Which Home Repairs Result in the Greatest Return?

You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “location, location, location” when it comes to real estate. Well, when it comes to preparing a house for market it’s all about “curb appeal, curb appeal, curb appeal.” We want prospective buyers to fall in love on first sight, and that most often happens via photography viewed on the internet.

Therefore, it is critical that your landscaping be gorgeous, that your house be beautifully painted, that your front door be strikingly inviting. Then, once inside we want the buyer’s positive first impression to be strongly reinforced and deepened, but few sellers can afford complete remodeling. So, let’s get strategic:

Another, somewhat older source of data is the HomeGain Survey:

HomeGain.com announced today that it has released the results of its nationwide home improvement and home staging survey. Past findings from the survey have been a guide for thousands of home sellers in preparing their homes for sale.

HomeGain recently surveyed nearly 500 real estate agents nationwide to determine the top 10 low cost*, do-it-yourself home improvements for people getting their home ready to sell.

The top five nationwide home improvements that real estate professionals recommend to home sellers, based on average cost and return on investment (ROI) to sellers, are:

Costs are averages and rounded up.

Cleaning and de-cluttering continues to rank as the top suggested home improvement (since the survey was originally conducted in 2003). This low cost home improvement is recommended by 99% of real estate professionals. The average recommended cost for this project is $402 with a returning value of just over $2,000 to the home’s sale price, or a 403% return (ROI).

In past surveys, Home Staging and Lightening and Brightening were battling it out for the number two spot on the top 10 list. In the 2011 survey, Lightening and Brightening reclaimed the number two position and held on to it in 2012. Home Staging, however, fell to the number five position.

The options to landscape the yard and repair electrical and/or plumbing stay in the top five, both jumping past Home Staging.

“In a buyer’s market, sellers need to dress their homes for success before putting them on the market,” said Louis Cammarosano, General Manager at HomeGain. “The HomeGain results show that do-it-yourself home improvements like cleaning and de-cluttering and lightening and brightening your home are cost effective ways of increasing your chances of selling faster and closing closer to the asking price than homes rushed to the market with no improvements.”

Rounding out the top 10 DIY home improvements are:

The home improvements with the highest price increases to a home’s resale value continue to be Updating the Kitchen and Bathroom ($3,255 price increase), followed by Repairing Electrical & Plumbing ($3,175 price increase) and Painting the Exterior of the Home ($2,176 price increase).

Surveyed REALTOR® commentary:

“Clients just need to clean and de-clutter.”

“We’ve had a few high-end homes staged and it didn’t do any good. Most likely because they were overpriced to begin with!”

“Resort area in Colorado. Most homes are well kept but even the nicest homes need focused attention when it comes to preparing to sell.”

“What I recommend a seller do will depend on their home. Power washing is commonly needed, and sometimes repairing cracked concrete walkways/patios/stoops. These items I wouldn’t consider to be improvements, but maintenance which many people fail to do.”

“We’ve found that we do our own home-staging vs. hiring a professional stager. The professionals we’ve hired in the past cost a lot and the home still sat on the market for over 6 months.”

“Money is tight and sellers do not want to put out any extra money before selling. Most are barely breaking even.”

“We Stage every home we can.”

“Staging is a requirement in our price band, 300k+”

“We are in a very hot market here in Seattle. I question the wisdom of staging a home when the market is this hot and we get multiple offers on nearly all listings at the moment. Proper pricing is always most important.”

“Some improvements might not add any dollar value but they will help the house sell faster.”

“Making the house fresh, clean and bright is important. New kitchens and baths are the major enhancers that people look for.”

“I don’t believe that staging adds any value except that it gets a property sold when others just sit and sit. To go in spending money and expecting it to improve the dollars in your pocket (whether you spend $100 or $10,000) is just unrealistic. I personally sold my home after upgrading to the tune of $15,000 to an already updated home, and I didn’t get more money but I got it sold.”

“Just sold a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo that was professionally staged for $15,000 more than it was previously sold (deal fell) one year ago (it wasn’t my listing previously).”

