You just bought your house, and now you’re thinking about how to maximize your investment. Home improvement projects are fun and rewarding — you get to customize your new space and build equity at the same time. But now that you’re thinking about it, you aren’t sure which projects that increase home value you should start working on first.

Minor projects (like planting bushes or touching up paint) can be done in a few hours or a weekend, so many homebuyers prioritize these first. Major projects, such as a kitchen remodel, take more time — but consider tackling them earlier in your homeownership life cycle. That way, you’ll have more time to enjoy them before selling and will really maximize the value of your improvements.

What projects increase home value? We’ll cover some of the most popular.

A fire pit that was added behind a home to increase value.
Source: (Shaun Montero / Unsplash)

Add outdoor fun

Americans love their backyards. A 2019 survey of 1,000 homeowners found that 69.7% of them put a large backyard at the top of their “must have” list for outdoor features, and 76.7% would pass on a house if they were home shopping and it didn’t have a big yard. While you might not be able to increase your yard’s square footage, you can add other desired features.

Homeowners want large decks and outdoor entertaining spaces to bring family and friends together. A deck was the second-most-wanted-feature on the survey, followed by an outdoor entertaining space like a patio.

These spaces can be further polished themselves: Cooking outside on a grill encourages everyone to come together and slow down in the summer; add a fire pit, and you can enjoy your yard well into the fall and even winter.

The average cost to add a deck ranges between $4,000 and $11,000, depending on size and materials. It’s a relatively inexpensive project that improves your quality of life and adds resale value to the home, with an estimated 66.8% return when you sell.

If you can spend a bit more money, consider putting in a pool. A pool can turn your backyard into the summer hangout for the neighborhood kids, and it encourages your family to get more exercise. Porch’s survey noted that 25.5% of homeowners surveyed wanted a pool, and 62.7% of them said they wouldn’t consider a home without one.

The coronavirus pandemic shifted national attitudes towards pools, making them even more desirable. HomeLight’s Spring 2021 Top Agent Insights Report found that the value an inground pool adds to a home has increased an estimated 69% (on average) since the arrival of COVID-19.

Adding an inground pool sets you back more than a deck, however, with an average cost between $16,000 and $44,000. Above-ground pools are much cheaper, averaging between $1,500 and $15,000. But before deciding to build a pool, make sure you’ve added up its total costs.

Your homeowners insurance will increase if you have a pool on your property. Yearly maintenance, chemicals, repairing or maintaining the lining — pools require ongoing service, so don’t forget to add it to your budget! A poorly maintained pool will decrease your home’s value and desirability.

Spruce up your curb appeal

Projects to spruce up your curb appeal range from those that are relatively inexpensive and completed in a weekend to “we need to budget for it” and could take weeks. Alternating between smaller and larger projects helps you balance your budget and your desire to beautify your new home.

When you’ve just moved in, smaller and less costly curb appeal projects are ideal. Planting bushes, trees, or perennials early ensures that they’ll grow and spread by the time you’re ready to move. Adding edging around flower beds makes your home look tidier, and installing outdoor lighting or replacing broken pavers makes your curb both safer and more inviting.

Lorenzo Murray, an experienced agent in upstate New York who works with 85% more single-family homes than the average agent in his area, says:

“That initial look of what your home looks like on the outside is huge. Patches of grass missing? Fill it in. Overgrown weeds? Pull them. Spruce up the exterior of your home.”

Think about changing out the front door or garage door if they look worn or won’t open smoothly. A single garage door will be between $600 to $1,500 installed, and a double car door from $800 to $1,500. If your new door is substantially larger, you might have to replace your garage door opener, too. The National Association of Realtors’ Remodeling Impact Survey from 2019 found that the return on the money put into a new garage door is 95%.

Installing a new entry door ranges from $509 to $1,684, and new hardware (locks, hinges) will increase that price. You’ll get back 75% of the cost of a new steel door and 74% of a  fiberglass front door, but it will immensely increase your curb appeal.

