9 Essential Remodels to Prep Your House for Sale

Selling your home can be an overwhelming task that requires a lot of planning, budgeting and smart decision-making.

Chances are that to get the price you want and to sell quickly your home will require some remodels.

The key to success is to chose the projects wisely and to avoid overspending.

To help you navigate this process, we have put together a detailed guide with top remodels that make the most impact on sales, as well as their costs.

Our renovation calculator can help you estimate all this big item projects all at once.

Financial Considerations

Before you spend even a dollar on any remodel, you should know that you are most likely not going to recoup 100 % of your costs when you sell your home. However, when remodeling to sell, recouping costs should not be your main goal. Instead, focus on selling your home fast and at your asking price, and there are a number of remodels that can help you achieve this.

House for Sale 1

Overall, first spend as little money as you can on the most essential updates that will have the biggest impact on your home’s attractiveness to prospective buyers. If warranted in your individual situation and market conditions, you should undertake bigger, more expensive renovations.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid taking out a big loan or going into debt to do remodels, as this may hurt your credit rating and lower your chances of borrowing money to buy a new home.

Before You Get Started

Do thorough research before you settle on any remodeling project. One of the best ways to figure out what will work for your home is to visit a number of open houses of properties advertised as “newly renovated”. Compare the look of this home to your own, make a list of the updates that have been done, and think of what the sales price may be without these remodels.

Now you are ready to closely examine your own house and make a list of ALL the updates (both exterior and interior) that need to be done. The key here is to focus on all the small changes you can make without spending too much money, and only then list potential big projects that may be helpful to selling your home.

Small, Inexpensive Must-Do Updates

To help you stay on top of the essentials, we have created a list of proven small remodels that go a long way in successfully selling a home. It’s important to note that most handymen charge anywhere from $50-85/hr and most small jobs take about 2-3 hours or to complete. You can expect to pay at least $200 for each small project. Consequently, because of set-up, material and travel costs for the contractor, it is best to batch these small projects and hire one person/company. Doing this may cut your total cost by as much as 50%

Exterior Curb Appeal

Front Door of a home

You only have one chance to make a stellar first impression on prospective buyers, who may decide not to even tour your home if they are put off by the exterior appearance. Here are some updates that will instantly help your house look its best:

1. Add a new exterior light fixture. Cost: $70-150/fixture

2. Replace or repaint your front door (add a new lock that works well). If your front door has a bubble glass (typical for old houses), replace it with tempered glass to bring in more natural light. Cost: Replace: $1,000-2000+ for a higher – end door. Repaint: $200-500

3. Repair any broken siding. Cost: $200+

4. Repair any cracks in the front stairs, walkways, patio, etc. Cost:$200+

5. Clean and repair gutters. Cost:$300+

6. Repair any broken roofing shingles, and any other roofing issues such as chimney, etc. Cost:$250+

7. Repaint outside windows. Cost:$30-50/window

8. Trim your lawn, making sure your trees, bushes, flowers, etc. look well-cared for. Cost: $50/hr per worker.

Update Your Kitchen

Kitchen appliances

There are a number of relatively low-cost but high impact updates you can do to get your kitchen to look its best.

1. Replace old, outdated kitchen appliances. Go for modern energy-saving appliances, as buyers will appreciate the prospect of having a lower electricity bill. Also, maintain a consistent look among all of the new appliances you purchase, as this will give your kitchen a sense of style and cohesiveness. Average Cost:$1,200-2,400 for low to medium-end appliances (this includes fridge, stove, range hood, dishwasher and garbage disposal).

2. Reface kitchen cabinets. This is a much cheaper option that replacing cabinetry, but it does the trick and gives your kitchen a fresh new look. Average Cost:$3,000 for an average size kitchen (20 ft total cabinet length)

3. Replace old cabinet hardware. You would be surprised how far this small measure can go in improving the overall look of your kitchen. Average Cost:$300-500. DIY Cost:$200-300

4. Replace an old sink and faucet. Buyers love the sparkling look of a brand new sink. Average Cost: $500 (includes hiring a plumber)

Use our Kitchen Calc to estimate the remodeling costs.

Bathroom Touch-Ups

Bathroom Lighting

A typical bathroom will only require a few minor improvements. Therefore it is best to save money here and invest them into bigger, more important projects.

