Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have a lot more free time — and they’re spending that time at home.
At the start of the health crisis, economists predicted that spending on renovation projects would actually fall across much of the country. However, recent data shows that interest in certain home improvement projects has increased significantly.
Just look at the lumber market: there is now a shortage of pressure-treated lumber used to build decks across the country.
Meanwhile, the housing market has recovered well since the pandemic began, with home sales up significantly thanks to pent-up demand from buyers, fueled by record-low mortgage rates.
As a result, many homeowners may be considering the benefits of renovating their home to make it more appealing to potential buyers — and a nicer place to live in times of social distancing. And they might be thinking about going the do-it-yourself route, given the extra free time many people have this summer.
“They’ve been sitting at home for a few months and they just want to spend some money, invest in their home and make it a little bit better,” said Steve Cunningham, owner of Cunningham Contracting in Williamsburg. Va., and Vice Chair of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers.
But not all DIY home improvement projects offer homeowners a solid return on their investment. Here’s what homeowners need to consider before rolling out the toolkit.
First, know your limits
Remodeling Magazine produces an annual list that shows the cost of various improvement projects versus the percentage recouped by the home’s resale value. Many of the projects at the top of the list are not for the faint of heart – or for someone who is not a trained professional.
#1 on Remodeling Magazine’s list: Installing engineered stone cladding on the exterior of your home.
“Their only limitation would be their ability,” Cunningham said. “These DIY shows have a person starting and then you go to a commercial and you come back and it’s ready to go. They only show you part of the process required to get it right.”
Hitting yourself over the head can prove extremely costly. Take a shower redesign, for example. If a homeowner doesn’t know how to properly waterproof under the tile, their job could result in leaks. And by the time they notice the leak, they could see thousands of dollars worth of damage in the form of rotted wood and replaced tile, Cunningham said.
““These DIY shows have a person starting and then you go to a commercial and you come back and it’s ready to go. They only show you part of the process required to get it right.’”
The same applies to everything that has to do with plumbing. In these cases, hiring a professional is often the cheaper option in the long run.
The projects that pay off
However, many home improvement projects are not as complicated as re-tiling a shower.
A fresh coat of paint can do wonders, especially if you choose the right spot and color. “Painting the front door,” said Amanda Pendleton, Zillows ZG,
Expert for living trends. “A glossy exterior color can really boost your appeal.”
When it comes to painting, however, the devil is in the detail. Specifically, painting your front door black could add as much as $6,000 to the selling price of your home, according to Zillow’s research. Similarly, blue bathrooms can add nearly $3,000 to a home’s selling price. For the rest of the home, strive for modern neutrals like gray and taupe to enhance a home’s appeal. Also, color is relatively affordable, which increases the ROI of these changes. On the other end of the spectrum, a home painted yellow costs an average of $3,600 less than comparable homes.
Another relatively simple change a homeowner can make is to replace light fixtures with smart bulbs. “Not only are you saving money on your electric bills, you’re selling your home seven days faster,” Pendleton said, citing additional Zillow research.
There are also cheaper, easier alternatives to big home improvement projects like replacing the flooring in your home. A Zillow survey found that 87% of real estate agents suggest cleaning the carpets before listing a home. Many homeowners replace the carpet anyway, so instead of investing in installing new carpet, a homeowner can hire a carpet cleaner from their local hardware store and refresh their carpets cheaply.
Rather than laying new tiles around the home, a homeowner can safely re-gout their flooring instead. “You could even change the color,” Pendleton said. “If you have a beige that has turned yellow, you can put a gray grout in it and it will look a lot more modern.”
Cunningham recommended do-it-yourselfers think about finishing around their home, including kitchen backsplashes and bathroom fixtures. “It does so much to the look of something to give it a little update,” he said.
And when it comes to money, it’s good to prioritize the areas that matter most to buyers. “I love my remodeled kitchen, the kitchen is the worst place to spend your money,” Pendleton said. Instead, focus on the home’s master bathroom, which is often very attractive to buyers.
Don’t forget outside
With crowded public spaces posing a threat in the age of COVID-19, homebuyers are much more interested in purchasing a home that offers outdoor living space that they can safely enjoy.
“Good landscaping has been shown to help homes sell faster, so set about making your yard look immaculate,” said Rachel Stults, Associate Editor at Realtor.com. “Gardening has become a hot trend during quarantine. So why not show buyers what they can do with your space by creating a little vegetable garden?”
Spice up your outdoor space doesn’t have to be difficult. Cutting back overgrown trees, edging the lawn and planting colorful flowers goes a long way. “
Homeowners who want something even better might consider installing a fireplace. Homes with matching pits mentioned in their listing description sell for almost 3% more than similar homes.
““Good landscaping has been shown to help homes sell faster, so set about making your yard look immaculate.””
Home offices are not a foolproof investment
Millions of Americans are suddenly forced to work from home because of the pandemic. And companies like Twitter TWTR,
have even hinted that their workforce may stay away even after the coronavirus outbreak has ended.
According to Realtor.com data, home office listings command a 3.4% premium and sell nine days faster than non-home office listings. “Now more than ever, shoppers will be looking for well-appointed home offices,” Stults said.
(Realtor.com is operated by News Corp NWSA,
subsidiary Move Inc., and MarketWatch is a unit of Dow Jones, which is also a subsidiary of News Corp. is)
But home office projects have their pitfalls. Many people’s first instinct is to convert their unfinished basement into a workspace, Pendleton said.
“What we found from our Zillow research is that for every dollar you invest in a basement remodel, you only get about 50 cents in resale value,” Pendleton said. “And at the end of the day, even if you’re working from home, you don’t want to be doing it in your dark, dingy basement.”
Also, people are very demanding when it comes to their home office needs. Some people want space for multiple computer monitors, others want larger bookshelves. Designing a space that is too tailored to your current needs could turn off future buyers. “Every customer is a little different – there’s no one shoe that fits everyone,” Cunningham said.