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When most of us think of the word renovation, we think big— gutted kitchens, brand new bathrooms, months of labor and demolition—at least those are the kind of images we see on our favorite home design shows. But small renovations can go a long way, too. In fact, sometimes it’s the smaller home improvements that garner you the biggest reward when it comes to return-on-investment and resale value; two money-making concepts that are music to any real estate investor’s ear.

That being said, even when contemplating the smaller renovations, you want them to feel right to you and your own aesthetic, so there’s a balance. A renovation may be in your future, but our experts say there’s no need to go overboard. Instead, focus on creating updates that you can also live with.  

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

“You should definitely consider resale when you’re renovating, but I wouldn’t have it at the front of your mind,” says Jean Brownhill, founder & CEO of Sweeten, a free service that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors. “If you’re renovating to actually live in the home, think of materials or styles that will make you really happy, but that can be easily switched out if necessary for resale later on,” she advises.

“You should definitely consider resale when you’re renovating, but I wouldn’t have it at the front of your mind.”

If you’re moving sooner rather than later, your renovation should be strategic and targeted in the areas that will create the biggest difference to buyers with minimal cost to you. Focusing your time and money on remodeling, the most visible parts of your home tend to have the best value. Buyers don’t typically get to spend much time in a home before they decide to buy it, so first impressions are incredibly important. And if you’re just looking to do some simple sprucing up for yourself, these ideas will get the ball rolling. Like we said: A little can go a long way. 

Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

To get the most bang for your buck:

  •    Focus on what you (and buyers) can see.
  •    If you need to prioritize, start with the most outdated/worn items.
  •    For the best return-on-investment, don’t choose the most upscale options. Mix low- and mid-range materials and finishes to create a look that will be pleasing to most buyers.

Small updates that make the biggest difference:

A fresh coat of paint

Although many homeowners can easily repaint themselves, our experts say that sometimes, it’s worth calling in the pros. In my many years of experience, I can say with 100 percent certainty that a coat of paint will help your sale. It’s shocking how much painting not only brightens the space, but it tricks the eye with a fresh new feel. says agent Claire Groome of Warburg Realty.  She says that sellers often resist spending a little money when they are selling but it can save you a lot of money when the offers come in.

Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

If it’s a smaller room, opt for light and airy colors that make the space look brighter and more visually defined. Or, if you know you are selling, you can call in the pros to paint everything traditional white.

White makes everything light, bright and fresh, says Billy Rose, founder and president of The Agency “It makes things feel new and clean,” he says.

While we get that it’s easy to just paint everything white, if you’re living in the space and want to add a little bit of character, that’s okay, too. Just make sure you paint them back to white before selling or opt for more muted, neutral colors.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

A smart kitchen update

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly update that will go over well with buyers, there’s no need to completely rip out and rebuild your kitchen. Instead, try completing a few swaps, like updating the cabinet fronts, for a more impressionable sell.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Carol Wang, a realtor with Corcoran told us, “If the kitchen and baths can be easily updated, I’d say go for it. Depending on the price range, you may be better off swapping out appliances for new ones and allowing the new owners to decide on their own cabinetry. If it is a total gut, I would suggest leaving it as is and price accordingly.”

Sweeten explains that focusing your energy on the kitchen might be your best bet when it comes to resale. “This is an important space for buyers and is often immediately visible upon entering the space, so you’ll want to focus your attention here,” says Sweeten. Simply sanding and repainting the existing surface is the most budget-friendly option (ranging in cost from $500-$1000), or you can choose to replace the doors and hardware, but it will cost you significantly more. Either way, if your kitchen feels dark and dated, it’s best to brighten it up to better appeal to buyers.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Even adding or replacing a backsplash can make a huge visual impact, and doesn’t need to be too involved. Simple white subway tile may be a tired trend, but it’s also a classic.

New fixtures

“Hardware and fixtures and accents that don’t seem dated can definitely add more value and interest to your home,”Rose of The Agency tells Domino. But a fresh update doesn’t mean you need to go high-end. There are plenty of good-looking options that still offer a stylish and easy pick-me-up to your existing space. Our experts advise that you stay away from anything too wild or trendy though, instead instructing to pick options with clean lines and muted colors. Even changing out your doorknobs can make your home feel more modern. For plumbing fixtures, “you can’t go wrong with a stainless steel or chrome finish,” Sweeten reports.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

The best part of it all? Strategically replacing or updating hardware won’t cost you more than a few hundred bucks, just be mindful about where these updates are needed most.

A smart bath update

“After the kitchen, this is the most important space to focus on for resale,” advises the pros from Sweeten. “Particularly if there is just one—it’s important to make it look functional and clean.” Again, this doesn’t require a total gut-job. As completely renovating the bathroom can easily get costly, smaller updates that are both easy and affordable will do the job. You’ll want to focus your efforts on making it look clean and presentable for you, as well as any future buyers.

Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Try swapping out the medicine cabinet-mirror for an updated model, like these sleek oval-shaped ones that can create the illusion of a bigger space, and paint the walls cool, calming shades for a more spa-like feel. Updating the tile, vanity, and reglazing the tub may also be good ways to freshen up the space, without getting too involved or moving any of the existing plumbing. Retailers such as the Home Depot have some surprisingly sophisticated-looking tile options, at reasonable prices.  

Photography courtesy of Sweeten

“Bathroom work and updates can really make the home’s value increase,” says Rose.  “From making an improvement that ranges from $2,500-$25k, you can sometimes double or triple your money.”

Photography courtesy of Sweeten

Refinished floors

Take a good look at your existing floors; are they scratched, peeling or look generally damaged? From water-marks to outstanding amounts of wear and tear, the floor you walk on is more important than you think. If you find them in any of the conditions listed above, refinishing them might be in your best interest.

Wall-to-wall carpets are typically a turn-off for buyers, so replacing or ripping these out (depending on when your home was built, many of these reveal hardwood underneath!) will make the space more attractive overall. If your floors are already hardwood, sanding and refinishing them makes a huge difference in bringing the entire home up-to-date.  

These might seem like hefty tasks, but you may not have to completely replace your floors outright, if you go about it strategically, it can save you time and money, and ultimately pay off in the long run.

Photography courtesy of Sweeten

“Flex” space

While it’s impossible to add actual square footage to an apartment, it’s often helpful to create the idea of it. This can be done by putting up pressurized walls to carve out an office nook, or by adding sliding doors across a large living room to create a den-like area. While this type of renovation won’t change the legal designation of the number of bedrooms in your unit, it helps buyers envision more uses for the space, and can be more useful for your own living situation. Typically, a pressurized wall will run you anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, while a sliding door can run you up to $5,000.

Ultimately, agent Ted Karagannis of Warburg Realty says, “In today’s marketplace, buyers do not want to do a full-out renovation. Buyers are shopping for a new home which is in a move-in condition, with many upgrades, including fresh kitchens, bathrooms, and floors.” So if you can make some small improvements along the way, people looking at your home in the future will thank you, as will your wallet.

“In today’s marketplace, buyers do not want to do a full-out renovation. Buyers are shopping for a new home which is in a move-in condition, with many upgrades, including fresh kitchens, bathrooms, and floors.”
Photography by Aaron Bengochea