Before you list your home, you need to do everything you can to make sure it looks its best for potential buyers. Making some strategic improvements before listing can help you attract more interest and offers, speeding up your sale and helping you net a higher price.
✍️ Why you should trust us
Countless generalized "high-return home improvement" guides pull from the same couple databases of national averages. But averages, and terms like "value" and "return on investment" can be misleading.
Here's the truth: You probably won't be MAKING money on these home improvements — you'll just be making money BACK at sale. And the projects that make sense for one home may not make sense for yours.
This guide will give you the information you need to decide which pre-listing improvements make the most sense based on your budget, the condition of your home, and your goals for the sale.
What home improvements are really worth it?
Prioritize upgrading worn or outdated elements to make the house presentable for showing.
Questions to consider when deciding on a home improvement project:
What's your timeline? Many home improvements can be done in a few days if you're planning on listing soon. Others, like kitchen renovations, can take several months.
What's your budget? Can you afford the upfront cost of a home improvement, regardless of whether you'll make your money back at resale?
What does your realtor say? Get an agent's help deciding which remodeling costs can be offset by baking them into the listing price.
Keep home improvements distinct from must-fix projects, like a cracked foundation or non-functional plumbing, which need to be resolved before putting your house on the market, unless you are prepared to lower your listing price.
What you can do
Buyers are looking for items that will last in their new home, not a list of things to replace immediately. For example, new hardwood flooring can create a striking introduction in place of faded carpeting. » More
(e.g., kitchen or bathroom)
Major structural issues need to be addressed for the house to appeal to most buyers. Replacing a leaky roof will be costly and you won’t recoup all of your money, but a new roof is a selling point and will spare you from listing the home as-is.
Methodology for choosing home improvement projects
We present the latest available data on net costs so you can choose what kinds of expenses fit your budget:
net cost = average cost to install − average resale value
Bear in mind that these are averages, not medians, and costs and resale values will vary by location. A local contractor can give you the best idea of your cost.
DIY or hire a pro?
Home improvements are generally slower and more expensive than they were a few years ago. Labor and materials are baked into average costs, so DIY projects are a chance to stretch your money even further.
DIY home improvements
Best exterior home improvements for curb appeal
The first thing potential buyers are going to see is the exterior of your home. Great curb appeal can capture their attention even if they're just browsing online listings. But if your home's exterior creates the wrong impression, winning back buyers once they're in the home is an uphill battle.
These low-maintenance, high-impact improvements are energy efficient, customizable, and great for curb appeal or seller sheets. They give the home a refreshed look both current and future homeowners will enjoy.
✅ Best overall: Siding | net cost: $5,261–6,008
- Average cost: $16,576–$19,626 | Average resale value: $11,315–$13,618
- 68.30%–69.40% recouped
Based on 1,200 square feet | 1–2 days to complete
Siding is an easy, high-ROI way to spruce up your house's look. It's also highly customizable to match any aesthetic or budget.
- Vinyl siding is durable, low-maintenance, easy to clean, and inexpensive.
- Fiber cement siding is more expensive than vinyl, but it lasts up to 50 years and has options that closely resemble natural wood.
- 💰BONUS: Manufactured stone veneer gives your home a rustic, realistic stone façade that's much less expensive than natural stone. It's also long-lasting, durable, and water resistant — and offers the highest ROI: 92.10% for 300 square feet.
Best for energy efficiency: Vinyl windows | net cost: $6,088
- Avg. cost: $19,385 | Avg. resale value: $13,297
- 68.60% recouped
Based on 10 3-by-5-foot windows | 1–2 days to install
New vinyl windows increase your energy efficiency and last over 20 years. They're easy to clean and can be made in custom colors to match the existing exterior.
Your contractor will probably be able to replace windows without disturbing the existing trim or windowsill inside, so your home can be ready to tour as soon as they're installed.
High ROI: Garage door | net cost: $244
- Average cost: $3,907 | Average resale value: $3,663
- 93.80% recouped
Based on a 16-by-7-foot double door | 1 day to install
If your garage faces the street, installing a brand new garage door is a great way to update your curb appeal. Newer garage doors have better insulation, too, boosting your energy efficiency.
🛠 DIY: Steel entry door | net cost: $329
- Average cost: $2,082 | Average resale value: $1,353
- 65.00%–80.4% recouped (DIY saves you about $400 on labor)
Based on one prehung steel entry door | 1 day to install
Add a measure of style and security to your home with a steel entry door. You can spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on a new entry door, but an economical version will serve as a great upgrade if your current front door looks worn or not secure.
Steel doors are available in a number of colors and styles, including models with decorative windows to let natural light inside.
Best interior home improvements for updated design
Think of updating your interior as advanced staging to get your home ready for listing. Staging newer homes might mean removing some furniture and decorations to make the home appear roomier and ready for move-in. But if you have crumbling cabinets or dated kitchen fixtures in your kitchen, you may need to make some deeper improvements.
