What 'sweat equity' really improves home value? I've been told kitchens are the old stand by, but what other

Asked by Alison, 98204 Wed Jul 2, 2008

things really grab the heart strings of a potential buyer and increase property value?

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Carla Freund, Agent, Raleigh, NC
Sun Jul 13, 2008
You have a lot of good responses and great places to begin. I have a couple of suggestions and things to consider that weren't mentioned already. First of all, yes, the kitchen and bath are still the areas that best sell a home. However, what to put in that home depends on the area you live in. Builders and sellers are always looking for the latest and greatest in order to stay ahead of the competition. If the homes price point is in the 1st time homebuyer category, they may not be in the market for all the bells and whistles. A first time homebuyer "may "simply need/want fresh neutral paint, good clean flooring, good working air & heat systems, and a comfort that they will have time to recover from the closing before the home needs repairs. Of course, they will have request such as # of bedrooms, baths, square footage, etc. However, if you purchase a home that increases in value and ends up surpassing the first time homebuyer price point, you may be looking at more bells and whistles. In my area, granite counters and upgraded flooring are a staple for many homes. Some sellers who purchased homes 7-10 years ago are finding themselves having to upgrade their homes just to sell them. I'm sure they wish they had done this earlier so they could have enjoyed those upgrades. I suggest you build a relationship with a local Real Estate Professional who can point you in the best direction. Afterall, we're usually the ones the buyers express their needs and desires to. Most Realtors also keep a list of recommended vendors should you find a project you can't complete yourself.

Another thing to consider would be basic expectations of buyers today. I live in a high tech area so my buyers often expect homes to have ethernet cable. Even if they don't work from home, chances are they and their families are high tech and use technology daily. Builders are usually in tune to buyers needs and desires and will provide these things as part of their home purchase. You may benefit from keeping a watch on the new homes in your price range and area and borrowing ideas from the builders.

Looking ahead to resale value can be very wise. You may want to compile a list of things you plan to do so you can take advantage of sales. For example, if you plan to add a deck and the cost of wood is at its highest, you may want to complete another project first as long as the deck can wait. Check Ebay, Craigslist and other sales for items you may need to replace. You would be surprised what you can get. We've been fortunate to find a kitchen sink, garbage disposal, digital thermostats, and more online, all new for less than retail. Also check for a local builder reuse center. In Raleigh, NC, Habitat for Humanity takes in unused items from builders and the community. They sell them to fund their projects. So, you can get a good deal and help a good cause.

You've probably heard the word "green" used a lot when referring to homes these days. Is this a trend or the wave of the future? In my "opinion", we need to take notice and keep tabs because it may be here to stay. With that being said, a lot of first time homebuyers are looking for a place to live in which they can walk to do many of their errands and enjoy entertainment. The idea is that it saves money, supports a healthy lifestyle, and is good for the earth. In addition to that, they are looking for homes that use natural materials that come from renewable sources such as bamboo. You will have to do a little research with that and decide if the cost of going "green" can be recovered when you sell your home.

I truly hope all these suggestions help. Best of luck with your home purchase and updates.

Carla Freund
1 vote
Kevin Ratliff, , Vancouver, WA
Mon Jul 14, 2008
Dear Alison,

You may also want to consider getting a professional home inspection prior to selling your home. Don't be caught unaware of problems that could seriously undermine your dedicated efforts to sell a home. Having a home inspected before you list is more important than ever in this buyer's market, so make the most of your time and effort by getting a Pillar To Post home inspection prior to listing.

A pre-listing home inspection can uncover previously unknown problems - major and minor - allowing sellers the opportunity to make repairs or replacements as needed. By addressing these issues before the home goes on the market, you can list a home with confidence in its condition and will have a better chance of maximizing its value. Being aware of issues in advance will also allow for disclosure of problems when selling, which can result in cleaner offers and a smoother transaction for both parties.

Check out our Repair Cost Estimate Guide at:

Best of luck with your sell!

Kevin Ratliff
Pillar To Post Home Inspections
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Jay Sunderla…, , Lake Stevens, WA
Sun Jul 13, 2008
Hi Alison,
I'm an investor and Broker who specializes in single family properties in the Everett area. If you'll send me an email, I'll send you an article I send to many of my clients. The title of the article is "Making Home improvements Pay" and is one of the most useful articles I've found on the subject. It's adapted from "Remodling Magazine" and gives you the payoff of several home improvements. Sellers can use this to plan remodel projects and buyers can use it to aid in evaluating what to offer on a home that has had improvements made to it.

Finally, if you are interested in a particular property, visit http://www.ziprealty.com and use the "Offer Evaluator" tool. This is a very good tool for determining what you should pay for a home.

