Brokers Tell All: 10 Ways to Boost House Value
Housing prices may have dropped in your neighborhood, but there are smart ways to invest in your home right now to help hold its value.
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Here's what veteran real estate professionals from around the country have to say about what home improvement projects pay off, whether you are selling now or in the future.
Knock out a non-structural wall, or even remove that kitchen island. Anything that opens the space and creates a sense of flow in the house is generating a response from buyers who can afford to be choosy. For the price of a few hundred dollars, you'll transform the feel of the house. "Right now buyers want a wide open floor plan, the living room right off the kitchen. They are into big spaces," says Kristin Wellins, Senior Manager of Program Development for ERA Real Estate.
Seattle broker Reba Haas says a kitchen island can be an asset, creating needed storage space. But if the kitchen has enough cabinets, it could pay to haul the island away. Haas says homeowners might want to consider a moveable island. "You can adjust them to your needs," she explains.
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Prune, Limb, and Landscape
Tangled trees and unkempt bushes can obscure views, darken interiors, promote mold, and block a good look at the house.
"People forget about their trees more than almost anything," says Roger Voisinet, a thirty-year veteran of the Charlottesville, Virginia real estate market. Yet, landscaping is one of the top three investments that bring the biggest return. According to a 2007 survey of 2,000 brokers conducted by HomeGain, an online real estate marketing site, an investment of around $400 or $500 dollars in landscaping can bring a return of four times that. "It could really make a significant difference in the price. Nobody likes to spend money, but landscaping might even be the most important thing, even if owners have kept up the house," says Voisinet.
Reba Haas agrees, "Overgrown landscaping is a problem at all price points." Haas says it hurts with marketing too. "People say, 'Where's the house?" If buyers can't see what they are getting, they just move right on."
And if neglected, mother nature may go wild at considerable cost. Voisinet looked at one house recently where a fallen limb from a poorly cared for tree caused $2,000 in damage.
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Let in the Light
The number one item on the 2007 HomeGain survey, lighting — everything from a dimmer switch to the increasingly popular sun tubes — noticeably enhances a home's appeal. California broker Robert Bailey says, "Dimmers allow you to create a mood."
He's a booster of sun tubes, too. Less expensive than framing in a skylight, sun tubes—also known as light pipes, sunscoops, and tubular skylights—use reflective material to funnel natural light from a globe-capped hole cut in a rooftop down through a ceiling fixture and into a room. Bailey says with tubular skylights, sunlight is nice, and moonlight is even nicer. "I'm putting six of them in my house. I don't need a skylight, but I do want the natural light."
A few other ways to light things up: Fix broken panes, make sure windows open, and consider lights that use motion detectors to turn themselves off. Remember high wattage bulbs make small spaces feel larger, and soft lighting brings warmth to empty spaces.
Don't Put Off Care and Maintenance
Before thinking about a fancy upgrade to the kitchen, address the basics. Insulate the attic, repair plumbing leaks, replace rusty rain gutters, inspect the furnace and the septic system, replace or repair leaky windows, install storm doors, weed the flower beds. As broker Robert Bailey says, "What you don't notice as a weed, I see as a weekend of work."
These kinds of fixes go a long way toward value. Jessica Gopalakrishnan with HomeGain says, "Starting with a couple hundred dollars on a few things could increase the value of your house by a few thousand dollars. People are surprised by that. It's exciting. People think they have to put in a lot of money to see a big difference and they really don't."
Investing in maintenance and repairs is not only moneywise; it could also be crucial to a sale. Brokers and agents from across the country say the houses that get attention in this buyers market are in tip-top shape. John Veneris, the regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors in Downers Grove, Illinois, says, "What's important in this market, now more than ever, because there is so much inventory, the houses that sell are in pristine condition and are priced to the market."
If maintenance and repairs are in hand, Virginia broker Roger Voisinet says put the greenbacks into green efficiency. If your heating or air conditioning systems are old, "new ones are so much better, with savings of up to 30 to 40 percent." Another example he points to: for $7,000 for the unit and installation, with $2,100 back in green tax credits, a solar-powered water heater could save you as much as 80 percent on your water-heating bills.
Research published by The Appraisal Journal estimates that energy savings add twenty times the annual savings to the value of your property. Though Voisinet cautions, "a lot of appraisers don't know that yet," he says buyers appreciate now what appraisers will recognize later: Energy savers make your house more desirable. Says Seattle broker Reba Haas, "Do the update green, because everyone is now, for the first time in five years, asking about the utilities."