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What Not to Fix When Selling Your House: A Practical Guide

Jenna InouyeJune 11, 2024
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You’re about to sell your home. But you have to admit… you’ve kind of let it go. Between the “I’ll get to it tomorrow” projects and general wear-and-tear, there’s a lot of work that your house needs to get it into perfect condition.

But… Do you really need to?

Selling a house involves making decisions about repairs and renovations to attract potential buyers. But you also need to decide what’s worth fixing. And let’s face it: Who wants to fix up their home to be perfect just as they’re moving out?

There are repairs that have great ROI, and there are repairs that don’t. There are also repairs that are deal breakers — such as plumbing and electrical issues — and ones that are a little more forgiving.

To figure out what you should or shouldn’t fix when selling your home, we did some of our own sleuthing, along with talking to Adie Kriegstein, a licensed real estate salesperson at Compass. With nearly twenty years of experience in real estate, Adie Kriegstein brings her strong knowledge of the Manhattan market to buyers, sellers, investors, developers, and renters. 

Above all, Kriegstein advises that you involve an agent early. “I always think the best time to interview and pick an agent to assist in the sale of your home is before you truly begin the process. A licensed real estate professional can bring insights and advice you may not have even thought of.”

Understanding the ROI of home renovations

Before embarking on renovations, evaluating the return on investment (ROI) for potential fixes is crucial. ROI measures how much money spent on renovations is recouped through an increased sale price. Several factors impact ROI, including your location, current market conditions, and buyer preferences in your area.

You don’t want to go too overboard. Kriegstein says, “I always want to save my sellers as much money as possible; as such, I advise them on the bare minimum they need to do to get their property sold in addition to whatever other things they must do to make their home more sellable and marketable. Basically, things that will get them the most bang for their buck.”

Quicken Loans estimates that the average cost to remodel a home is $48,384

That’s a lot of money that could go toward purchasing your next property. 

Cosmetic fixes to avoid

  • Do: Update your home with neutral colors and fresh paint, to make it look cleaner and less lived-in.

  • Don’t: Invest in cosmetic fixes that are extremely bold, trendy, or modern — they may not be to a buyer’s tastes.

While updating your home with the latest trends might be tempting, cosmetic fixes often don't provide the best ROI. Everyone has their own taste and style; going overboard on cosmetic fixes could just narrow your market. 

“I recently had a seller paint only the living room of the apartment, which is the space one enters into the apartment,” says Kriegstein. “The rest of the home was painted a yellow that did not match well with the floors' color. The living room now looks great, but the rest of the home has a dreary lived-in feel. Further, I advised on bed linens, pillows, and duvets, but instead of taking my advice (and I did send a link to purchase the exact items), they picked something else that was the exact opposite of what I suggested. I had to virtually stage the images to ensure I was still getting decent marketing and exposure for this home.”

“Upgrades” like wallpaper and paint can be very personal and may not appeal to all buyers. Removing it can also be labor-intensive and expensive. Bold paint colors might not be a wise investment; potential buyers prefer neutral colors that allow them to envision their style in the space. HGTV’s 2024 colors of the year tend to be extremely bold… and to specific tastes. 

Instead of making these cosmetic updates, focus on creating a clean, neutral canvas that allows buyers to imagine their furnishings and style in the home. A fresh coat of neutral paint and simple, timeless fixtures can make a big difference without significant cost.

Kriegstein says, “When renovating/repairing a home for sale, spend money on items with the biggest return. Some examples include but are not limited to a fresh coat of white paint to brighten up a space, decluttering and ‘editing’ a space.”

Minor repairs to prioritize

  • Do: Prioritize minor repairs that don’t cost a lot in terms of time or money.

  • Don’t: Obsess over making absolutely everything perfect.

On the other hand, there are some minor things that you can do that could improve the general outlook of your home sale.

Minor repairs are those small, often inexpensive fixes that can significantly improve a buyer's perception of your home. Addressing these can enhance your property's overall appearance and functionality without the high costs associated with major renovations.

“In this market (at least in NYC), the things that are selling are those properties that need the least amount of work,” says Kriegstein. “As such, I try to ensure the homes I list appear to need minimal, if any, work when possible.”

Fixing things like leaky faucets is essential as it shows that the home is well-maintained. Refinishing or repairing scratched floors can make a big difference in the home's appearance, and replacing or securing loose tiles can prevent further damage and improve aesthetics. Basically, if it takes less than a few dollars to fix, you might as well. 

Your goal for minor repairs and renovations is to ensure that potential home buyers know that you’ve been maintaining your property over time. First impressions matter, and simple tasks like mowing the lawn, trimming bushes, and planting flowers can create a welcoming exterior. These minor investments in curb appeal can attract more buyers and increase the perceived value of your home.

