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Biggest Bang for Your Buck: Kitchen and Bath Fix-Ups

You’ve probably seen this on a home-themed TV show: A couple needs to sell their home and a designer comes in and convinces them to renovate their outdated kitchen into a stainless-steel-clad shrine to culinary greatness—for tens of thousands of dollars.

Is the time and cost worth it? Not really, since most expensive pre-sale fix-ups just don’t add enough value. The kitchen and bathroom are two areas that potential buyers are often most pressured to remodel before putting their home on the market.

Here’s what to do — and what to avoid — when considering a pre-sale renovation:

Kitchen Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t put in expensive professional-grade cook’s appliances. You may choose a tricked-out, $10,000 Wolf stove, but the buyer may be a loyalist to Viking. Or, even worse, the potential buyer might be a take-out addict.
  • Do service the appliances you have, so that they work perfectly. And, if you have seriously outdated appliances that can be replaced for $1,000 or less (like swapping a dingy old fridge for a basic new one), that’s a good idea. Similarly, if there are any appliances that you lack, which most buyers consider essential, it makes sense to buy one (like a dishwasher—you can get a nice model for under $1,000).
  • Don’t replace your cabinetry entirely—even if it’s a little outdated. It’s just too subjective. You might think sleek, white Scandinavian cabinets are the way to go, but you’ll be in a bind if your potential buyer prefers dark wood.
  • Do invest in cabinet refacing if your cabinets are extremely outdated. Many refacing companies will give your cabinets a fresh façade for well under $2,000, and it’s a good investment in creating a positive impression of the room.
  • Don’t go counter crazy. Spending thousands of dollars on a new countertop is a lot of money, as there are so many different options these days, it’s impossible to find one that will please most people.  Of the options available, go with lower-end granite if possible budget-wise.  If not, looks for a high end synthetic.
  • Do hire a professional cleaning company to come in and make what you have sparkle. While this won’t magically make your tile look magazine-spread-worthy, it will certainly make it look a lot better, as discoloration from age often makes tile look even worse.

Other ideas for the Kitchen:

  • Declutter your counters. A disorganized kitchen is a buyer-deterrent. Clean up the counters and pare down countertop items to hardly any.
  • Keep your pantry and cabinetry clutter-free too. You don’t have to alphabetize your cereals—just know that potential buyers will probably open those cabinets, so they won’t want a ladle falling out on their head.
  • Give your kitchen table or breakfast bar some color and life. It’s simple—placemats, a colorful vase or two and a tasteful flower arrangement will reinforce the idea that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

Bathroom Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t do expensive tub/shower repairs or replacements. Just like with the big-ticket kitchen fixes, this is a matter of taste. If you put in a round jetted tub, what if the buyer wants square? And is an amethyst-crystal steam shower really something everyone will love? 
  • Do make sure whatever you have is as clean as possible.  If the bath is chipped, replace tiles or reglaze.  Make sure the caulk looks good, and clean.
  • Do replace dated bath and shower fixtures. This can be done inexpensively. If you have a 30-year-old, tiny showerhead, replacing it with a large, rainwater-style model will lend a subtle spa-like quality without costing a lot.
  • Don’t replace your smallish vanity with a new, built-in model. Paint the cabinets and add new hardware or you can get a new basic vanity for less than $100 at Home Depot or Lowes.
  • Do freshen up the vanity area. Invest in a big mirror and put bright lights over it. And a few hundred dollars spent on a nice faucet is well worth it, as, like the showerhead, it’s a true basic—and updating the basics, in most homes and markets, is all you should be focusing on.

Other tips for redoing your bathroom frugally:

  • If you want to add a little life to the wall, try a floating shelf. A simple, straight-lined wood or stainless-steel shelf with a few candles can add an elegant touch that doesn’t cost much.
  • Toss down a colorful floor mat. Bathrooms are often devoid of color; this is a great way to add that color, and a little warmth.
  • Again, clear clutter. Even your beauty essentials shouldn’t be on the counter if you’re in the open house stage.

Article written by Dan Steward, President of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections with minor changes by yours truly.