101 Worthwhile Home Improvement Ideas (Part 3: Exterior & Landscaping)

Exterior home improvement tips

This is the final installment of our three-part home improvement series and it looks at profitable upgrades to your home’s exterior and landscaping.  There’s two reasons why exterior and landscape improvements are important.  First, your home’s exterior appearance unavoidably sets a prospective buyer’s assumptions regarding general level of maintenance your house receives.  When they view your property, they can’t inspect everything so they make an assumption about your home’s overall condition based on appearance.  You can shape these assumptions, and improve your likelihood of receiving a competitive offer, by creating a positive first impression from the moment prospects pull in the driveway.

Second, certain exterior and landscaping improvements also produce consistently positive returns on investment.   In this article we will steer you towards projects that are proven winners rather than those that are more speculative.  Examples of speculative projects are swimming pools, spas and water features.  That’s not to say they’re not enjoyable amenities, we’re only saying that they are more financially speculative and their value might not be recognized in the market.  As previously discussed, planning and cost control are key to profitable home improvement projects.  Labor is always the biggest line item of any project, but, if you’re planning to do-it-yourself, only undertake projects that you are certain you can finish.  It’s better not to do something than to leave it unfinished.

Here are our suggestions to create a crisp, clean and polished appearance that prospective home buyers like to see:

EXTERIOR IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

Dress the main entry door up with a brass kick-plate and brass door knocker.  A brass kick-plate looks great and helps protect the paint at the bottom of the door; a brass door knocker adds elegance.  You might also want to consider an ornate brass mail slot – much more attractive than ordinary mail slots and mailboxes.

Get a new front door or refinish the existing door.  The front door is important  because it is the first thing people see up close.  An attractive door is more inviting.  If the door is old or in poor condition, get a new one.  If it’s in relatively good shape, paint it to either match your trim or a complimentary color.  For example, if your home is light gray with white trim, consider painting your front door burgundy or blue-green.  Other good colors for doors besides standard white or wood grains are red and dark green.

Enhance your porch or doorstep with pots or baskets of blooming annuals.  An inviting and fragrant way to boost visual appeal and add eye-catching color.

Accessorize the front of your home.  Limited use of simple items found at a garage or rummage sale can turn drab to charming and add character to your home. For instance, a cast-iron dinner bell or whimsical weather vane.  Don’t overdo it.

Install matching shutter and window box sets.  Use a window shutter design in a contrasting color that compliments that of your house.  Shutters and window boxes add charm and character to a home.

Un-clutter the area surrounding the house.  Use garden hose holders to coil water hoses neatly off the yard and trash cans in bright colors for storage of toys and sports equipment in the garage or on the patio.

Clean windows.  As simple as it sounds, keeping windows clean and sparkling is something many homeowners overlook when preparing to sell their home.  Dirty windows make a house look uncared for, both inside and out, reducing the chances of a positive reaction from prospective buyers.

Replace or repair windows.  Not only important for home curb appeal, but insulated window choices make your home more energy efficient.  An important selling point and one of your best investment return options.  Window style and appearance can significantly enhance  the house exterior yielding an increase in your home’s market value.

Clean the roof of debris.  Use a stiff janitor’s broom to remove leaves, sticks, and other debris.  Afterwards, use a garden hose to spray-clean the eves and downspouts. Never use a pressure wash to clean the roof unless you have wood shingles or clay, slate, or concrete (and even then, only with caution).

Roof shingles.  Repair any roof leaks.  If shingles are old and unsightly, replace them. Whatever type roofing you select, make sure style choice and color compliments the house and landscape design.

Pressure wash the exterior of the home.  Get rid of dust, debris, and cobwebs.  You’d be surprised how much brighter and newer the siding will look.  Use a low-pressure nozzle to avoid washing paint off wood.  If you have vinyl siding, use a brush or sponge instead.

Siding.  The biggest curb appeal impact factor is the house exterior.  If siding is old, faded, chipped or damaged, replace or repair it.  Although it’s a big project, new siding usually has a high return on investment because it can so dramatically upgrade a home’s appearance if done well.  Research, planning and cost control are the keys to a successful outcome.