1. Replace an old vanity and other shelves/cabinets, as new ones will make a great impression. Cost:$300-600

2. Replace an old mirror, or install one if it was not there. Mirrors (especially large ones) can be a great way to add a sense of light and make your bathroom appear bigger. Cost:$50-100

3. Replace old faucets, shower heads and towel racks with new, modern looking accessories. Cost:$200-300

4. Replace old lighting fixtures with modern bright lights. Also, consider adding extra lighting to make the space feel brighter. Cost:$60-150/per fixture

This bathroom materials costs guide can help you estimate what you need and how much it will cost for low, mid-range and high end bathroom renovations.

Essential Remodels Throughout the House

Freshly painted home

There are a number of updates that you can do throughout the house that will make a great first impression.

1. Put a fresh coat of paint in every room. Shades of off-white or other light colors work best, as they are neutral and also add a sense of light and space. While repainting is one of the least expensive remodeling projects, you can still save an extra few hundred dollars if you do it yourself. Cost:$1.5/ft

2. Repaint all ceilings. You would be surprised how much time buyers spend looking up at your ceilings, so give them something nice to look at. Cost:$1.5/ft

3. Sand and polish old hardwoods. If your hardwoods are old and stained, re-sanding them is a smart decision. Nothing is more attractive to buyers than gleaming hardwood floors. Cost:$2.5-3/ft

4. Repair any cracks, holes or damage to plaster, wallboard, tiles. Cost:$75/hr + materials

5. Replace broken or cracked window panes, moldings, and other woodwork. Cost:$150+

6. Fix any leaks, damages in the basement. Cost:$500+

Major Renovation Projects to Consider

Remember that taking on a large-scale remodeling project means that you will have to increase the sale price of your home. However, depending on the overall condition of your home, the attractiveness of your neighborhood and how hot the market is, you may HAVE TO do some major remodeling to make your house competitive. Ask your real estate broker for assistance in analyzing all these different factors and providing you with data on homes similar to yours that have been recently sold.

If you decide to go for major updates, here are the ones that you should consider. All of these renovations have a proven track record of being highly desirable to buyers and considerably improve the chances of selling your home for a profitable price.


New Siding

As mentioned before, first impressions are crucial to making a fast sale, so if your home’s exterior siding is in really poor shape, it may be worth replacing. It is best to choose horizontal siding, as vertical siding is considered old-fashioned. In terms of color, select from deep earthly hues that allow the natural landscape to be the focus. Stats from the Remodeling Magazine indicate that replacing siding recoups about 103.6% of the project’s cost.

Average Cost: $6-7/sq.ft for vinyl siding and 13/sq.ft for wood siding (including labor) – Estimate costs yourself with this tool.


While most buyers will not want to pay extra money for an expensive roofing material such as metal or slate, they will also often back out of a deal all together if the roof is old and leaking. If your roof has major problems or is beyond repair, its is best to invest into replacing it. Also, a new roof can really enhance the overall curb appeal of your home and make that unforgettable first impression. While you may not recoup the full cost of the job, you will vastly improve your chances of making a fast sale.

Average Cost: $3.5-4.5/sq.ft of asphalt shingles (including labor) – Calculate re-roofing costs.

Note: An alternative opinion among realtors is that its is better to leave old siding and roofing for the new owner rather than pay for replacing them yourself. This is because if you do it, you will pay the full cost of the project, whereas if you don’t, the buyer may ask for a discount and this will usually be less than the cost of the project itself, so you will end up saving money. If your house has very old roofing and/or siding consult with your realtor about the best course of action.

Update:According to our source in the real estate and mortgage industry, roofing problems/an old roof may be a deal breaker in the eyes of the mortgage underwriter. Many realtors get calls from both buyers and sellers because the deal cannot close if the roof does not have 3 – 5 years of useful life expectancy (this varies with different financial institutions). Often, the underwriter requires the roof to be replaced before the final closing can happen. To avoid this situation, the best advice for sellers who are uncertain about the remaining life of their roof is to have an inspection done and make any necessary repairs/replacement before the home is listed.