Once you’re ready for a larger project, swap out the siding or have your whole house painted! Exterior siding costs between $5,000 and 14,050, with the price depending on the square footage you have to cover. You’ll only recover 63% of the cost of new siding when you go to sell, but it will help reduce heating and cooling bills, so budget for it early in owning your home.

Painting your house could run you between $1,775 and $4,216. In a 2019 HomeLight survey of more than 900 real estate agents they estimated home sellers saw a 51% return on investment when they sold a freshly-painted home.

Fix anything that might look broken or neglected, or doesn’t work properly, that potential buyers might see when they pull up to the curb someday.

An attic that can increase home value when added.
Source: (Andrea Davis / Unsplash)

Add square footage

Over time, Americans have developed a preference for larger homes. The median square footage of our homes grew from 2,057 in 2000 to 2,301 in 2019.

Adding square footage can pay off by giving your family more space and adding resale value, and there are several ways to do it.

If you have an unfinished basement or attic, think about how the space could be made more livable. For example, your kids would enjoy a playroom, and having the mess out of sight could save your sanity. It can also grow with your family, becoming an entertainment room when they get older.

Developing an existing space is always cheaper than building up or out. While the average national cost to finish an attic is $40,000, the typical range goes from $4,600 to $80,000, so it’s worth it to get an estimate. Finishing a basement is cheaper, with an average of $18,395 and a range of $$2,800 to $33,985, and has a 64% return on the money spent.

Murray points out that the pandemic only increased demand for extra finished space. Because so many people are now working from home, “They want either an area that they can finish — a walk-up attic — or some place they can escape from their kids so their kids can do their studies and they’re not distracted from working.”

He’s seeing sellers with smaller third bedrooms stage them as an office to appeal to this demand.

HomeLight’s most recent Top Agent Insights survey supports his opinion — with 53.5% of agents reporting that after a year of being cooped up inside, the desire for more space will drive more families into the homebuying market.

Adding a bedroom or bathroom can also increase your home’s value — particularly if (for example) you bought a two-bedroom home but live in an area where most families want a three-bedroom property. A bathroom remodel will cost between $6,581 and $16,215, with a 50% return on its cost.

It’s not uncommon for older homes to have “nonconforming” third bedrooms, such as one without a closet, which can’t be included in the bedroom count on the MLS. How could you make that nonconforming bedroom conforming? Sometimes it’s as simple as adding an egress window or closet.

Adding another main suite — or just a main bath — gives you space and privacy you’ll enjoy for years before moving out. But if your only option to increase square footage or add a bedroom is an addition, it will be more expensive.

Carl Savitz is a general contractor with over 25 years of experience, and co-founder of Beam, a website that helps homeowners plan remodels and connects them with contractors. He points out:

“Additions usually involve significant site work and structural work (think excavation and foundation) that are not required for remodeling of existing spaces.” Expanding the home’s existing footprint requires pouring new foundation, and possible electrical or plumbing work.

Savitz reminds homeowners that “things like exterior siding and trim, windows, and roofing are additional items that typically aren’t part of the budget for remodels — or at least, they are not as significant a part of the project,” and they will also increase an addition’s cost.

The average cost of an addition ranges from between $20,849 and $72,566, depending on the soil condition, necessary grading, size, and complexity of the work.

Smarten up your home

You’ll see benefits to “smartening up” your home on your first heating bill. Smart thermostats adjust the heat or air conditioning according to your home’s usage, saving you money. Smart lights and timers save electricity, and smart faucets adjust for efficiency and conserve water (how long does your current faucet have to run before the water heats up?).

Smart homes don’t just offer energy efficiencies and savings — they increase your safety. Motion sensors that trigger video doorbells can capture porch thieves. Worried you forget to lock your front door on the way to work? Click a button on an app and your smart lock secures your house.

You can buy smart locks, thermostats, and faucets, and have them installed for just a few hundred dollars. But the cost savings over time could be huge — and low utility bills look great to potential buyers, too!

