The #1 question I get asked is: What renovations have the best return on investment? Most people will tell you that updated kitchens and bathrooms have the highest impact on a home selling successfully. While this is somewhat true, I have a better answer...
A cohesive home is better than a partially-updated home.
If one bathroom or just the kitchen is remodeled to look like it belongs in a magazine while the rest of the home is left 20 years outdated, it makes the buyer feel like they have to renovate the rest of the home upon moving in. That's a BIG overwhelming to-do list and makes your home feel far from "move-in ready."
Instead, if your goal is to remodel and sell, I recommend starting renovation projects that you can carry throughout the whole house. For example, new floors throughout the entire home, new countertops throughout the kitchen and bathrooms, painting all the cabinets, or new light fixtures throughout.
Going room by room can make the home feel very hodge-podge and the un-updated areas stand out like a sore thumb while carrying your updates (even if it's just floors and countertops) throughout the whole home has a buyer feeling like the home is more "move-in ready."
List of renovations with the best ROI
If I had to give a blanket statement list of renovations with the highest ROI here are my notes starting with the most impactful:
This would be any repairs that are actively causing problems to the house. Active roof leaks, damaged drywall, badly stained toilets and showers, broken doors or door handles. Oddly enough, this won't give you any ROI, however, your house will NOT sell if you have active issues. If it does sell with active issues, your buyer got a killer deal and you were short-changed.
LVP (white oak is a great start), or a neutral tile (faux wood or a modern slate grey) throughout the home. Flooring is the most daunting task for a buyer, so if you can take care of that, your house will be sitting above the rest on the market! To give the buyer fewer options of things to have opinions about, I like to suggest LVP throughout the entire house.
However, you could do a fun floor tile in a powder room, laundry room, or primary bathroom. Don't get too crazy, but it wouldn't hurt to add a fun floor feature in one or two rooms!
If you are getting new floors, I advise installing new, modern, high-profile baseboards. Updating the baseboards will make your home feel like a brand-new model home. Do you know what sells well? Model homes.
New countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms. Quartz or quartzite offers great practical and stunning options. If you have a split countertop bar, please spend the money to lower the bar and have one large island or peninsula countertop. Unless you have to move plumbing, it's pennies on the dollar to lower a bar top to countertop height.
Here are a few countertop suggestions:
Butcherblock can be an affordable countertop for a laundry room, built-in desk, or even a kitchen island countertop.
If you are going for a high-end look, I recommend a natural stone like quartzite or granite. Anything with linear veins, as opposed to a patchy/blotchy stone, is ideal. While you are at it, try a "leather" or "satin" finish for your natural stone countertops. They are all the rage, and I'm obsessed with it!
Quartz countertops are likely the most affordable and practical option while still achieving a great look!
New kitchen backsplash is always a great idea! If you keep your tile costs reasonably low, this should be one of your most affordable projects that makes a great visual impact.
Disclaimer: I love this photo above because it's a great example of a super affordable backsplash, affordable butcherblock countertops, and basic white cabinets. All of which look super attractive. However, please do not end your backsplash tile uncut like this. That's a no-no for re-sale. Too funky.)
Either paint, restain, or get new cabinets altogether. This decision should be based on the comps in your neighborhood, your budget, and your goal sales price. However, I always recommend new cabinets if the current cabinets are outdated (have an arch at the top or are from the 90's or earlier).
For example, if these are your cabinets...
...please don't paint them. You are not fooling anyone by slapping paint on this pig. Just get new cabinets. Odds are, cabinets this old are probably not in the best shape either.
I also recommend new cabinets if you have the funds to do it, you're staying in the home long enough to also build equity, and/or your home is more than 1,800 sqft. The profit margins on renovated houses grow proportionally with the size of the home and your ROI potential is greater the larger the house/property.
On the flip side, profit margins on a smaller home are so slim that it's difficult to justify the ROI on new cabinets. In this case, it's a great idea to paint the cabinets!
Also, NEVER get custom cabinetry on a house you're trying to update to sell - it's WAY too expensive. Just get cabinets from RTA, Ikea, or Lowes/Home Depot. Any kind of "Ready To Assemble" cabinet is ideal for a flip.