Not only are old and worn interior elements distracting, but they also go onto a buyer’s mental to-do list should they buy the home. Upgrading these items replaces a liability with brand-new added value.
On a budget? Narrow down your list of projects by asking your agent for advice about the biggest sticking points for buyers in your area.
» LEARN: How to keep your house in top shape and avoid major maintenance
✅ Best overall: Hardwood flooring | net cost: $1,800–2,400
- Average cost: $6,000–12,000 | Average resale value: $4,200–9,600
- 70–80% recouped
Based on 1,000 square feet of flooring | 1–4 days to install
When it comes to flooring, hardwood is a great investment for making your home more marketable. Installing hardwood replaces the distraction of creaky boards or worn carpeting with a flooring style many buyers are looking for. In fact, two-thirds of homeowners say hardwood floors would be their choice for their dream home.
Hardwood flooring is easy to align with various budgets, too, as there are many materials and styles to choose from — and it's relatively simple to install yourself.
🛠 DIY hardwood flooring | net cost: $1,200–3,600
Average cost: $3,000–6,000 | Average resale value: $4,200–9,600
- Up to 100% recouped
Based on 1,000 square feet of flooring | 4–7 days to install
Hardwood floors can be relatively easy to install yourself if you have the time — saving almost half on materials and maybe even making money on resale. You'll just need a few tools and a way to dispose of the old flooring.
Best for updated design: Minor kitchen renovation | net cost: $7,287
- Average cost: $26,214 | Average resale value: $18,927
- 72.20% recouped
Based on costs for new hardware, major appliances, finishes, and flooring | 6–12 weeks to install
Kitchens are expected to be beautiful and functional, and they're vital for everyday livability. Any issue that puts yours out of order is a liability.
For an extremely dated kitchen, updating your cabinets or countertops to a more modern yet neutral style is a smart move. Any cracked tiles or a leaky sink should also be replaced. If you can't deep clean a grimy oven, range, or refrigerator, consider replacing those as well.
🛠 DIY ideas for minor kitchen rejuvenation
If you’re handy, you can improve the look of your kitchen without taking your kitchen out of commission for several weeks.
Here are some projects you can tackle over a few weekends:
- Replacing faucets and fixtures
- Installing new tile backsplash
- Painting cabinets
Best for livability: Midrange bathroom renovation | net cost: $9,753
- Average cost: $24,424 | Average resale value: $14,671
- 60.10% recouped
Based on a 5-by-7-foot bathroom | 3–6 weeks to install
Unless it's straight-up unusable, you don't need to remodel your bathroom to impress buyers. Not only are major bathroom remodels expensive, but your buyers might not share all of your tastes in tile and fixtures.
Updating a few things — tub or shower, toilet, vanity, or flooring — is an easy way to keep buyers from turning up their noses at cracked tile or fixtures from another decade. Just make sure not to disturb any of the current plumbing.
🛠 DIY ideas for minor bathroom upgrade
Don’t need an entirely new bathroom? You can save money by replacing some of the items in your bathroom yourself. Here are quick projects that can be completed in only a day or two:
- Replace leaky faucets
- Replace toilet or vanity
- Install tile flooring
Best home improvements for energy efficiency
According to a 2019 National Association of Home Builders study, about 90% of buyers would rather buy an energy-efficient home with lower utility bills than a slightly less expensive home without those features.
Even if some potential buyers are indifferent to the long-term energy savings, newly replaced items that will last for years will always be a plus for your home on the selling sheet.
✅ Best overall: Tankless water heater | energy savings: 24–34%
- Average cost: $2,261
Annual energy savings per unit | 1–2 days to install
Tankless water heaters provide instant hot water for your shower or kitchen sink. In years past, homes with tankless water heaters have sold 43 days faster and for 4% more than expected.
Tankless water heaters last five to 10 years longer than conventional storage tank water heaters — without the added risk of failure or major flooding.
High ROI: Attic insulation | energy savings: 10–50%
- Average cost: $2,000–4,000
Annual energy savings per 1,000 square feet of batt insulation | 1–2 days to install
Attic insulation is one of the best low-cost, high-impact improvements a homeowner can make to their home. A properly insulated attic will keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Some insulation options are simple enough to DIY, while others are hazardous to work with and are best installed by professionals.
Hire a pro
Do it yourself
Blown-in insulation is good for applying around irregularly shaped areas.
Batt insulation is the least expensive and easiest to install.
Spray foam insulation is easily applied around obstacles.
Reflective barrier insulation blocks downward heat to keep attic air ducts cool.
