The best kitchen fixes for eager home-sellers

Suzanne Clemenz | Improvement Center Columnist | November 16, 2012

In the real estate buyer's world, location is paramount, followed by kitchens, bathrooms, and closets. Your home's location is where it is, for better or for worse. But you do have control over its appearance. Look at your home with the calloused eyes of buyers on a whirlwind tour with their real estate agent. Which improvements can win over potential buyers in their 10-minute stopover at your home?

Kitchen upgrades that provide maximum ROI

You may not need a full kitchen remodel to sell your home. Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report for 2011 - 2012 shows a mid-range major kitchen remodel at $57,494 brings in on average only 65.7 percent return on investment, while an upscale ($110,938) kitchen re-do returns an average of 57.4 percent. But the report cites a national average return of $14,120 on a $19,588 (minor) kitchen investment -- a much healthier 72.1 percent. Why? Inevitably, your taste is going to differ from that of prospective buyers. And bear in mind that a $20,000 investment might be justifiable for a $250,000+ home, but not so much on a $100,000 home.

Bottom line: don't go overboard. Improve elements that are eyesores, hopelessly outdated or cannot be cleaned. Here's how to recognize and deal with a potentially sale-dampening kitchen:

  1. Clean: Create a sparkling, uncluttered, functional kitchen. Remove "cute" items, collections and personal things like photos. Clean the fridge, freezer, oven and stovetop. Pare down and organize cupboard, pantry and drawer contents. Century 21 Real Estate suggests "If you have ceramic tile… thoroughly scrub all the grout, or stain the grout if it is beyond cleaning. Often Soft Scrub used with a stiff brush produces good results." Cleaning thoroughly is the most cost effective suggestion of all.
  2. Fix: Repair broken cabinetry, windows or room doors (including hinges and screens.) Fix a leaky faucet or replace it with a high-arched pull-out style. Refinish worn natural wood flooring or, if not obvious, patch other types of floor damage. Repair grout. If furniture polish can't revitalize old cabinet doors, refacing them with new doors in a simple style brings them up to date and blends with most buyers' decor preferences.
  3. Paint: Paint is one investment that can potentially bring back more than it costs, but not boring white, except possibly for room doors and baseboards. Color is definitely in. Wallpaper is out. Steam the wallpaper off, and wash the walls with paste remover (essential); then prime and paint. Consider a subtle fawn color or soft, sage green. They're popular, they go with most decor colors, and the look is updated.
  4. Replace: Only replace kitchen elements that have obvious wear or are upgrades common to competing houses. Sue Schmid of Coldwell Banker in Sedona states, "Appliances need to be up to date. For countertops, choose porcelain tile, granite tile, a solid surface like Corian, or solid granite." Porcelain tile is least expensive of these. Save on appliances by bundling more than one into one purchase, or shop at a "scratch & dent" appliance store. If new flooring is absolutely necessary, Schmid suggests porcelain tiles that look like travertine. Favor medium to lighter tones for all replacements to make the kitchen look brighter and larger. Plumbing, including new faucets and sinks, has a very high home sellers return on investment.

Ask your real estate agent to show you a couple of comparable vacant nearby homes for sale. Study what you like and dislike about the kitchens. Ask how long each house has been on the market. Although it boils down to a buyer really clicking with your home, the right kitchen improvements can help tip the scales in your favor.

About the Author

Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and remodeled two others. She worked with architects and contractors on floorplans, electrical, painting, windows, flooring installations, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and landscaping. She also completed real estate school.