I could give you my personal opinion about what attracts buyers, but the truth is, that's a very individualized question. What attracts you may not attract someone else. Since we haven't met, I can't give you a solid answer. All I can do is give you information to help you make up your own mind. Good luck. I wish you the best in your search.
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Alison, Home Buyer, 98204
Wed Jul 2, 2008
Thanks for all of the helpful responses! I'm obviously just in the market to buy a house and was wanting to get used to the idea of what and how I could improve the sale price before I leave (5-7 years)

Not planning on 'flipping' anything, or major renovation. The tips about the "finishing touches" and easy gardening goes a long way! Thanks again!
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Mark Despain, Agent, Seattle, WA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
You have gotten some great answers here. But keep in mind that there are many factors to consider beyond generalizations of what buyers "want." It is also a matter of what buyers can afford. I would ask first what improvements the house and the neighborhood market will support.

For instance it is a pretty safe bet that most buyers want a second bathroom but that isn't always feasible in small, older houses without a lot of space to begin with. And that goes for expanding the kitchen, as well. If you are in a neighborhood of 2 bedroom/1 bath homes, you may be creating a higher sales price than the potential competition. And if you are considering selling in the current market (that is within the next year or so) the lower the asking price, the more potential buyers you will attract, e.g. the more buyers there will be that can qualify for the loan.

I always thought of "sweat equity" as things that most every unskilled homeowner could do themselves: yard work, interior and exterior painting, vinyl flooring, and maybe some light carpentry, etc. But when you start considering adding rooms or modernizing kitchens and baths, that is renovation and usually best left to the professionals. And using professionals really drives up the costs.

I have included a link that has some great generalizations for professional remodeling costs vs. value.


Good luck!
Web Reference:  http://www.homehounds.com
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Jeff Larkin, Agent, Everett, WA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
That's a great question because it's become a 'buzz word' that's thrown around without being identified.

Unless you plan to stay in your home at least a few years, you may want to limit your investments to making sure plumbing and electrical systems are operating properly, and to cosmetic upgrades that will improve curb appeal and freshen-up your home.

After timing, your next consideration should be how your home compares with others in your neighborhood. When selling, you want your home to out shine your competition without overbuilding for your neighborhood.

Particularly if the area where you can add a deck faces West or South, a deck that adds living space will add value to your home.

In the kitchen, stainless appliances do not have to be 'top of the line' in order to attract attention. Similarly, even granite tile counters make a very favorable impression.

In the master bath in particular, if you are replacing the vanity consider a taller cabinet and try to include double sinks A tile floor, skylight, glass block shower are all eye catchers.

Be consistent with the overall character of your home so that an improvement doesn't look out of place, and avoid items (like a sauna) that will appeal to a narrow market segment.

Hope you enjoy the process that creates the 'sweat'!

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Stacey Lange, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
Alison -

I think Don and Keith's answer below are very good. In the end the improvements will come down to the matter of are you making them to enjoy them for yourself with the long term goal to maintain or increase the value of your home and property....OR are you wanting to make some improvements with the hope of gaining a higher sale price in the more immediate future. If the latter is the case, I would encourage you to determine which improvements you can afford and have done in a professional manner (meaning if you do it yourself do it right), then sit down with a Real Estate Agent to determine if those improvements will be a worthwhile financial venture.

As an agent when we calculate the value of a home number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and lot size are key factors (so obviously an addition of those things may add value) but if you have to spend $15K to add a bedroom you want to ensure that it increases in value that much. Adding nicer finishes to a home (i.e. granite in a kitchen, tile in a bathroom, hardwoods, new appliances) increase the general appeal of a home and a coat of fresh paint makes a world of difference. I just worked with a client who remodeled their very outdated bathroom before putting it on the market, along with a laundry list of other items, new paint in several rooms, new carpet, and just loads and loads of decluttering - this made their home simply outshine the neighborhoring home which is similar - when it came down to receiving an offer on the home the buyer informed us that the bathroom was one of the things she loved the mosst about the house. She was comparing her home buying decision to another similar home in the neighborhood with the still dated finishes.

To answer your question about patio/deck area, obviously that does not equate into home square footage, but if nicely done and is an "extension" of your kitchen, living or dining area then it can be well received by a buyer. I've seen wonderful "outdoor living spaces" with fireplace pits, outdoor kitchens, and set up with nice outdoor furniture. But with our weather here in the NW, not as much of a selling point as it would be in a nicer climate where the space would be used year round.

Tried and true improvements in my opinion: Kitchens, Bathrooms, Open Living Spaces, Fresh Paint & New Flooring.

