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11 Popular Home Updates That Are Worth the Cost

Devon Thorsby

Simple updates can boost your home's value.

When you're making renovations to a home, how do you know what's a solid investment? A worthy update can sometimes lower the cost of utilities while you live in the home or add significant value to the home's sale price when you decide to put it on the market. Throughout any renovation process, it's key to consider mass appeal for the sake of resale value. "You're selling a lifestyle when you're selling a home," says Scott McGillivray, host of the HGTV show "Income Property." "You definitely want to think about the demographic, but you want to be broad about that demographic as well."

Pick your improvements carefully.

Before you jump into do-it-yourself renovations, weigh the cost of each improvement against the potential return on investment as it compares to other homes in your neighborhood. McGillivray cites a survey released in February from Owners.com, an online brokerage he partners with that offers tools and services for buyers and sellers, that reveals 51 percent of consumers would consider a fixer-upper to stay on budget. But too many updates may cancel out over half of your buyer pool, McGillivray says: "An overimprovement on your home is not going to get you the greatest return on your investment." Here are 11 updates experts say will give you the most bang for your buck.


The quickest, and likely cheapest, way to make a room look new again is to add a fresh coat of paint. "Paint has one of the highest returns on investment, but the color choice and the contrast and the variety that you use can have a big impact," McGillivray says. He notes that gray remains a popular choice, and that a color between gray and beige, or "greige," can be a safe middle ground. To make it worthwhile, keep newly painted rooms neutral. Homebuyers might see the amount of work that would go into painting over a bright red wall, for example, and they may even ask the seller to repaint it in negotiations.


Adding a backsplash to your kitchen can take make a world of a difference, and it doesn't have to cost a lot. "You can update a kitchen very easily by painting it and adding a backsplash. You don't actually have to do a full remodel," says Gina Giampietro, a Realtor for Re/Max Select Realty in the Pittsburgh area. The type of backsplash can be significant, too. A 2016 analysis from Zillow Digs, the real estate information company's home improvement and design hub, found that home listings mentioning subway tile -- the simple, rectangular tile typically measuring 3 inches by 6 inches -- sold for 6.9 percent more than the expected sale price.

Accessible features

Including handicap-accessible features in a bathroom or kitchen renovation could widen the potential buyer pool. That doesn't mean you need to add grip bars to every wall, but McGillivray says curbless showers that don't have a lip or wall to step over, wider doorways and kitchen cabinets with pull-down features for an easy reach are attractive and also allow buyers to age in place. "Gadgets and accessibility items are becoming more and more popular," he says.


Attractive cabinets are key to an enticing kitchen, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to install new cabinets. The Zillow Digs study found listings mentioning Shaker cabinets sold for 9.6 percent more than expected. If you've got the classic five-piece, framed look that embodies Shaker cabinets and they're in good shape, refinishing or painting them is a great alternative. McGillivray notes a two-tone kitchen, where the upper cabinets remain light and the lower cabinets are painted gray or blue, is a popular option.

Bathroom vanity

The bathroom is another key room for buyers, so giving it a face-lift is important. Like the kitchen, you don't have to do a massive overhaul. Giampietro says switching out the vanity -- or updating its appearance with a fresh coat of paint or new faucet and drawer pulls -- is a simple way to freshen up the space. "You definitely want to do a vanity update because it's cheap and easy," she adds.

Smart doorbell

When it comes to adding smart home features, a doorbell equipped with a camera that allows you to see and speak with people at the door is a relatively inexpensive option, says Sabine H. Schoenberg, a Connecticut-based real estate agent. Most brands, including Ring and Zmodo, cost less than $200. Plus, the doorbell will serve as a security feature for you and a conversation piece for buyers.

Functioning fireplace

If you have a fireplace, don't get rid of it. Of 100 U.S. real estate agents surveyed by Angie's List in 2016, 54 percent said a gas-burning fireplace increases the home's value most, while a survey of 2,000 homeowners and homebuyers in the same report showed 58 percent prefer a wood-burning fireplace at home. But what seems clear is having a fireplace of some kind is a positive for your home's value.

Energy-saving thermostat

A "smart" thermostat, which can learn your habits and turn heat or air conditioning on only while you're home, serves as a potential saver on energy bills. "What it gives you is cooling and heating when you're there, and not when you don't want it," Schoenberg says. While it might not increase a home's value significantly, the amount you could save on utility bills is worth the approximately $250 price tag.

Barn doors

The trendy sliding-door design is a great way to add an updated look to any room, and it's a relatively simple update with little cost or fuss. Especially if your bedroom closet door has seen better days, consider a barn door to replace it. But chances are, adding a barn door instead of updating an outdated kitchen appliance or bathroom vanity isn't going to help your resale value.

Solar vents in the attic

This update probably won't get widely noticed when it comes time to sell, but solar vents in the attic are worth it if you plan to live in the home for a while. The vents help to expel hot air in the attic during the summer, Schoenberg explains, which means your air conditioning won't have to work as hard to cool the home. Since solar vents generate some airflow without using electricity, they are "effective to bring down your utility bill," she says. HomeAdvisor reports most homeowners spend between $341 and $752 for an attic fan installation, including the cost of the fan itself. Installing solar vents will likely cost about the same amount.


Homeowners often undervalue a house's curb appeal when they put their home on the market. Since it's the first thing any house hunter will see, it's important to seed any dead patches of grass, mow the lawn regularly and add a bit of color with flowers or bushes without overwhelming the yard. "Good landscaping sells houses. Bad landscaping really makes a negative impact," Schoenberg says. Make sure the driveway, front walkway and steps are clear of weeds, and repair any cracks you find in the pavement.

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