As you look forward to your open house and wowing potential buyers, you might be tempted to make some improvements to your home.
But before you order new marble countertops or remodel your master bathroom, take note of this warning from Elizabeth Weintraub, broker associate with Lyon Real Estate: "Probably the most basic rule of all is that you should never — unless you absolutely don't care at all about eventual resale value — improve a house to the point where its desired sales price would be more than 20 percent higher than the most expensive of the other houses in the immediate neighborhood. If you try to raise the value of your house too high, surrounding properties will pull it down."
According to Weintraub, major improvements such as room additions or total replacements of your kitchen and bath rarely pay off fully in the near term, and are unlikely to return their full cost if the house is sold within two or three years. Instead, "small and relatively inexpensive changes can pay off in a big way, making your home attractive to buyers if your decision is to move now."
In addition to the big factors of comparative pricing and return on large-budget home improvement projects is the reality that you may not have an extra $20,000 lying around with which to undertake a major remodel before your open house. The good news: You can boost your home's ability to impress at an open house with just a $100 investment per small improvement.
Here are some easy-to-complete, stress-free and impression-making improvements that you can plan for your open house's optimal success:
1) Replace a lighting fixture in your kitchen or bathroom, putting in a more modern design that provides more flattering illumination. "My father-in-law taught me how to change a light fixture and do the wiring in just one afternoon," says new homeowner Joseph Torres.
If you don't have a relative or friend with experience in light installation, your local Home Depot or Lowe's store may offer a free class on the do's and don'ts of light fixture installing. Call your store to inquire about their seminar schedule, and request one on lighting if they don't already have a class planned. Real estate website HomeGain says lighting fixes provide an 865 percent average return on investment.
2) Replace all of the lighting switch wall plates in your home. Upgrade to a style such as modern brushed nickel, create a uniform style from room to room on the first floor, and choose wall plates that coordinate with your bedrooms' styles. This task can be completed for less than $40, depending on the number of light switches in your home.
3) Clean all of your windows, inside and out, on an overcast day to prevent streaking, and remove all window screens to give them a good cleaning with a gentle brush and soapy water before rinsing and rehanging.
Vacuum and wipe clean inside each windowsill, including the tracks, and spray tracks with lubricant such as WD-40 for smoother, soundless operation.
At your open house, potential buyers like to see new-looking windows that allow plenty of light into each room. Pristine, clear windows impress, and all for less than $25 in cleaning supplies. A stager's secret: Raise your shades or blinds all the way up to the top to allow a greater amount of light inside.
4) "Getting rid of dead trees and shrubs can have a very big and very positive impact on prospective buyers," says Weintraub.
Pulling up dead, aged or unattractive shrubs is free when you do the work yourself, and it can take just $100 in nutrient-rich soil and new green or flowering shrubs or flower flats at a nursery or Home Depot or Lowe's to present attractive curb appeal and a well-planted path to your front door. If your landscaping is fine, invest that $100 in fresh, new, healthy potted green plants for your indoor areas, plus a new "kitchen garden" planter full of herbs for your kitchen windowsill.
"We wanted buyers to imagine themselves cooking in this kitchen," says home seller Estella McNulty. "For $27, we bought a lush herb planter, and for $60, we bought a half-dozen green plants for our home's decor."
HomeGain.com says landscaping fixes earn a 426 percent average return on investment.
5) Set out fresh bathroom linens. Use that $100 to buy matching, plush towels in spa-style neutral colors such as beige — not in colors the buyer might not like, such as red or purple — and display those on towel racks, with matching hand towels and washcloths set on the vanity. Add a matching-shade new shower curtain and matching, fluffy new bathroom rugs to help guests envision this space as a relaxing, spa-like oasis.
A simple task that costs less than $100 can change the look and feel of a room, and small touches such as those wall plates impress buyers who walk in with an eagle eye for the little details. "A good broker can help you decide which expenditures make sense and which don't and can save you a lot of money in the process," says Weintraub.