1. An updated kitchen. “Kitchens are critical,” says Robert Irwin, author of “Home Buyer’s Checklist.” “Today, people like a big kitchen with a lot of workspace.” They look for solid surface counters and high-quality flooring, such as wood, laminate, tile or stone. And they want newer appliances in working order.
Even if it’s not huge, the kitchen should have “countertops that are serviceable, that aren’t going to have to be replaced soon and cabinetry in good condition,” says Alan Hummel, past president of the Appraisal Institute. “It has to be well-appointed and large enough to fit your needs.” And it doesn’t hurt if it opens onto another room. “A lot of families are looking for that openness,” says Hummel.
It helps to have a window over the sink, states Don Strong, a remodeler with Brothers Strong Inc., a Houston remodeling firm. Be wary if renovations are out of character with the community, such as granite countertops in a subdivision where plastic laminate is the norm. “Will you sell faster? Yes,” says Hummel, CEO of Iowa Residential Appraisal Co., in Des Moines. “Will it sell for more? Not if the appointments you’ve done are significantly higher quality that the rest of the neighborhood.”
2. Modern bathrooms. Buyers are looking for “master baths that give a little room to roam,” states Hummel.
A big asset: spa or whirlpool tubs. “I’m always entertained by the people who have them in the master bath and don’t use them,” says Ron Phipps, principal broker with Phipps Realty & Relocation Services in Warwick, R.I. “But it’s a big feature.”
Some other features buyers are seeking: separate showers with steam and/or multiple jets, a double sink and a separate room for the toilet.
Make sure the plumbing and hot water heater can handle the job. Pipes have to be large enough to carry an adequate volume of water and the hot water heater needs to be big enough to accommodate it. “You need a bare minimum of a 75-gallon hot water heater, and most of my customers have 100 to 150,” says Chicago-based home inspector Kurt Mitenbuler.
“You don’t want to see that false economy of a $30,000 bathroom but nobody spent a few thousand dollars to upgrade the pipes,” he states.
3. A well-appointed master suite. “People are really excited about master suites,” says Hummel. The wish list: a luxurious bathroom, lounging areas and walk-in closets.
4. Natural materials. “People like natural materials,” says Phipps. “Ceramic tile, hardwood floors, granite. We’ve gone back to a real appreciation for historically true materials. And simulated works as well. The look is very popular.”
In floor coverings — especially bathrooms or kitchens — look for ceramic tile or wood rather than linoleum, which can tear, says Strong.
In the rest of the house, wood or laminate products are a plus over wall-to-wall, says Gary Eldred, author of “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them).” But if you have carpet, it should be a good product and well maintained so that “a person doesn’t have to walk in and think, ‘I’m going to have to spend five grand right off the bat,” states Strong.
5. Curb appeal. “A good first appearance on a home can add as much as 5 percent to 10 percent to the value of the home,” says John Aust, president of the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers. “Homes in a neighborhood tend to vary about 10 percent from house to house, assuming all other things are the same.”
6. A light, airy spacious feel. “People buy space and light,” says Myra Zollinger, owner and broker with Coldwell Banker Realty Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I have yet to have anybody walk into a really dark house and say, “I love this.”
Richard Gaylord, member of the executive committee for the National Association of Realtors, agrees. “That’s a very big feature,” he says. “I haven’t sold many homes that aren’t bright and airy.”
7. Good windows. “People are looking at exposures and windows,” says Phipps. “It’s been a cold winter for most of the country and energy efficiency is very important.” Insulated windows are always a plus, states Strong. “Typically, they pay for themselves in five years,” he says. The cost: for an average 2,600-square-foot home, estimate about $10,000 for new windows, he says.
Well-placed skylights are also a good touch to add value, says Phipps.
8. Landscaping. Mature trees “are worth $1,000,” says Strong. And having outdoor spaces with touches such as pergolas and Victorian garden swings “can be very helpful,” says Phipps.
Appraiser John Bredemeyer remembers one $250,000 home in Omaha that had no landscaping at all. “It was stark,” says Bredemeyer, national chair of government relations for the Appraisal Institute, a professional group for real estate appraisers. “It just stood out as unappealing.” But you don’t have to spend a fortune on plants, either. Just keep it “typical with the neighborhood,” he says.
9. Lots of storage. Nothing beats an over-sized garage, some attic space and plenty of closets. “If you have a two-car garage, do you have extra space for those things we all have — bicycles, lawn mower, snow blower?” says Hummel. “Space is important.”
A nice plus in the master suite? “His and hers walk-in closets,” says Irwin.
10. Basement. “If it’s dry, it’s a plus,” says Kenneth Austin, co-author of “The Home Buyer’s Inspection Guide.” “But it’s a negative if it has water problems.”
A finished basement adds even more value. “Ten years ago, nobody cared,” says Mittenbuler. “Now everybody wants them.”