Major renovations to reconsider

  • Do: Commit to major renovations that are required to sell your home, such as a damaged roof that will hinder any home sale.

  • Don’t: Commit to major renovations that are cosmetic in nature or “nice to have,” as you aren’t likely to ever recover the costs.

While major renovations can sometimes add value, they often don't provide a good ROI for sellers. Unless there’s something that’s a complete dealbreaker, it’s not generally a good idea to invest too much money into a home you’re selling.

For example, high-end appliances, luxury bathrooms, and expensive countertops might not yield a high ROI if your home is in a neighborhood where buyers aren't expecting or willing to pay for these features. Unique or highly customized features might not appeal to a broad audience and could limit your pool of potential buyers.

According to Angi, the cost of a bathroom remodel can vary from $13,000 to over $70,000. According to Home Depot, a kitchen remodel could cost up to $136,000. It’s hard to imagine these costs being recouped, no matter how alluring.

And that’s not even discussing the hidden cost of a major renovation: Time. You could end up not selling your house for three to six months if you’re trying to undergo major renovations; a full home renovation takes seven to ten months, according to Zenith Design + Build.

Before undertaking any major renovations, consider the cost versus the potential increase in your home's sale price. Consulting with a real estate agent can help you understand which upgrades are worthwhile in your market.

Redy can help you find a real estate agent well-versed in your area — and what buyers in your area expect of a home. With Redy, you can list your property and connect with real estate agents who are interested in representing you and your sale. You might even get a cash reward. 

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Cost-free fixes: staging and decluttering

Instead of investing in major renovations, there are some cost-effective ways to increase your home's value. Staging, decluttering, and cleaning are all things you can do on your own to make your home shine… without calling the contractors.

Staging involves arranging furniture and decor to showcase the home's best features and create an inviting atmosphere. Removing personal items and excess furniture can make rooms look larger and more inviting. Using neutral colors and simple decor can appeal to many buyers and it lets you get a pop of color in without having to repaint. 

Focus on staging key areas like the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom to create a lasting impression. A well-staged home can help buyers envision living in the space, potentially leading to quicker and higher offers.

Denying repairs during concessions

Buyers may request repairs or concessions after their home inspection during the negotiation process. Knowing when to deny these requests is just as important as knowing whether to conduct initial repairs and renovations. Your real estate agent can help you — but ultimately, the final choice will be yours. 

If the requested repairs are minor and don't significantly impact the home's value or safety, it might be reasonable to deny them. You can reference this in your negotiations if you've marketed the home as-is and priced it accordingly. Consider the cost of the requested repairs versus the potential impact on the sale. If the repairs are expensive and the buyer's request seems unreasonable, it might be better to deny them and seek another buyer.

Know that most buyers are going to ask for more concessions than they really require. It’s a negotiating tactic and a “might as well.” You can always negotiate back. You can tell the buyers that you will cover some concessions but not others. You may also find that it’s easier to offer them credit than complete the requested repairs — e.g. you might give them a “$1,000 credit toward new flooring” rather than replace the flooring as asked.

Generally, it’s never a great idea to commit to extreme renovations during concessions. It can only complicate the sale.

It’s time to talk to the professionals

Of course, every property is different. You may not be able to tell which renovations are “make or break” and which renovations can be put off. Consulting with real estate professionals and home inspectors can provide valuable insights into necessary repairs and renovations.

A home inspector can objectively assess your home's condition, highlighting areas that need attention. This can give you a clear picture of what buyers might find during their inspections and allow you to address critical issues upfront.

Meanwhile, a real estate agent can help you weigh the pros and cons of different renovation options, ensuring that you make informed decisions. Leveraging professional advice can help you prioritize repairs that will significantly impact your home's saleability and value.

Finally, when selling your house, you need to expect the unexpected. 

Kriegstein notes, “Recently, I had a seller who recently moved out of the city full-time and came up to prepare their home to list for me. They followed all the editing and repairs I gave them, and when I showed up to take photos, there was a huge leak! Things occur that are out of our control.”

When selling your home, deciding what to fix can be challenging. It's essential to strike the right balance between necessary improvements and avoiding unnecessary expenditures. Your real estate agent can help.

Start working with your perfect agent today. Create a property listing with Redy.

Jenna Inouye is a professional freelance writer specializing in the areas of real estate, technology, and finance. Her professional experience extends to her work in property management, accounting, and brick-and-mortar retail, as well as a substantial background in journalism and thought leadership for businesses and high-net-worth individuals.

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