“It depends on the condition of the property. Most of the time, I provide recommendations that help prepare the property for market. I find staging particularly useful when the home is vacant.”

“I help my clients with staging and emphasize de-cluttering and any improvements that are not expensive. Repairs to electrical and plumbing are a must.”

“If the property is priced right it will sell. People are not fooled by staging if the property is clean and nice. If it is too dated I recommend that they change light fixtures and make small improvements. Sellers take a gamble upgrading unless they bought very well and do it right.”

“I include professional staging at no cost to the seller when I list their home. I also pay a gardener to make the yards look clean & neat.”

“Staging helps to sell vacant homes much faster so long as it is lightly done. Even a few plants scattered about the kitchen/Great Room help. Homes around here in good condition sell very fast in this market.”

*The term “low cost” is defined as less than $5,000

Definitions of Home Improvement categories:

Cleaning and de-cluttering: Remove personal items; wash and clean all areas of inside and outside of house; freshen air; remove clutter from furniture, counters and all areas of the home; organize closets; polish woodwork and mirrors. See complete cleaning checklist.

Home staging: Add fresh flowers; removing personal items; reduce clutter; rearrange furniture; add new props or furniture to enhance room/s; play soft music; hang artwork in walls. See complete staging checklist.

Lightening and brightening: Open windows; clean windows and skylights inside and outside; replace old curtains or removing curtains; remove other obstacles from windows blocking light; repair lighting fixtures; make sure window open easily. See complete lighting checklist.

Landscaping: Front and back yards; add bark mulch; rake and remove leaves, branches and debris; plant bushes and flowers; add planters and hanging plants; mow grass; water lawn and plants; remov weeds and dead plants; manicure existing plants; any yardwork that improves the curb appeal of a home. See complete yard checklist.

Repair Plumbing: Update leaky or old faucet spouts and handles; repair leaks under bathroom or kitchen sinks; laundry room pipes; toilets should be in good working condition; remove mildew stains. See complete plumbing and electrical checklist.

Update electrical: Update electrical with new wiring for modern appliances and/or Internet and other audio/visual equipment requested in homes today; door bell should work; service sprinkler systems; fix lights and outlets that do not turn on; replace old plug points with new safety fixtures. See complete plumbing and electrical checklist.

Replacing or shampooing carpets: Steam carpet thoroughly; replace worn carpet; securing carpets to floor; eliminate creaks in floors under carpets by driving nails into creaky area (through carpet).

Painting interior walls: Fresh coat of paint in rooms throughout the house; remove dated wallpaper; whitewash dark paneling; paint front door; have leaks repaired and watermarks covered. See complete interior painting checklist.

Repair damaged floors: Patch, repair or replace hard wood floors; clean and wax linoleum; replace missing tiles; re-grout tile floors; eliminate creaks in floors. See complete floors and carpet checklist.

Update kitchen: Updating moderately priced appliances like microwaves, dishwashers, stoves; repair damaged counter tops; fixing cupboard doors; repairing broken shelving or pantry; fix hardware like doorknobs and cabinet handles; repair any water damaged surfaces or areas; garbage disposal should work properly; retouching with paint if needed. See complete kitchen and bathroom checklist.

Paint outside of home: Fresh coat of paint around exterior of home and garage; paint shutters; paint window ledges; repairing damages to chimney; paint or re-stain fence. See complete exterior painting checklist.

Update bathroom/s: Update moderately priced bathroom fixtures; sink; toilets should function properly; fix leaky faucets; repair shelving and towel racks; add new towels and mats; repair vanities and mirrors; clean sliding glass shower doors; replace shower curtains; re-grouting tiling. See complete kitchen and bathroom checklist.


HomeGain surveyed nearly 500 real estate agents in each of the U.S. regions. All agents might not necessarily agree on the same pre-sale strategy. See “% of agents recommending” column above. Differences of opinions may vary based on the climate of the market, region of the country or condition of the home in question.