What Home Improvements to Make and Skip If You’re Selling

by HillNow.com Sponsor March 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm 1 Comment

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This regularly scheduled, sponsored Q&A column is written by Tom Faison of ReMax Allegiance at Eastern Market. Please submit your questions via email.

Selling on your mind?

One of the most ironic aspects of selling homes is the tertiary nature of the repairs and upgrades that bring the greatest return. I’ve seen a $3,000 paint job lead to bigger bucks than a $12,000 bathroom, dollar for dollar, in real time; triple that return comparing a new $8,000 roof to $2,500 worth of not-very-unique staging; and five times the profit pitting new insulation against new carpet installation.

The only conclusion I’ve come to is that we buy with our hearts when we look at something as personal as a home. Left to their own devices, in residential real estate thinkers don’t spend and spenders don’t think. Fortunately for both, and many sellers as well, the strength of the Capitol Hill market has provided a good deal of forgiveness for financial mistakes.

If you’re planning to sell your home in the next five years or so and wondering about smart improvements, your attention is probably drawn to those things that bug you most — a cramped powder room, old windows or a small closet. They’re all worthy projects, but not necessarily worth the investment.

Here are some budget-minded answers to the “should we or shouldn’t we” questions that come up around bigger ticket improvements when you’re planning to move within five years.

Should we replace our old windows? Not necessarily (unless they’re boarded up). You’re unlikely to realize the energy savings within the five-year sale target date, but more importantly, simply removing the iron bars and metal storm windows that often accompany old windows, at a fraction of the cost, will net a greater return in real dollars. Hire a professional window washer for $150 to $300, or use mine — Easy-Off oven cleaner. It’s amazing!

Should we replace our old roof? Not necessarily (unless you can see the sky). Assuming proper installation, the lifespan of our roofs can vary wildly depending on their maintenance history. I’m not suggesting non-disclosure or “hiding” known defects, but let’s face it, roofers can be apt to suggest a full roof replacement at $8,000 to $10,000, rather than a $1,200 tune-up, including silver-coating and flashing or gutter repair. If your roof is sound, spruce it up and spend a fraction of the savings perfecting your interior ceilings, which are, after all, the first signs of a bad roof.

Should we add central air? Absolutely not (unless you’re selling in summer). This point is particularly beneficial to sellers who have a flexible calendar and whose sale is not driven by any requirements other than a desire to move. If you can, plan to sell in the milder months and spend a much smaller amount on cosmetic improvements. But don’t forget to take out your window units. Remember, DC property disclosures are defect-driven, not comfort-driven, so within the five-year sale window I would have to be pretty uncomfortable to install central air.

Should we enlarge our powder-room? Don’t you dare (potential purchasers rarely, if ever, use the loo before handing over the cash). Replacing the sink basin for $300, the light-fixture for $100, even reglazing the tub upstairs for $300 to $450, all have a greater impact and cost less combined than full-on reconstruction, even throwing in new tile in the shower. For better or worse, form beats function here.

We know our own homes intimately, perhaps too intimately. We know every crack in every cranny, and it drives our inner perfectionists crazy. We might know that twice a year, depending on the barometric pressure, our radiator pipes make a funny sound that we’ve always wanted to fix. We may know that our kitchen floor is too cold for bare feet in the winter, but it only becomes a defect when toes get frostbitten.

This is why, when planning a potential move, even one that’s five years away, it is so important to consult a third party. Not a roofer, who wants to sell you a roof. Not a plumber, who wants to sell you a bathroom.

But a REALTOR, who wants to sell your house!

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HillNow.com.


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