Major remodeling projects

Major remodeling projects can take several months to a year (or longer!) to complete. You should only get started on them if you plan on living in the home for the project’s estimated timeline and well beyond. It’s unlikely you’d recoup investing $25,570 (the average cost of a kitchen remodel) into a home if you move out shortly thereafter, and you also wouldn’t have time to enjoy your new kitchen!

Murray suggests remodeling for a “kitchen that allows for you to have your cake and eat it, too, so you can cook and entertain.” Even though an open floor plan is a popular modern amenity, remodeling for one is not feasible in all homes. But he says that “if you have something that gives you great sight lines so you’re not in an enclosed area and confined away from everyone else,” when you cook, it’s still an improvement over a closed-off kitchen.

Remodeling your bathroom is another major project with big dividends. The average cost of a bathroom remodel is $10,804, and you’ll get back 57% of that investment when you sell. Expect to pay more if you’re adding sinks or changing the bathroom layout — anything that requires moving existing plumbing will increase the total price. But just swapping out the vanity and putting in new handles can go a long way.

How old is your roof? In some areas of the country like Minneapolis, known for its harsh winters, it’s one of the first questions asked by potential homebuyers. While it’s not as fun as soaking in a new tub, replacing your roof can save you money on heating bills and ensure a quick sale when the time comes.

The average cost to replace a roof is $8,339 nationwide. Your geographic area, materials used, the roof’s square footage and how steep it is will all impact price. But you’ll recover 107% of the money put into a new roof, so it’s definitely worth it!

The same principle applies to replacing your windows — older windows are drafty and leak heat. Replacing them could save you money long-term, and it’ll be much more enjoyable to sit in your living room watching TV if you’re not shivering!

You could pay between $200 and $1,800 per window, so to figure out what it will cost in total count the number of windows your house has and multiply! It pays to put in vinyl – you’ll recover 71% of the cost of vinyl windows when you go to sell but only 57% of wood windows.

An updated porch that has added value to a home.
Source: (Gláuber Sampaio / Unsplash)

Cosmetic improvements

If you’re looking for some quick (and often cheaper) upgrades, consider cosmetic improvements.

“The low-hanging fruit here are fresh paint, flooring and electrical fixtures,” says Savitz. Painting the inside of your house freshens it up, and makes it feel cleaner when people walk through the doors. On average, painting your home’s interior costs $1,894,

If you’ve got hardwood floors that are scuffed, scratched, or showing their age, consider redoing them. This is a quick weekend project that can return great dividends. The National Association of Realtors’ Remodeling Impact Survey from 2019 found that homeowners recovered 106% of the cost of new wood flooring, and 100% of the cost of a hardwood flooring refinish upon resale. Wow!

Consider replacing carpet in the house with wood or laminate flooring. It costs between $6 and $12 per square foot to install new hardwood floors. And if you bought an older house, you might be pleasantly surprised to find existing hardwood floors that can be refinished under the carpet.

Another quick fix is to polish up your cabinet faces or replace cabinet hardware.

If you can keep the cases the same, but only paint or replace doors, it saves you a significant amount of money. On average, it’s between $3 and $6 per square foot to pay someone to repaint your cabinets, or you could do it yourself for the cost of a few cans of paint.

New, modern hardware (knobs, handles, pulls) uplifts your kitchen, and each pull could only be a few dollars. Combined, it could look like a full kitchen remodel for a fraction of the cost.

Painting, hardwood floor refinishing, and changing out cabinet hardware are relatively easy do-it-yourself projects, and you can rent the tools from most big-box home improvement retailers. But Savitz cautions: “The biggest mistake people make is doing a poor job on the improvement projects, and having potential buyers be turned off by the low-quality work. If you are going to make an investment like this, make sure you do it right.”

Also, keep in mind: The projects that increase home value in your area could be quite different from a neighborhood in another city or state. If you have questions about which home improvements local buyers want in a house, talk to a local agent! They’ll help guide you to finding the best balance between money spent, joy while living in the home, and resale value.

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