Homeowners are sometimes hesitant to upgrade when it's time to sell. After all, you won't be living there much longer, and home remodeling efforts only increase home values by 64% of the average project's costs, according to Remodeling magazine's 2016 Cost vs. Value report.
But think again, sellers. The cost of inaction can be far greater than the small loss you'll incur on any home-improvement projects. "It can mean the difference between getting multiple bids at once and driving up the selling price, or getting no offers," says Brian Lewis, a real estate broker with Halstead Property, a New York City-based realty firm. As your house lingers on the market, you'll likely pay ongoing mortgage, maintenance and staging costs.
To make the most of your remodeling budget, focus on features that most home buyers really want to see. Updated for 2016, our slide show reveals home features sought by at least 80% of buyers these days. Take a look.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 92%
Cost to install: $1,000 - $10,000 depending on scope of project
More than anything else, homeowners want a room other than the guest bedroom to stack all the clean laundry in until it finally gets put away. A separate laundry room topped the National Association of Home Builders' list of most-wanted home features for buyers of all ages -- from millennials to seniors. "Having a separate room [to use for things such as folding or ironing clothes] helps to keep the mess out of your living space . . . Potential buyers will see it as a huge benefit," says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm.
If you don't have an existing laundry room and want to add one, the basement is usually the easiest (and cheapest) place to put it, Sullivan advises. The utility lines are already there, and in many cases the basement is unfinished, so you won't have to demolish anything first. Adding a laundry room in the basement can cost as little as $1,000, he says. Homeowners who prefer a laundry room or laundry closet (which fits just a washer and dryer) closer to the bedroom level can expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 for installation, Sullivan notes.
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Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 90%
Cost to install: $63 to $135 per fixture
Illuminating a well-manicured lawn with exterior lighting can help grab potential buyers' attention before they even set foot in the front door. In fact, exterior lighting is the most-wanted outdoor feature, according to the NAHB. Options include spotlights, walkway lights and pendant lights.
Aesthetics aside, exterior lighting also serves as an added safety feature for your home, says Daniel Hurst, a certified remodeler and lead carpenter for Hurst Design-Build-Remodel, a Middleburg, Ohio-based home remodeling company. Motion-sensor lights, for example, turn on automatically whenever there is movement outside your house.
Energy Efficiencies (Appliances and Windows)
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 90% (appliances), 87% (windows)
Cost to install: varies (appliances), $270 - $800 each (windows)
Would-be buyers looking to limit utility bills will likely be drawn to properties with energy efficiencies, such as Energy Star-qualified windows and appliances. "Buyers are most impressed with smart, energy-efficient choices that in no way limit their comfort, but in every way save them money in the long run," Lewis says.
Energy-efficient windows can trim heating and cooling costs by 12%, while individual appliances, such as an Energy Star-certified washing machine ($500 to $1,500 at Home Depot), can save homeowners $40 a year or more on their utility bills.
Energy Star-qualified windows have an invisible glass coating, vacuum-sealed spaces filled with inert gas between panes, sturdier weather stripping than regular windows and improved framing materials -- all of which reduce undesirable heat gain and loss in the home. An Energy Star-certified dishwasher (ranging in price from $342 to $1,900 at Lowe's) uses soil sensors to assess how dirty your dishes are to minimize water use.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 84%
Cost to install: $961 per 120 square feet for a concrete patio
It's important for homeowners not to neglect the backyard area when prepping for resale, says Mike McGrew, treasurer of the National Association of Realtors and CEO of McGrew Real Estate, a Lawrence, Kansas-based realty firm. In today's housing market, outdoor living spaces are quickly becoming one of the most coveted home features.
"When most buyers see a house with a really nice backyard, they start to envision themselves sitting outdoors with friends having drinks," McGrew adds. Outdoor areas offer more living space without the cost of a large-scale home addition.
Thanks to the popularity of renovation TV shows, such as DIY Network's "Yard Crashers," HGTV's "Flip or Flop" and PBS's "This Old House," buyers now envision everything from a traditional ground-level patio to an elevated deck to a backyard kitchen area.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 82%
Cost to install: $1,473 per 120 square feet of unfinished hardwood
Hardwood flooring offers a cleaner look, is easier to maintain and is more durable than carpet, which needs to be replaced every eight to 10 years. "Hardwood can be refinished periodically and lasts a lifetime," Sullivan says.
Sellers on a budget may want to buy prefinished hardwood flooring (which comes from the manufacturer already color color-treated). The cost to install 120 square feet of prefinished hardwood flooring is $1,353 -- about 10% cheaper than unfinished hardwood.
Garage Storage Space
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81%
Cost to install: $2,025 - $2,363 for a 380-square-foot space
Buyers with growing families need lots of storage space. "A seller should ensure that such bonus space is easily accessible and wonderfully organized," Lewis says. Additional storage units located in the garage help keep clutter out of the main living areas of the home.
Unlike an attic or a backyard shed, the garage is accessible -- generally, just a few steps away from the rest of the house -- making it easier to transport items such as tools, patio chairs or boxes to and from other parts of the house.
The installation cost includes adding cabinetry, a peg wallboard for tools, and improved lighting and electrical circuits.
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 80%
Cost to install: $1,000 - $10,000
Eat-in kitchens are a must-have for many buyers, especially families with children. It's a space where they often congregate in the morning for breakfast before the kids head off to school and parents to work, or in the evening for dinner so everyone can share highlights from their day.
Removing a wall to create space for a small table and chairs in your kitchen is relatively inexpensive, but that price can quickly escalate if there's additional repair work that needs to be done, says Neil Parsons, owner of Design Build Pros, a Red Bank, N.J., project design firm. First, determine whether the wall is load-bearing. Non-load-bearing walls are used merely to separate rooms, while load-bearing walls help hold up the weight of the house. Improperly removing the latter could cause rooms on upper levels of the home to cave in. Getting rid of a non-load-bearing wall can cost as little as $1,000; removing a load-bearing wall can run as much as $10,000.
Another concern is the possibility of mechanicals in the wall, such as plumbing, duct work and electrical wiring, that may need to be removed, Parsons notes.
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Walk-In Kitchen Pantry
Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 80%
Cost to install: Varies depending on design and location
Additional storage space in the kitchen is a big plus for potential home buyers. Walk-in pantries that have built-in organization systems to stash food and food-prep items out of sight help make a tight space feel less cluttered.
"The key is [having] strong adjustable shelving that allows people to change things around as their needs change," Sullivan says. It's a bonus if your pantry also allows you to neatly tuck away mops and brooms, he adds.