There are a few real estate truisms you'll hear again and again. That's because they're valid whether it's a buyer's or a seller's market:
- Curb appeal matters. The first glimpse others get of your house makes a lasting impression. To make your home look more expensive, invest in your landscaping and maintain it well. A green lawn, trimmed trees, pristine paint job, clean front walk and quality front door say volumes about your home before anyone steps inside. Straighten your mail box, cover the rust spots on your chain link fence with a coat of spray paint, touch up your woodwork and reseal your driveway. It matters.
- Location is king. It seems unfair, but your home is judged and valued by the homes nearby. If your little piece of the American dream is the first house downwind of the junkyard, granite countertops won't save you. Don't spend your hard-earned cash upgrading a house beyond what your neighborhood or subdivision will support. You won't get the money back when you sell, and it may even take longer to move your home off the market.
- Form follows function. You may love the look of a pedestal sink and picturesque clawfoot tub in your master bath, but these beautiful amenities may be lost on the next owners. Updating your bathroom is a good idea, but be sure to keep your updates practical. If you have the space, replacing your single vanity with a double will make your bathroom more attractive and more functional. It's a two for one proposition you should always look for when investing in home improvements.
If you're contemplating your next home beautification project, pay special attention to these areas:
- Paint - Love it or hate it, painting your home inside and out is the fastest and least expensive way to make it look younger, fresher and more expensive. We like many of the new interior specialty paint techniques, because they add shading and interest to plain old drywall, but don't go overboard. Not every potential buyer is going to have your taste in interior design.Here's a little suggestion that will take you far: The most important step in painting a room is the prep. Take the time to clean the walls, fill nail holes, and tape off windows and baseboards. It'll make a big difference.
- Lighting - If the light fixtures in your starter home have been there since the builder put the new street numbers on the curb, it may be time for a change. Fixture styles change just like furniture styles. Updated light fixtures can transform the appearance of a ceiling or wall. You should also consider adding ceiling fans if you don't already have them.
- Countertops - You probably already know that new kitchen countertops can be hideously expensive. Where installing them may not get back your entire investment when you sell, it may make your home more attractive than that other brick ranch down the road. If your countertops are hopelessly outdated but you're working with a tight budget, take a look at some of the new countertop paints on the market. They look good, and at a fraction of the cost of a countertop replacement, a coat of paint may be worth considering. If you have a few more pennies in your piggybank, how about installing tiles over your existing laminate countertops? If you can find an experienced installer, the results look very slick. You won't be dumping that old laminate into the nearest landfill, so it's a green option, too.
- Flooring - Floors see a lot of action in any home, and they're one of the first things to start showing wear. If you're lucky enough to have hardwood floors, buff them up or spring for a refinishing job. If you have carpet, keep it clean or replace it. Carpet can be pricey, but don't go the cheap route and purchase an inferior carpet pad under the mistaken impression that no one will see it. The pad adds plush to your carpet, and buying the recommended pad can even extend a new carpet's warranty. If you need to change out your carpet on the cheap, press-apply carpet tiles are a weekend do-it-yourself project that's about as easy as it gets. You can cut these tiles with a craft knife or pair of shears. A number of carpet tile manufacturers are also making tiles especially designed for stairs, so you can carpet your entry as well as your living area without much fuss.
- Built-ins - Built-in cabinets can become worn and dated just like the flooring and fixtures in your home. If your cabinets are in bad shape and you can't afford to replace them outright, consider refacing them. Buying replacement cabinet doors and peel-and-stick veneers can save you 80 percent over the cost of new built-ins. Some woodworking companies specialize in this type of update, so check your local home improvement outlet for brands and current pricing.
- Appliances - Replacing your appliances can do a lot more than make your home look more expensive. An energy efficient washing machine can save you money, and an updated refrigerator can make food storage more efficient, potentially saving on food costs. Appliances can be tricky, though. You may have heard that stainless steel appliances are going out of style -- a rumor that has persisted for a couple of years now. After stainless, there'll be another hot finish or style must-have for kitchen appliances. The latest and greatest in the showroom will always look expensive for about 15 minutes -- after which it'll look dated and passé. To avoid the hype, purchase name brands in neutral finishes, and use your accessories and color choices to express your individual style.
We have one more small suggestion for making your starter home look and feel more opulent. Decorate your walls. How many homes have you been invited to that are outfitted with nice furniture, new carpet, effective window treatments and naked walls that look stark, cold and almost indecently bare? To make your home look nicer and feel cozier, buy a few professionally framed prints in scale with the room where they will be displayed. Wall art will help give your home a designer look and an upscale feel you can even take with you when you move.