Paint the house exterior.  A high-impact, cost-effective way to improve overall house appearance is to paint it’s exterior.  House painting also has a very high return on investment, usually in the range of 100% to 200% depending on a variety of factors.  If you can’t afford to paint the whole house then just paint the trim, gutters and downspouts.  Select a tasteful color combination to achieve the best results in terms of market value. Get color combination ideas from home decorating magazines and websites, new house construction, and exterior remodeling projects around your neighborhood.

Build a patio deck.  Another high-return improvement with an average recoup over 100% for a moderate 16 X 20 foot deck using pressure-treated pine, concrete footings, and composite deck material.  Add a built-in bench, planter, and railings to the design for optimum appeal.

Get rid of old, faded, or broken patio furniture.  Repair (if possible) or replace.

Give your old BBQ grill a makeover.  Degrease it first then rinse well.  Repeat if necessary.  Once totally clean and dry, refinish it using a bright fireproof/high-temperature paint.  Select a color that matches house trim or shutters.  You could try something fun that will really stand out such as yellow or orange.  Or just throw it out and buy a new one.

Add a fireplace to your deck or patio.  An increasingly popular feature for outdoor entertaining.  Make sure it’s permitted under local zoning laws.

Add gravel to a dirt driveway.  If you’ve never seen the difference this makes, you’d be surprised how much better a gravel driveway looks.  Remember, there are different grades and colors of gravel, so give your selection some thought.  Try to imagine how each type will look on your property as you decide.

Pave a gravel driveway.  Obviously paved driveways are easier to maintain and far more attractive than gravel driveways.  In order of increasing cost, your options are asphalt, concrete and brick pavers.  Look around your neighborhood and see what’s the norm.  Then go one better if you can.  If the norm is asphalt, put in concrete or brick.  Everyone will notice the difference when they pull in your driveway.

Driveway resurfacing and repair.  If your driveway is already paved but is cracked or in bad condition, repair it and/or use a driveway sealer.

Change the contour of your driveway.  An easy way to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your home, particularly if your driveway is currently gravel.  Consider adding an inviting curve and additional parking for guests (including prospective buyers). 

Remove weeds from between concrete slabs and walkways.  A sure sign of property neglect and a cause of concern for potential buyers.  A 20% bleach solution works well.

Install an automatic garage door opener.  Select a model with a multi-code garage door opener remote that routinely changes the code for additional security.

Build a new garage (and make it a large one).  Every homeowner knows the advantages of a large garage.  The space never goes unused.  Since you’re literally increasing the square footage of your home, you can be sure you’re also increasing its market value, though not by as much as if it were living space.  If possible, make it an attached garage.

Remodel an old garage.  If you already have a garage, consider remodeling its interior.  Repair and paint the walls.  Seal and paint the floors.  Add storage space or a workshop complete with workbench, power outlets, and shelving.  Very few people remodel their garages but it has a big impact on prospective buyers and gives you a competitive edge against other available homes in your area.

LANDSCAPING IDEAS

Cut back or remove and any foliage that hides the house.  This includes trees, hedges and anything else that blocks the view of the front entrance from the road.  Overgrowth hints of neglect and detracts from the aesthetic appeal of the home.  It also creates a security problem by providing cover for intruders.

Weed your gardens  and turn over soil with fresh mulch.  Makes gardens look fresh and well-tended.

Keep lawn well mowed.  A height of 2-inches produces a well-manicured, uniform appearance.  If summers are particularly hot, up to 3-inches is acceptable.  The added height will help roots grow deeper into the soil where moisture is more available.

Edge your lawn.  The positive curb appeal of a green, lush, well-groomed lawn that is properly edged cannot be over emphasized.  If you don’t have time for the required upkeep, use a landscaping service.

Clear debris from yard.  That includes litter, toys, leaves and sticks.

Spread grass seed.  If grass is sparse or unhealthy, spread lawn seed.  High traffic areas may need special attention.