Best of luck!
Web Reference:  http://www.key2yourhome.net
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Janelle Wilt…, Agent, Marysville, WA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
Another thing to consider is the yard. It is the first thing a buyers sees when coming in to your home. True sweat equity is gained there with little money. Here are a dozen tips!
1.) Create a yard design that is appealing and has interest. Straight flowing lines of flower beds aren't typically as nice to look at as ones with curves and dimension.
2.) Edge your flower beds so there is a nice distinctive line between grass and the bed. Use a flat shovel.
3.) Weed, weed, weed... no weed left behind.
4.) Beauty bark... the fine red variety in every flower bed. Put a good thick coat down so that it keeps weeds at bay and keeps plants moist.
5.) Plant some flowers, ornamental grasses and shrubs. Plant things that give further dimension and variety of color. With the heat right now make sure you water! Maybe a river rock or two for dimension. Different textures give more pop for little money.
6.) Pressure wash patios and brighten up cement surfaces. Stain worn out looking wood of decks and fences.
7.) How is your front door looking? Does it need a coat of fresh paint? How is the hardware? Everything needs to be bright, clean and enviting! It sets the tone of the rest of the house.
8.) Do you have lots of shrubs or trees in front of the windows or touching the side of your house? Cut them back to 18 inches away (will be required during the buyers inspection anyway).
9.) What does your roof look like? Is there any moss or green on it? When was the last time you cleaned out and washed your gutters? We get a lot of green in Everett... get rid of it!
10.) Potted entry and patio plants. Time to invest in some great pots full of color and flowers. You can take them with you! McDaniels in Snohomish sells some beautiful ones or Costco has them for $20 right now in a dark brown color that are plastic and easily movable.
11.) Take a sniff... notice anything funny smelling by your front door that could turn a buyer away? You would be suprised how many houses I have walked in to where the entry has an odor. Maybe a plant that is kinda stinky or the neighbor cat paying visits... it is really important to remove odors from inside and outside of your home. If you aren't sure, ask a friend you trust to come over for a sniff test. Sometimes we are so used to it that we don't smell it. We all love our pets but your buyers certainly don't want to smell Fido when touring your home!
12.) Water and fertilize your lawn and mow EVERY week. Keeping the grass looking nice with fresh mowing and food does wonders! Mow tracks are a good thing!
Curb appeal is VERY important. If you can get your buyer to love the exterior as they walk in... you are well on your way to getting an offer!
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Alison, Home Buyer, 98204
Wed Jul 2, 2008
Thank you for that response!

Does exterior patio's/decking count towards 'living space' ? obviously not on the square footage of the house, but on the impression to the prospective buyer?

Are their other practical standards to add to 'bigger and brighter'? How do you get in touch with what is "in demand" and are these things like passing fad's or time tested standards?
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Keith Sorem, Agent, Glendale, CA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
There are three levels of improvements that I would ask you to think about
1. Add more living space - if you have a two bedroom, one bath, add a bedroom and a bath. Based on the selling price per square foot, less the cost of construction, that is the best way to add value.
2. I like Don's post below about "small" baths and kitchens. The National Association of REaltors conducts an annual survey and kitchen and bath upgrades always come out on top. The question is: how far to you go? Reface cabinets Replace them, or just paint them?

The key to this idea is are you upgrading the home to live in and enjoy, then sell later, or are you trying to "flip this house"?
3. Clean, declutter, and paint. Buyers above all want CLEAN. That means windows, floors, everything. Dirt can kill an updated and remodeled home faster than anything. Space adds value, so when staging the home get rid of everything not essential, leaving as much open area as you can. Paint in updated colors, replace swtichplates, install brighter bulbs, update lamp and light fixtures.

Good luck
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Don Tepper, Agent, Burke, VA
Wed Jul 2, 2008
There are a couple of different ways of answering the question regarding what "sweat equity" efforts really improve home values.

The first thing to consider is: Is the home lacking something that buyers really are demanding today? One example is a second bathroom in a property with only one bath. Around where I live and work, there were quite a few 3 bedrooms/1 bath homes built around 1947-1953. Even if it's still a 3 bedroom (and some have been expanded), a second bath bath improves a home's value. Somewhat similarly, adding a half bath (at least) on a floor that doesn't have one can help a lot. I'm surprised at the number of homes I've seen that have all the baths on the upper floor, and not even a half bath on the main floor, where the living room, dining room, and kitchen are located.

Another thing to consider--and again, it depends on the house--is making it more functional. A lot of older homes were built with very small kitchens and very small separate dining rooms. Removing the wall (if it's not load-bearing, but they generally aren't), or opening up the space converts a turn-off kitchen and a tiny dining room into a functional, appealing open space.

The next thing to consider are upgrades to the kitchen and baths. You already mentioned kitchens. Baths are the other "critical" area in many homes. Make sure they're light, modern, fresh, and attractive.

Walls are a big factor, and with "sweat equity" not a big cost factor. Consider removing all the wallpaper. Some is nice, but even what's considered "nice" now is a matter of personal taste. Patch the walls as necessary, then paint. Probably a neutral, off-white/light beige. Some people like dramatic colors, and sometimes that's the right choice. But even then, what you like may not be what other people would like.

Depending on the house and the type of interior doors, you may want to replace hollow-core doors with 6-panel doors. And/or hardware (doorknobs, etc.)

And spend some time and effort on the exterior. Make sure the plants and bushes are trimmed. Make sure the entrance to the home is attractive and well-defined. Work on the curb appeal.

That should keep you busy for at least a few weekends!

Hope that helps.
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