Source: Types of Insulation, Energy.gov
🛠 DIY: Low-flow toilets
- Average cost: $100–300 per toilet
Annual water savings per toilet | 1 hour to install
Can't upgrade the entire bathroom? Swapping out the toilet for a low-flow option is a quick and easy way to improve the look of the room. Some areas also offer rebates to homeowners replacing toilets with low-flow models.
One of the best ways to maximize your home's value is to stay on top of routine maintenance. While home improvement projects can add value to your home, neglecting regular maintenance can slowly chip away at your resale value.
By fixing minor yet obvious problems, you can strengthen your negotiating power against giving buyers asking for concessions.
If you can, budget 1–2% of your home's value toward annual maintenance.
Quick DIYs for improving your curb appeal
- Driveways and walkways: Sealcoat your asphalt driveway and fix uneven paving stones or cracks in cement walkways.
- Landscaping: Trim all shrubs and bushes and plant flowers. Remove and replace dead or dying plants.
- Paint: Scrape and repaint any peeling paint on the front of the house or entry door.
- Siding: Pressure wash your siding or brick to remove any stains and brighten the exterior.
» LEARN: How to Stage a House to Sell
- HVAC system: Call your local HVAC technician for biannual tune-ups. Have your ducts cleaned once every three to five years.
- Plumbing: Small leaks can quickly turn into big problems. Check for water stains, leaks, and running toilets.
- Gutters: Clean your gutters at least once a year to keep rainwater draining safely away from your home.
- Chimney: Get an annual inspection and sweep to keep your fireplace or wood stove operating safely.
- Kitchen appliances: Repair or replace dated or broken appliances to ensure the kitchen is completely functional.
- Bugs and pests: Take care of ants and spiders yourself, but call in the pros if you see signs of termite damage or rodents.
Projects to avoid for resale
Some projects just don't translate to increased resale value. These are projects that you should undertake for your own enjoyment in your home. But you'll end up losing money on these projects if you list your house soon after completing them.
An in-ground pool is a luxury — but it's not one that everyone wants. In addition to limited appeal, pools have some major drawbacks:
- High upkeep expenses, costing around $1,400 a year to maintain
- Added liability, probably raising your homeowner's insurance
- Unsafe without supervision, possibly turning away buyers with small children
If you really want a pool but think you may be selling soon, consider an above-ground pool, which can be disassembled and moved. However, you'll need to regrade the ground and replant grass to remove all traces of the pool.
Major kitchen remodel
Major kitchen remodels cost $150,000 on average — and they recoup only about half that at resale. They can also take months to complete.
If you have the budget and the time to actually enjoy your dream kitchen, go for it! Just don't expect the remodel to pay off when it comes time to sell.
The cost of adding a room to your house can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity. Expect to pay anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 for an addition to your home. Plus, additions require design work, permitting, and inspections on top of the already extensive building process.
Home additions are usually built to solve a problem for the current homeowner, such as a family room built over the garage or an in-law suite in a finished basement. A buyer might happen to see a similar value in an addition you built, but probably not.
Paying for home improvements
Most homeowners will need to borrow money for more extensive home improvements. Different situations call for different loans. Here are a few options to consider.
Safest: Saving for maintenance
Putting away 1–2% of your home's value each year to save for maintenance costs is the safest way to make sure you have money to pay for your home's upkeep. Regular maintenance will help you avoid big problems later, saving you money in the long run.
Best for short-term moves: Personal loan
This type of unsecured personal loan from a bank or a credit union doesn't use your home for collateral, instead basing the interest rate on your credit and income. You can borrow up to $100,000 with repayment terms of up to 12 years, but you can plan on paying off the loan with the increased resale value when you sell.
Best for flipping distressed properties: Hard money loan
Hard money loans use the home as collateral and have short repayment periods: typically one to three years. Because they're based on the expected future value of the property, not the current market value, these are often used for fixing up distressed properties. You'll need to go through a private lender for a hard money loan since commercial banks do not offer them.
Best for long-term value: HELOC or cash-out refinance loans
If you're not planning on moving in the immediate future, consider getting a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or refinancing your mortgage with a cash-out refinance. Both loans are backed by your home's value and tend to have lower interest rates than unsecured loans.
A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that allows you to take out money as you need it, which works great for projects with uncertain budgets.
A cash-out refinance replaces your current mortgage with a larger loan and new repayment terms, paying out the difference in a lump sum. To pay for it, the loan extends your payment period or raises your monthly payment.
Frequently asked questions
Remodeling. "Cost vs. Value 2021." Accessed November 9, 2021.
Zillow. "Homes with 'Subway Tiles,' 'Barn Doors' or 'Farmhouse Sinks' Can Sell for Up to 13 Percent More and 60 Days Faster." Accessed November 9, 2021.
HomeGuide. "How Much Does It Cost To Own & Maintain A Swimming Pool?." Accessed November 9, 2021.