Lay turf.  This includes both replacing the entire lawn with turf grass or just spot treatment for persistent bald spots.

Get rid of unsightly weeds.  Pull them out (make sure you get the whole root) or use a weed-remover product.

Use liquid grass fertilizer for the greenest lawn possible.  Using a dispenser that fits onto the hose will help ensure even distribution.  Keep the lawn well watered.

Install a lawn sprinkler system.  Helps keep the lawn looking great while reducing time spent on landscape maintenance.  An automatic sprinkler system is a powerful selling point for people who don’t like yard work.  If you have extensive garden areas, consider installing a garden sprinkler system.

Keep trees and shrubs neatly pruned.  Important for curb appeal.  Cut back overgrown trees and overhanging plants.  Tame your yard so that it doesn’t look difficult to maintain.

Remove any badly damaged, dead or dying plants and trees.  Grass over holes or plant healthy, new replacements.

Add color.  Simply put, color helps accentuate beautiful landscape and makes your home look more inviting.  Plant colorful annuals along the walkway and near the front entrance.  Plant ground cover around the base of trees or shaded areas.  Research shows that color, especially yellow and pink, evokes a buying mood.

Landscape your driveway.  Landscaping your driveway makes it more inviting and draws attention to the walkway to your front door.

Arbor gardens and potted shrubs.  These can be creative ways to hide unsightly spots and draw attention away from less attractive areas of the yard.

Create a rock garden.  This is a useful option for thin lawns that don’t quite meet the curb or driveway.  Before you start, view some examples and make a plan.  Usually you’ll want a theme that matches the style of your home.  You’ll find a lot of information online. Visit a home and garden center to find materials available in your area.

Add a trellis.  These can be interesting if you want to add height and color to a landscape plan.  Most people cover the trellis with flowering vines.

Landscape lighting.  Makes your home look more inviting at night. Landscape light – whether solar, outdoor track lighting, or designer Malibu landscape lighting – provides a hospitable ambiance that highlights the house exterior.

Security lighting.  Usually flood lights or motion-sensitive lights.  Select traditional or decorative styles such as sconces.  Security lights improve safety both by deterring intruders and by lighting up pathways to reduce the risk of accidents.  Can also make property look more appealing.

Add an outdoor water feature such as a fountain, garden pond waterfall, or even just a birdbath.  Water features attract butterflies, birds, and other wildlife which makes the yard more interesting.  Such elements also add aesthetic appeal and the sounds made by water are relaxing and therapeutic.  Not typically high-return projects, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Hire a landscape designer or landscape architect if your property needs extensive work.  They can create a landscape plan complete with detailed diagrams and plant lists.  You can save money by doing the work yourself.  Having an expert draw up the plans will ensure a professional-looking outcome.  Assuming you maintain the new landscaping, your real estate value will increase.

That’s our complete list fo 101 worthwhile home improvement ideas.  We call them “worthwhile” because they’re all projects that reliably produce high returns in market value based on your investment of time and money.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  Remember that all home improvement projects (and all construction) are labor-intensive.  Labor will likely be the single largest line item in any of these projects, even if that labor is yours.  But since you don’t have to pay yourself, the projects you can do on your own will yield the highest returns.  You can add substantial value to your property with a series of managable projects that you can do yourself or with your spouse.  Keep it to one at a time.  You don’t want to take on projects that you can’t finish, especially if you’re planning on selling your home.

If you missed the two earlier articles in this series, go see Part 1, Your Home’s Interior and Part 2Kitchens & Baths.

101 Worthwhile Home Improvement Ideas (Part 2: Kitchens & Baths)

Downstairs home improvement tips

This article is the second of our three-part home improvement series and it focuses specifically on kitchens and baths. These are the rooms of your home where upgrades can produce the greatest return on the time and money you invest. Every year there are studies confirming that improvements to kitchens and bathrooms measureably increase a home’s value, but the return on any particular project depends on planning and cost control. Cost control includes not just finding the best prices on materials and labor, but also not over-improving your property to an extent the market will not recognize. In plain English, this means not improving your kitchens and baths significantly beyond those available in other homes in your market.

