Home Improvements that Increase Value

Simple House Projects that Pay Off Most, According to Siouxland's Realtors

April 17, 2023

By Julie Schmidt
Vice President of Mortgage Services

When it comes to home improvement projects, it's not easy choosing which renovations to green-light and which ones to scrap (especially if you plan on selling your house soon). So, we asked a group of Siouxland’s expert Realtors about which home upgrades they usually recommend to homeowners. 

And we quickly discovered that all home improvements are not created equal.

Joe Krage

 “As my old boss used to say, the top sixteenth of an inch is what sells a house,” says Joe Krage, a Realtor with United Real Estate Solutions. “At the end of the day, no buyer really cares that you spent $25,000 on a retaining wall. It's tough to hear, because it obviously needs to be done. But will it add value? Not really.”

The same could be said for new a new roof, driveway, furnace — and many other expensive renovations you might be surprised to hear don’t really move the price needle much. "For example, your carpet needs replaced so you offer the buyer a carpet allowance to fix the problem," says Krage. "You’re better off replacing the carpet yourself for price you feel comfortable with than offering a carpet allowance for the sellers to replace themselves. Buyers are less likely to fall in love with a house that needs maintenance and new carpet will be a selling point for many!"

Amy Kakacek“These are just normal wear-and-tear maintenance items,” says Amy Kakacek, with Salem Real Estate. “Could a new air conditioner help sell a home faster? Maybe. But the return on value is very minimal, if anything.”

Don't throw in the hammer just yet, though!

Because when it comes to low-cost upgrades that will increase the value of your home, our real estate experts have plenty of suggestions:

1. Give your kitchen and bathroom a “facelift.”

Remodeling a bathroom or a kitchen is one of the most profitable home improvements you can make.

Holly Wright

“Kitchens and bathroom improvements pay you back with the highest percentage of return,” says Holly Wright, of Century 21 Pro Link. “Plus, there is value in getting to enjoy them while you still live in the house.”

But you don’t have to gut the rooms down to the studs to reap the biggest benefits. In fact, experts say you should only consider a complete kitchen or bath overhaul if you plan to live in your house long enough to reap the rewards.

Kevin Archer

“When it comes to big renovations, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘How long will I live in this home?’" says Kevin Archer, a Realtor with Keller Williams and a former contractor. "If that answer is 3 years or less, don’t do it!”

Rather, Archer encourages short-term buyers to consider giving their kitchen or bathroom what he calls a “surface facelift,” involving low-cost upgrades like painting, re-tiling, refinishing cabinets or installing new hardware. For example, do you have a green or blue bathtub that's a few decades old? You don’t necessarily need a new one. Consider instead calling a re-surfacing expert to re-coat the existing tub.

“A slight makeover will add dollar-for-dollar value immediately,” Archer says.

Just make sure your new finishes are chosen wisely. Sometimes, elaborate finishes can actually be a downgrade.

Mark Vos

“I wouldn’t recommend doing things that would only be appreciated in a specialty market — like crazy, high-end appliances or expensive bath/shower setup,” says Mark Vos, with United Real Estate. “Keep things in a price range that matches the home’s value.”

2. Update fixtures & ceiling fans.

When it comes to making a quick, affordable and user-friendly home upgrade, Chuck Burnett of United Real Estate can shed some light on one of your best options.

chuck Burnett“The No. 1 thing I look at in a room is the light fixture and ceiling fan,” Burnett says. “The gold stuff from the 80’s and 90’s looks old and it dates your house. For a few hundred dollars, switch everything to a brushed nickel or rubbed bronze finish — it’s an affordable upgrade that makes your house look more current.”

3. Remember, curb appeal counts.

Walk across the street, turn around and look at your home. If you find yourself feeling a bit underwhelmed by your “curb appeal,” you won’t be the only one. 

“People drive by and look at a home before scheduling a showing,” Mark Vos says. “The nicer your house looks from the curb, the better chance a buyer will want to walk through it.”

And when it comes to booking a showing — a fresh coat of paint, some landscaping elbow grease or a new front door can make a world of difference.

