Home Improvement Suggestions from an Austin Realtor


An Austin Realtor is often asked:  Should I make home improvements?  Nearly every home owner wants to make some changes, and many home owners do make changes, or “improvements,” to their homes.  If you are planning to sell your home, you may be wondering what improvements pay a return at the time of sale.  In other words, can you get your money back when you sell?

The answer to this question is:  Yes, and no, and it depends, but mostly no.  As an Austin Realtor, let me explain what I mean.  A house should always be kept current (as opposed to “dated”).  Formica counter tops, flowered wall paper, blue shag carpet and pink bath tubs are just not what current buyers want.  You may be nostalgic for the 1970′s, but no matter how “retro” a buyer generation is, these original features of your home are not going to “turn them on.”  Besides, if you still have carpet from the 1970′s, it’s definitely time to replace it!

Popcorn ceilings are out.  Shiny gold faucets & light fixtures are a turn-off.  Flat-panel doors are out, even though flat-panel TV’s are in.  White appliances & light maple cabinets no longer brighten a buyer’s mood, at least not in the Austin real estate market.  Plush carpet is passe.  In fact, almost all carpet is a deterrent to buyers since hard floors in living areas are now preferred.  The changing of style preferences is inevitable, and it pays for you to always keep your home up with the times.  In fact, don’t wait until you’re ready to sell.  You’ll get the most for your money if you enjoy your scraped mesquite hardwood floors for a couple of years before you sell.

Updating is generally a good investment.  Get your granite counters.  Keep your paint colors fresh and current.  You’ll enjoy hard tile floor in your kitchen more than that linoleum, anyway.  Don’t go overboard on updating, though.  Keep your improvements in line with the type

of improvements in the homes in your neighborhood.  When selling, it’s good to be as similar to neighboring homes as possible plus just a tiny bit better!

Upgrading, on the other hand, should generally be avoided.  For example, be careful about spending money on granite counters if the majority of homes in your neighborhood don’t have them.  You may not be able to recoup this cost upon selling.  Take a look at your neighbors’ homes.  If the majority have an upgrade, then you can safely invest in the upgrade, too.  A good example is whether or not to add a swimming pool.  Do the majority of homes in your neighborhood have back yard pools?  If so, you might add one.  If not, don’t do it, unless it’s simply for your own enjoyment.

In fact, pools are one of the additions that generally don’t pay when it’s time for you to sell.  Some pools even de-value a house, so be very careful about this particular “improvement.”  Not everyone wants pool liability & maintenance.  Many people prefer a spacious back yard over a pool.

Speaking of back yards, I’m seeing that good landscaping is paying off the best right now for sellers.  Trees are highly coveted in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country.  I’ve never heard a buyer complain that a home has too many trees or too many flowers.  Sure, there is an occasional buyer who wants a “low-maintenance” yard, but a well-landscaped yard can convey ease of maintenance, especially if you have also added an automatic sprinkler system.  Buyers see a well-landscaped, manicured yard as one where the work has already been done for them to enjoy.  Good landscaping tends to encourage good offers on homes for sale according to my experience as an Austin Realtor.

What about additions & remodels?  As an Austin Realtor, my general advice is:  Don’t mess with the original floor plan.  The exception would be if your floor plan is out of fashion.  Small master bedrooms with no private bath are out of fashion.  Tiny kitchens draw equal frowns from buyers.  In general, open floor plans are preferred – ones that allow the cook in the kitchen to converse with family in the living & dining spaces.  If there is an easy way for you to open up your floor plan, expand your master & add a larger master bath, this might be a good investment before selling.

Again, any improvements are best made at least a couple of years before you sell.  That way, you can get some of the value of the improvements back in the form of your own enjoyment of them.  Time heals all wounds, time ages fine wine, and time eases the pain you might feel when you write the check for those improvements.  I have yet to see a single home improvement investment return dollar for dollar back to the home owner upon the sale of the home.  Take a look at just one of the cost vs. value report on remodeling, and you will see that virtually all improvements return less than 100% at time of sale.

So, why do any work at all on a home?  If you won’t get your money back, why improve?  One big reason supports making improvements.  Unimproved homes often don’t sell at all, or they take a significant hit in selling price.  Like a used car, a house can lose a tremendous amount of value if it doesn’t remain timeless & in top working condition.

Here’s what encourages buyers to buy:

1.  Manicured landscaping – think counry clubs & golf courses, not organic gardening
2.  Fresh, neutrally colored paint – not white, but whatever is the latest hue
3.  Updated sheetrock textures – whatever is in the new build model homes near you
4.  Open living spaces – as opposed to smaller, walled-in main rooms
5.  A master retreat – private, spacious, with large closets, soaking tubs & spa-like showers
6.  Updated fixtures – stainless, brushed nickel, rustic bronze or whatever the model homes have now
7.  Updated lights – same as above plus recessed lighting is popular
8.  Updated doors & door handles – as above plus whatever style door is in model homes
9.  Covered patios & decks added to back yard spaces typically entice buyers
10. Baseboards & trim can sometimes be horribly dated – again compare yours to newer homes
11. Countertops – granite is all the rage but even a re-surfaced formica might be an improvement
12. Appliances – buyers are expecting new or nearly new; black or stainless
13. Cabinets – can be painted a “new home” color to disguise their age & provide a facelift
14. Floors – neutral hard tile, wood floors & even wood-like floors are popular
15. Bathrooms – fiberglass or plastic tub surrounds or showers are a real turn-off – tile or stone is preferred;  likewise, consider updating mirrors, vanities, sinks, towel holders & toilets, if needed
16. No Wallpaper – I have yet to see a wallpaper that appeals to the majority of buyers – remove it or plaster over it – this may not be true in all parts of the country, but in Austin, wallpaper screams:  I’m outdated.

Before you make improvements, call Dianne, an Austin Realtor at 512-266-2606 or contact me.  I would be happy to answer your questions on what to do & what not to do in order to preserve the value of your house but not go overboard.