Cost control takes effort.  The difficulty lies in knowing where to draw the line in terms of price and quality of planned improvements.  Every market has a price/quality ceiling beyond which prospective buyers can’t of won’t pay for.  You’ll find that the most basic improvements earn the greatest percentage return.  As the project scope increases, the finishing touches will likely earn the least percentage return and at some point the return even becomes negative.  Your job in planning the project is to apply research and common sense to find the point of diminishing returns.  There’s no formula to tell you where that point is, but if you know it exists you’re likely to come reasonably close to finding it.

KITCHEN IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

Make sure the classic work triangle is incorporated into the kitchen floor plan, with the kitchen sink, refrigerator, and stove arranged in a triangular pattern.  This layout saves unnecessary steps while ensuring ease of movement and convenience.

Peninsula counter top.  If kitchen space allows, add a peninsula counter to increase workspace.  Select a two-level top design; providing workspace for the cook, as well as an area where family members can enjoy a quick snack.

Incorporate space-saving elements into kitchen design.  For instance, a built in refrigerator, coffee maker, or other built-in type appliances.  Buyers tend to favor kitchens that are uncluttered because they look like they have more space.

Fresh wall paint.  A proven, value-adding project that makes a huge improvement in room appearance.  More than pays for itself when it’s time to sell your home.  Consider washable wall paint in beige, yellows or mossy greens.  Stay away from trendy colors that may shortly become outdated.

New kitchen cabinet hardware.  Depending on the age, style and condition of your cabinets, replacing cabinet hardware alone can give your cabinets a modern appearance.

Replace old kitchen cabinet doors with new, quality doors.  Cheaper than full cabinet replacement while still yielding impressive results boost home market value.  You’re sure to find a lot of local businesses that do this or you can check the big-box home improvement stores for advice and guidance.  A very common upgrade.

Resurface counter tops.  If kitchen counter tops are old and you can’t afford new, give your kitchen a cost-effective update by resurfacing your counter tops instead of replacing them.

Install granite counter tops or counter tops made of other natural stone.  Stone counter tops installed with quality workmanship improve kitchen appearance and usability.  And did I mention they’re a big selling point?  If you can’t afford a real stone counter top, faux stone  can be equally attractive and nearly as compelling to potential buyers.

Replace old flooring with a hardwood floor.  If your budget doesn’t allow for conventional hardwood, consider a bamboo hardwood floor.  If new kitchen flooring is completely out of your price range, restoring a hardwood floor is your next best option.

Install a heated ceramic floor.  These are extremely popular because typical stone and tile floors tend to be cold.  Heated floors will warm your feet and are a persuasive selling point in cold climates.

Replace old appliances with new, energy-efficient models.  A great way to enhance household cost-efficiency and increase potential buyers’ interest in your home.  Usually pays for itself in increased home value.  [Remember, if you purchase new appliances, you need to keep them clean.]

Add a second kitchen work station.  A growing trend that allows more than one person to work efficiently in the same kitchen at the same time.  Makes your kitchen better for entertaining.  One option would be to add a free-standing butcher block work island.  Increases work space and ease-of-movement while preparing foods.

Add a kitchen pantry.  A design that includes pantry organizer shelving and innovative food pantry storage is a great way to better utilize available kitchen space.

Include a breakfast nook area.  Breakfast nooks are making a comeback, but you need to have room.  The two basic types are the corner breakfast nook and the secluded breakfast nook built off the kitchen.  Both types provide an informal dining area and a great family gathering place, sure to impress prospective buyers.  Do some research and you’ll be surprised at all the creative design options people are using.

BATHROOM IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

Add a vaulted ceiling.  This both increases the bathroom’s aesthetic appeal and makes the room appear more spacious.

Add a bathroom skylight.  An impressive element that increases natural lighting, modernizes room design, and is aesthetically pleasing.  A vented skylight will increase air circulation as well.

