How to Add High Value to Your House for Low Cost and Get the Best Real Estate Sale Price

Journeys in Construction

How to Add High Value to Your House for Low Cost and Get the Best Real Estate Sale Price

House value going up.

Last year I sold my house in Seattle that I fixed up throughout a few years. I owned a remodeling company with a couple of employees, and when we had time in between projects for customers, we worked on my house. The house was almost 100 years old, so there was plenty of room for improvement. 

Though I liked the place, I did not expect to stay there for a lifetime. When planning improvements, I was careful to consider the value in different terms such as vanity, comfort, function, and especially resale. It was important for me to get a substantial return on investment when selling the house, even if the market were to go down.

In the end, I got an excellent return on investment, partly because of timing and market conditions, and partly because of deliberate planning. My real estate agent told me that my house sale broke the record for the highest price paid per square foot in my neighborhood.

I will share some of the most helpful advice and the best resources that I used.

Cost vs. Value Annual Survey

Remodeling magazine issues an annual online update of costs vs. value for various typical remodeling projects. The report measures the average cost of 21 popular remodeling projects and their average resale value one year later. It uses figures from survey responses from thousands of realtors (members of the National Association of Realtors) and RemodelMAX, a publisher of remodeling cost estimating tools. Costs and values are adjusted as they vary for different local areas.

This is a good guide for general numbers of common projects. I share this with some of my remodeling customers to help them decide between different project scopes that they are considering.

Home improvements with the best ratio of low cost to high value involve changing the front facade of a house, for example replacing the entry door, or at least painting it. This is generally true for exterior improvements that provide ‘curb appeal’ for resale value.

Other high-value improvements can be made by upgrading bathrooms and kitchens, though these projects can be costly too. These require careful planning and effective management to balance the cost versus value. Generally, replacing select parts of these rooms may provide a higher return on investment than a complete demolish-and-rebuild project.

Certain additions, such as a hot tub / jacuzzi tend to provide some value in terms of vanity and comfort, but low value for resale. The return on investment is usually poor for luxury upgrades.

The Cost vs. Value report is a great resource, and it’s FREE! Select your local area for the most accurate adjusted numbers and download it.

The One Percent Effect

Another helpful resource that I used is an ebook called the One Percent Effect by Dustin Dreifuerst and Jack Spirko, which is a guide to home improvements with the intention of selling your house for a top price. The idea is that if your house is at least one percent better than other similar houses for sale in the local area, that can make a big difference in value. This book is short, easy to read, and offers some real practical advice. 

In this book you will learn;

  • How to catch the attention of buyers whether you are working with a realtor or For Sale By Owner
  • How to sell your house by finding out who your competition is
  • Where you can find out what your home is worth on the market today
  • How to catch the attention of every person who comes to see your home
  • Curb appeal or new carpet? How do you tell where to spend your money?

Real Estate Recommendations to Prepare Your House for Sale

Ask your realtor about market-specific issues, such as updating or replacing small things (light fixtures, faucets, door knobs, etc.) to facilitate the sale. When they come to meet you for a listing appointment, a good realtor will do a walkthrough of the home and give you a list of things that they think would help. 

I’ve used the Flanigan Group for some real estate deals in Seattle and highly recommend their service if you’re looking for a realtor around the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

Here are some tips from real estate professionals about how to prepare your house for sale.

Before Listing;

Move out. If you can’t move out and have the house temporarily staged for professional photos and showing, at least get rid of most of your stuff. Pack it away in off-site storage.

Declutter. Get rid of anything you don’t need to have, minimize furniture if you have a crowded room. Minimize the number of items on any flat surface-countertops, ledges, etc. Donate, give away, or store the excess. This will make your house feel bigger.

Clean everything: light fixtures, baseboards, caulk, tops of cabinetry, refrigerator, inside appliances, cabinetry, closets, and anything else high that you usually don’t see.

Touch up paint that is tired or chipped inside and out. Make sure you use not only the same color but the same sheen. If you don’t know exactly what that paint is, get the closest match that can be made and repaint the whole area. Note: After some time, using the same paint from the same can won’t match perfectly anymore, as the previously applied paint has aged differently in place.

Organize any storage areas and all closets, especially if you have a lack of either.

Disable child safety locks if possible, but leave them in place. Some buyers with children may want to use these and will appreciate the value of being child-ready upon move-in.

Change out any fluorescent bulbs or other bulbs that take time to warm up before giving off full light. Change out light bulbs anywhere the lighting is dim and use the highest output of bulb that the fixture allows.

Pressure wash the exterior including driveways, walkways, home, shed, garage, etc. Clean up the yard as much as possible.

Go to some open houses of homes priced above the price point of yours (Not your own price point, because you want to be better!) and look at how they are staged. Pick up some ideas or tips from how other homes are showing.

After Listing;

Pick up after yourself (and your family) daily. If there are things that you need daily but aren’t going to show the house well (ex. kids toys out and about) minimize them. When you leave the house, you might consider throwing them in a laundry basket or similar and put them in the trunk of your car. Sometimes real estate showing occur with little or no warning, and this eliminates the need to worry about it.

Keep all pets contained or ideally removed from the property during showings. Maybe your neighbor will take care of your pets temporarily. Be diligent about cleaning all pet hair. Put away pet toys/food and water bowls.

Leave some lights on. You may not be home to have them all on before the showing, and you don’t want a buyer feeling like they are looking in the dark.

Leave the thermostat at a comfortable level, don’t turn it too far down (or up) just because you are gone for the day. Buyers looking in cold or warm weather want to walk into a house and feel a reprieve from the outside weather, especially because they will typically be in and out of the car between showings without much time for the car to properly heat/cool in between.

Leave a bowl of candy/cookies/fruit and bottles of water on the counter with a note welcoming prospective buyers to the house and encouraging them to help themselves. A vase of flowers can add a charming appeal to the front room and/or kitchen.

See also: How to Find the Best Contractor for Your Construction or Remodeling Project


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