As for bathroom cabinets, all these suggestions still apply. However, if you're considering new bathroom cabinets, I'd recommend purchasing an entire vanity set. If you pay for new cabinets, a cabinet installer, new countertops, and a countertop fabricator/installer, it'll add up fast! A vanity set is typically a much more affordable route. Here are a few examples, all of which are under $1,000:
Primary Bathroom (for the overachiever)
If you are going for a more high-end flip, I could suggest updating the primary bathroom shower. New tile, glass, and shower head. And possibly a new free-standing tub. Remember to stay frugal! This project alone could get out of hand!
New Hardware Throughout
All new faucets, cabinet knobs/pulls, and matte black door levers surprisingly go a long way. A new front door handle makes a great first impression as well!
Disclaimer: This photo is from our first home remodel 4 years ago. I LOVED this faucet and cabinet hardware (and still do!). However, I'm looking at this photo and laughing because this is the kind of "blotchy" countertops I advised against earlier in this blog post! Ha! I loved these countertops at the time. However, I was aware that it was on the tail end of being "in." Our small town didn't have a lot of updated homes, so I knew I could get away with this affordable option that was on its way out of style and no one would bat an eye. And I was right. The house sold well and the kitchen looked great! Ha.
New Light Fixtures
This can be a fun one, but remember to keep all your fixtures cohesive. All the bedrooms should have the same ceiling fan.
All the bathrooms should have the same vanity light fixture. If there are more than 3+ bathrooms in the house, you could do a nicer fixture in the primary bathroom and/or half bath as long as it still matches the other fixtures in the home. (Remember, achieving a whole-home cohesive look is our #1 priority!)
You could consider installing a light fixture in the entry if it's large enough...
2 pendant lights over the island or peninsula (if there's not enough room for 2, don't do any. One pendant can look weird)...
And a nice dining room fixture.
Things you should NOT renovate:
Move major plumbing. Moving plumbing is costly and you may not get an ROI with this one. Don't move the kitchen sink (unless the current flow is horrendous), or add a second sink to a 1 sink vanity. It's not necessary and is costly.
The same goes for electrical. Try to avoid adding extra lighting that is not necessary. "If it's not broke, don't fix it" is a great motto. If a room doesn't have a ceiling light, by all means, add one. But don't add sconces, or spotlights over the fireplace or niche just for the heck of it. Those are extra and not necessary.
Rearrange the structural layout. It's risky and costly. I have a hard time including this one on the list because it depends on the layout. If knocking down a wall will open up a space and create better flow - go for it! Heck, we did that in our current house! However, I have shown some listings where they removed or added a wall and that change totally messed up the floor plan flow. Those listings just sit on the market indefinitely! Please consult a professional before making any structural decisions. (I am always available if you have questions or need recommendations.) This principle also applies to removing closets. If you remove a closet, you have now officially subtracted a bedroom from your MLS listing. Bad idea. The more bedrooms the better!
If you can avoid replacing all the windows, AC/Heater, and the roof, I wouldn't touch it. They are the 3 most costly upgrades and, although they will raise the value of a home, they will not give you a full return on investment. Not even close. These heavy hitters could put you in the hole when flipping a house.
If I had to pick the 3 renovations with the most ROI it would be:
1) New floors throughout
2) New countertops throughout
3) New light fixtures & faucets throughout
One extra piece, "read the room." If the neighborhood you live in is higher-end, then match that with a higher renovation budget, a longer punch list of updates, and nicer finishes (I didn't say "costly" finishes, just "nicer." There's still no need to be spending too much money). If you live in an area that has smaller homes and the comps in the neighborhood are not super high-priced, then don't stress trying to go overboard. Keep the finishes, list of updates, and budget simple.
Lastly, consult with a professional and stick to a budget. As always, reach out if you have any questions! I live for this stuff :)
I'm Jessica Doberneck; a Realtor with a Background in Interior Design. If you are looking to purchase a fixer-upper to live in, renovate, build equity, and eventually sell - look no further, I'd love to help you shop around. If you own an outdated home but are hoping to sell - look no further; I'd love to fund and manage a quick flip on your home and get it sold for top dollar.