Replace flooring with bathroom flooring tile.  If you want to do-it-yourself, peel-and-stick tile is a quick, cost-effective solution.

Install a heated bathroom floor.   A nice amenity that will impress potential buyers.

Update existing fixtures.  This includes faucets, shower tub, toilet, vanity, medicine cabinet, and lighting.  Put in new towel rods, toilet paper holders, and cabinet hardware.

Regrout and replace chipped tiles in your shower or bathtub.  Get rid of mold and mildew.  Replace caulking around tubs and showers.

Make sure the bathroom fan is working.  Clean or replace blades in any ceiling fans.

Increase bathroom storage, if possible.  Utilize unused space in corners.  Install corner shelving and cabinetry.  You want bathrooms to be clean and uncluttered which makes them appear larger.

If you have the space, add another bathroom.  Hard to go wrong adding another bathroom.  More is better.  High return on investment.  In a house with 1 or 1 ½ baths, the recoup for an averaged full-sized bath located near bedrooms can be up to 160% depending on your area.

Build a new master bathroom.  A powerful selling point with a high projected return on investment return.  If you want to go all-out on a room, this is the place to do it.  Tour some model homes first to see what builders in your area are offering in master bath amenities on new construction.

We discussed kitchen and bathroom remodeling separately because these projects are typically some of the highest yield investments in the spectrum of all home improvement projects.  But remember, you don’t have to do a full room remodel to significantly upgrade the appearance of kitchens and baths.  You can add a lot of value to your home simply by cleaning, polishing, painting, replacing hardware and adding storage.  If you do all the inexpensive suggestions listed above, you can be sure you’re adding value to your home while making it a far more competitive property.

Be sure to see Part 1 and Part 3 of this series, Your Home’s Interior and Exterior & Landscaping.

101 Worthwhile Home Improvement Ideas (Part 1: Your Home’s Interior)

Upstairs home improvement tips

This is the first of a three-part series focusing on improvements to increase your home’s market value and, if you’re planning on selling your home, improve your chances for a quick sale.  Throughout this series, our recommendations are based on the actual experience of homeowners we have worked with in the past to successfully market and sell their properties.  These ideas range from the inexpensive to some that require planning and expense.  But regardless of their cost, each suggestion will result in a positive return on the time and money you invest.

In home improvement, planning and cost control are critical.  These recommended improvements are known from actual experience to work, but it is up to you as the homeowner to implement them smartly.  This means that you need to plan, shop bids and prices, and execute your plan efficiently.  Don’t take on any project you can’t finish.  Poorly planned projects tend to drag out which diminishes your chances for successful and profitable completion.  So plan as though you are undertaking a military mission.  There’s  a lot more downside to under-planning than there is to over-planning.

Here’s our first set of ideas which are general recommendations to upgrade the interior of your home:

Brighten rooms with new wall paint.  Try an interior color scheme that creates a more relaxing environment.   Clean, soft blues, greens, and yellows and warm, earthy beiges, tans and browns usually work.  The concept is to use subtle, neutral interior wall paint colors then add colorful accessories for excitement and interest.  Painting is a relatively low-cost project with high returns.

Window covering replacement.  New curtains and blinds can go a long way in brightening and updating a room.  Try sheers for a light, breezy atmosphere; drapery or blinds when more privacy is required.

Increase storage space in the garage, utility/laundry room, kitchen and baths.  Either replace outdated shelving and cabinets with modern, efficient designs or construct new storage where space permits.  Do not over-build; the goal is a clean, uncluttered appearance.

Turn unused attic space into living space.  Finish the attic and convert it into an extra bedroom.  In general, houses with more bedrooms sell at a higher price and the return on investment on attic conversions can exceed 100% if done well.

Update the laundry room.  A well-designed laundry room that is modern, bright, and cheerful makes household tasks more tolerable.  Gives your home another competitive selling point and well worth the investment.

Update HVAC equipment including an energy-efficient furnace.  Prospective buyers always appreciate modern, energy-saving mechanical systems – it’s one less thing they have to do.

