Today's home sellers should focus on curb appeal and home staging above larger-scale home renovations, according to a new survey from Zillow Digs. Zillow asked real estate agents and interior designers nationwide to identify the most valuable home improvements for sellers, and the experts agree that minor improvements like landscaping and painting walls in neutral colors save money and attract buyers faster.
Agents agree that sellers should avoid costly projects prior to listing their home, as the increased sale price may not outweigh the time and money spent on the remodel. Instead, agents and designers recommend spending money on minor renovations that will bring the home up to current market standards while also appealing to the broadest number of potential buyers.
"Buyers have more homes to choose from this year, compared to last year," said Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow chief marketing officer and guest judge on NBC's new reality show American Dream Builders. "And in a crowded market, sellers should prioritize spending time and money on upgrades that have mass appeal. Home buyers don't want to feel as if they are paying top-dollar for someone else's decorating style. An inviting exterior and landscape, fresh paint in neutral colors, and clutter-free spaces will always appeal to a broad range of tastes."
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Curb Appeal: Creating a strong first impression is imperative as buyers begin making assumptions about a home well before they step inside. "A clean entrance can go a long way toward establishing a positive first impression," said Zillow Agent Advisory Board member, Cyndi Lesinski of Valencia, Calif. Lesinski recommends adding "fresh potted flowers to increase the life and energy of the entrance." Another tip is to simply add a fresh coat of paint to the front door. Black, dark charcoal and tasteful reds such as burgundy or cranberry are currently the most popular front door colors on Zillow Digs. These colors bring tasteful exuberance to the home without being too overbearing for potential buyers.
Staging: A home stager can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home's best features and compensate for its shortcomings. The goal is to make "your home appeal to the broadest audience and number of buyers possible," says Zillow Digs Board of Designers member Mara Miller of Carrier and Company in New York City. When staging, remove all personal belongings and avoid colors or furniture that are too style-specific – neutral colors and minimal furniture are best. "Attempting to decorate may not be the best use of your time and dollars," says Miller.
Invest in Small Home Improvements: Both agents and designers agree that sellers should never invest in a major renovation before selling. No matter how out-of-date a home is, "major renovations prior to sale usually will not equal a dollar-for-dollar return, and the time invested outweighs selling it faster," says Zillow Agent Advisory Board member Chris Speicher, of The Speicher Group and RE/MAX in Washington, D.C. Instead, sellers should spend time and money on smaller updates that will bring the home up to market value. These kinds of projects include updating lighting fixtures, cabinet or door handles, and minor kitchen and bathroom updates.
Declutter: This sounds simple, but according to Zillow experts, it's the one of the most important things a homeowner should do before selling. A clean house feels more spacious and helps buyers easily envision themselves in the home. "Nothing trumps the aesthetic of a clean and cared-for home," says Zillow Digs Board of Designers member Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, Calif. "Old appliances and furniture can be overlooked if a space is clean, simple and well-edited."
Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances: Most buyers are still requesting "granite countertops and stainless steel appliances," says Zillow Agent Advisory Board member Bic DeCaro of Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, Va. Keep in mind that most "high-end finishes don't equal high-end returns," says DeCaro. However, incorporating granite and new appliances can help catch a buyer's eye.