 “The minute a buyer sees your house,” Amy Kakacek says, “they’re already mentally rating your home.”

Not only that — some specific types of home loans prohibit the borrower from buying a house with a weathered exterior in the first place.

“If the buyer has an FHA or VA loan, any chipped paint or peeling siding will come up in the appraisal and have to be fixed anyway,” Kakacek adds.

4. Clean and de-clutter everything.

Some of the best things in life are free — including one of the most important home upgrades: cleaning your house!

Barb Kimmel

“Clean homes show the best, and there’s no cost involved — just labor,” says Barb Kimmel of United Real Estate. “Pride of ownership is a must and really helps to get the top dollar for your home.”

Staging your home involves more than the traditional vacuuming, dusting and scrubbing. You should also make a point to “de-clutter” —  which means opening up walkways, clearing off countertops and taking down family photos (which can lead a buyer to feel like they’re invading your space).

For more cleaning tips to help you sell your home, refer to this guide from the American Cleaning Institute.

Not only do cleaning and de-cluttering make your home look nicer and give buyers more confidence in your house, they can also make the space look bigger than it actually is!

As Mark Vos puts it: “Getting a home clean isn’t always fun or easy. But once your house is super spotless, it’s much easier to keep it that way for showings.”

5. You might not have to replace your carpet. But you should clean it.

It’s no secret that new carpet can give a room new life.  But sometimes, “fresh and clean” can do as much as new.

Dave Pepin

“Quite often I recommend getting the carpet cleaned before you even think about getting it replaced,” says Dave Pepin, with United Real Estate. “Let’s say you’ve got a Frazee with some nice colors — it's worth seeing if a Rug Doctor or a hired professional can get that thing to spring back to life first.”

Pepin also recommends hiring a professional to “re-stretch” your carpet so it’s not lumpy and loose anymore.

Of course, if all else fails, it might be time to replace the carpet. And if you do, Pepin says, make sure you get a neutral color.

6. Tear those old curtains down.

For homeowners who are worried about their older windows, the good news is you don't necessarily have to replace them. Instead, heed these easy workarounds from Kathie Pfaffle of Realty ONE Group Regency:

Kathie Pfaffle

“Ensure your windows are in the best shape possible,” Pfaffle suggests. “Whether that means a simple dusting of the sills and using Windex, or if you have some peeling paint and the glazing is rough, at least scrape off the peeling portions and vacuum them up, along with any other gunk on the insides. Plus, Windex, Windex, Windex.”

Pfaffle also suggests tearing down outdated curtains and drapes altogether. 

“Be sure to remove those dated or heavy window treatments, so as much natural light as possible comes into the home. This makes your space seem cheerier and more livable at no cost.”

7. Add a fresh coat of paint.

Nearly every expert agrees, a fresh coat of paint still reigns supreme as one of the easiest and cheapest ways to refresh a room (especially if you do it yourself).

 “Want to make a room’s first impression a great one?” Kevin Archer asks. “Put a new coat of paint on the wall and trim. Fresh paint in the living space pays exponentially.”

“Paint is the cheapest upgrade you can do,” Barb Kimmel echoes. “It will put dollars in your pocket every time.”

Just be sure to pick neutral colors and stay away from the outlandish shades.

 “When you buy your materials, make sure they conform to the natural look of the home,” Kimmel says. “And make sure they’re somewhat consistent with other homes in the neighborhood.”

BONUS TIP: Consider a Home Equity Line of Credit.

If you're planning a more expensive home improvement project to enjoy for the next few years without selling, consider using a Home Equity Loan (or Line of Credit) to fund it.

Still unsure of what home renovations to pursue? 

“Your banker or Real Estate Agent can help you determine if the cost will justify the improvements you want to make,” Kimmel says.

So, if you’re considering home renovations or putting your home on the market, reach out to a Realtor or contact us today!

About the Author

Julie Schmidt

Julie Schmidt is the Vice President of Mortgage Services at Security National Bank. A licensed mortgage loan originator, Schmidt has received the President's Club or Winner's Circle designation by the Iowa Mortgage Association every year since 2004 for her outstanding performance and customer service in the field.