Replace filters of HVAC units.  Helps air smell fresher.

Install a programmable thermostat.  Much more energy-efficient than non-programmable thermostats.

Update/upgrade insulation.  Use appropriate R-value insulation for both thermal and sound insulation.  An easy way to impress buyers.

Update master bedroom design.  A romantic bedroom design is very appealing to potential buyers.  Consider soft, pastel wall paint colors, limited use of floral wallpaper, and crown molding.

Add crown molding.  Available in countless colors, widths, and styles – from simple to elegant; classic to contemporary.  Molding is the icing on the cake and gives an ordinary looking room the special touch needed to make it stand out.

Install a bay window.  Enhances ambience by bringing light and outside scenery into the room.  Makes rooms feel more open, spacious, and inviting to potential buyers.

Update child bedroom décor.  Remove age-sensitive design features such as nursery rhyme themes.  Instead select non-age-specific themes and colors that are more appealing to a greater number of potential buyers.

Replace old light bulbs with new, brighter bulbs.  Better light creates the impression of more space, assuming the room is clean and uncluttered.

Install track lighting.  To highlight artwork, showcase a particular element (such as a kitchen island) or illuminate the entire room.  Consider flex track lighting or suspended track lighting.  Include a dimmer switch to make lighting more versatile and an effective mood enhancer.

Clean or replace worn carpeting.  Any real estate agent knows that new, wall-to-wall carpet can sway potential buyers to select your house over another.  Type of carpeting is important; opt for the best quality you can afford in a neutral color.  If old carpeting is still in good condition but soiled or stained, hire a professional carpet cleaner for spot removal or deep cleaning.  A necessary improvement that also has a high return.

Install wood wall paneling.  A popular home improvement project that improves room appearance and increases home market value.  Select the best quality interior wall paneling you can afford.

Add a built-in.  They not only save space but give a home designer appeal.  Consider a built-in bookcase for the den or a built-in entertainment center for the family room.

Install a fireplace.  Whether wood, electric, or gas, a well-constructed fireplace always improves market value.

Clean existing fireplace.  Invest in new fireplace tools and/or accents.

Install a home sound system.  Although usually more of a lifestyle project, in certain geographic regions it’s a norm for new construction.  Particularly important for homes designed for indoor/outdoor entertaining (see Part 3 of this series, Exterior & Landscaping).

Finish the basement by building a game room /exercise room.  Use durable, neutral carpeting and finishes.  Wire the room for sound and entertainment.  Don’t forget abundant storage.

Selectively purchase new furniture.  Sometimes a good option if you’re moving and know you’ll be purchasing a few new pieces anyways.  New furniture pieces can help buyers visualize the potential of a room.

Dispose of junk furniture.  Space is worth money.  If you know you’re going to get rid of old furniture when you move, then get rid of it now.  Your rooms will look larger and the extra space is worth more than the furniture.

Give your home a thorough cleaning.  Top to bottom, even wash the windows.  You’ve probably never done it before.  Clean homes get more money and it costs you almost nothing if you do it yourself (or with free help).  This ought to be a no-brainer, but some people don’t believe it’s actually true.  Cleaning and polishing has a very high return on investment.

Make sure all doorknobs, latches, deadbolts, handles and faucets work.  Even if you home is not new, buyers will feel reassured that everything actually works.  Similar to buying an older vehicle that has been meticulously maintained.

Make sure the doorbell works.  No explanation necessary.

As the occupant of your home, you’re there to enjoy the benefits of the improvements you make.  However, from a purely financial perspective, it’s best not to over-improve your home to the point it exceeds the value of any other home in your market.  Sometimes it’s possible to push the market a bit, but to do that you’ll need to be able to concretely justify the amount your home’s value exceeds comparable home sales.  You’ll want to have those facts ready when your house goes on the market because people will ask (including the mortgage lender’s appraiser).

If you liked this article, be sure to see Part 2 and Part 3 that focus on Kitchens & Baths and Exterior & Landscaping.