New Bathroom

1. If the bathrooms in your home are very old and beaten up (especially a master bathroom), its worth it to do an upgrade, which should include a standard new toilet, sink and porcelain bathtub. It is best to purchase all of these items in white, as this is the most neutral and attractive color to the majority of buyers. Similarly, for repainting, choose a neutral color such as an off-white or beige. Any other accessories, such as vanities, towel racks and faucets should look nice, but not flashy (no need to overspend on designer brands). According to Remodeling Magazine, this type of bathroom remodel recoups 102.2% of the cost of the project (national average).

Average Cost:$3,000+ including labor

2. Many older homes built before 1970’s have only 1 bathroom, which presents a problem for many prospective buyers. If you own such a home, consider installing a second bathroom (size should be determined by your space and budget). This single renovation will instantly make your house more competitive in the market.

Average Cost: $12,000-18,000 depending on the location of pipes and other conditions.


IKEA Kitchen

If small updates described above will not suffice in your kitchen, consider replacing cabinets and countertops, as these are the two most noticeable features in the kitchen. No need to overspend on top of the line solid wood cabinets or granite countertops, more moderately priced materials will suffice. Choose either white or neutral colors that appeal to most people. If you are on a tight budget, don’t shy away from IKEA kitchens, as they offer a wide range of versatile looks at a reasonable price.

Average Cost: Basic wood cabinets:$6,000 (20 linear ft) Corian/Silestone Countertop: $3600 (45 sq.ft, includes basic edge profile, removal of the old counter, and a cut for cooktop opening).


Hardwood Flooring

If you have worn down carpet or laminate flooring throughout the house, your best bet is to spend money and replace it. Flooring is crucial to the appearance of your home; most buyers want hardwoods throughout the house and tile in the bathrooms. To save money consider installing engineered hardwood or bamboo flooring, since it costs significantly less than solid hardwoods. Also to further save money, you can install new carpets rather than wood flooring in the bedrooms, and inexpensive tile in the bathrooms.

Average Cost:
Engineered Hardwood: $1500-1600/per room (12×14 sq.ft, includes removal of the old flooring material).
New Carpet: $900-1,000/per room ((12×14 sq.ft, includes removal of the old flooring material).
Tile:$500-650/per bathroom (5×8 sq.ft, includes removal of the old flooring material).

Use this flooring price estimator to get a more accurate cost estimate.

Remove Walls

Open Space Concept Rooms

If your home has many small dark rooms with poor lighting and flow, you may have a hard time selling it. According to Houzz remodeling experts its best to invest money into fixing this issue by removing walls and creating a bigger, more open space. Such spaces typically have more light, are easier to navigate, feel more modern and as a result greatly appeal to prospective buyers. Since this is not only a major investment, but the project will also cause a great deal of inconvenience to your family throughout its duration, be sure to consult your real estate agent and a few contractors to get their suggestions.

Money Wasting Remodels To Avoid

In short, you should avoid any designer, luxury types of remodels, fixtures or accessories around your home. Some common examples of such remodels include jacuzzi tubs, dual vanities made out of fancy expensive materials such as marble or granite, ultra modern industrial looking kitchens, additional accessories/appliances like a second sink or a refrigerator, special entertainment or game rooms accessorized with the latest technology, etc. The obvious reason to avoid these remodels is that you will never recoup the costs. For example, according to Remodeling Magazine, homeowners who go for “designer” kitchen remodels end up getting back only around 84% of their investment. Also, if you hike up the sale price in order to get your money back, you may turn off a lot of potential buyers who don’t want to pay the extra 30-70K for these lavish updates, simply because they don’t need them.

The other less obvious reason to stay away from expensive remodeling projects and materials is that most prospective buyers will likely not share your aesthetic tastes and may simply dislike you definition of a “designer” kitchen, bathroom, etc. This means that even if a buyer would potentially be willing to spend money on a luxury remodel of their dreams, they may not want to pay this money to live in your dream home.

Ultimately, this means that any remodels your undertake to should have a clean, simple, neutral look that any prospective buyer can envision making their own and changing according to their personal needs.

Visit our blog for other remodeling ideas.

About Yelena G

Yelena G. has been working in the remodeling and construction industry for over 15 years. Her focus is on construction planning and design as well as project cost estimating. Yelena also has a personal interest in interior design, as well as in unique DIY remodeling projects. Read more about Yelena

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