fans only be used in rooms with a ceiling height of at least eight feet. The fans work best at that height level and when they're hanging 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 87%
Cost to install: $950 per 120 square feet for a concrete patio
It's important for homeowners not to neglect the backyard area when prepping for resale, says Mike McGrew, former treasurer of the National Association of Realtors and CEO of McGrew Real Estate, a Lawrence, Kansas-based realty firm. In today's housing market, outdoor living spaces are quickly becoming one of the most coveted home features.
"When most buyers see a house with a really nice backyard, they start to envision themselves sitting outdoors with friends having drinks," McGrew adds. Outdoor areas offer more living space without the cost of a large-scale home addition.
Thanks to the popularity of home renovation TV shows, such as DIY Network's "Yard Crashers," HGTV's "Flip or Flop" and PBS's "This Old House," buyers now envision everything from a traditional ground-level patio to an elevated deck to a backyard kitchen area.
Cost to install: $1,429 per 120 square feet of red oak flooring
Hardwood flooring offers a cleaner look, is easier to maintain and is more durable than carpet, which needs to be replaced every eight to 10 years. "Hardwood can be refinished periodically and lasts a lifetime," Sullivan says.
Sellers on a budget may want to buy engineered wood flooring (which is a hardwood veneer wrapped around several layers of plywood, fiberboard and hardwood). The cost to install 120 square feet of engineered wood flooring is $1,239 -- about 15% cheaper than pure hardwood flooring.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 86%
Cost to install: $2,025 - $2,363 for a 380-square-foot space
Buyers with growing families need lots of storage space. Sellers should keep in mind that "streamlined living equates to more dollars in your pocket at sale time," Lewis says. Carving out some space in your garage to help keep clutter out of the main living area could help your bottom line. "Make sure the bonus space is easily accessible and wonderfully organized," he adds.
Unlike an attic or a backyard shed, the garage is accessible -- generally, just a few steps away from the rest of the house -- making it easier to transport items such as tools, patio chairs or boxes to and from other parts of the house.
The installation cost includes adding cabinetry, a peg wallboard for tools, and improved lighting and electrical circuits.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 82%
Cost to install: $1,000 - $10,000
Eat-in kitchens are a must-have for many buyers, especially families with children. It's a space where they often congregate in the morning for breakfast before the kids head off to school and parents to work, or in the evening for dinner so everyone can share highlights from their day.
Removing a wall to create space for a small table and chairs in your kitchen is relatively inexpensive, but that price can quickly escalate if there's additional repair work that needs to be done, says Neil Parsons, owner of Design Build Pros, a Red Bank, N.J., project design firm. First, determine whether the wall is load-bearing. Non-load-bearing walls are used merely to separate rooms, while load-bearing walls help hold up the weight of the house. Improperly removing the latter could cause rooms on upper levels of the home to cave in. Getting rid of a non-load-bearing wall can cost as little as $1,000; removing a load-bearing wall can run as much as $10,000.
Another concern is the possibility of mechanicals in the wall, such as plumbing, duct work and electrical wiring, that may need to be removed, Parsons notes.
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