Portland broker Bobby Curtis can’t count how many times his clients lament making costly home improvements not for themselves but for a new owner to enjoy.
“Why didn’t I do this sooner?” they ask Curtis of Living Room Realty as they are looking at photos of their now-stylish residence readied for the real estate listing.
Don’t wait. There are low- to high-cost ways to upgrade a residential property and increase its livability now that may bump up its value when it’s on the market later.
Another motivation: Putting off repairs could make the situation worse, and perhaps harder, or impossible, to sell the house later.
Unless the structure is a tear down, failing electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems as well as a bad roof and safety issues have to be repaired to sell a property to a buyer relying on an appraisal to secure a mortgage.
The Oregon Realtors organization also says to repair damaged flooring, water leaks and stains, holes in grout and pet destruction.
A well-maintained home sells faster and for more, say experts.
Then there are enhancements that can have almost their entire expense added to the asking price, if the seller doesn’t overspend.
Rebates for installing energy-saving appliances, double-pane windows and wall insulation lessen upfront costs and the owner benefits from lower monthly utility bills while making a home more appealing to potential buyers.
Replacing an oversized, inefficient oil-fired boiler and furnace in an older home can also free up the basement to be finished as additional living space, increasing the property’s market value and widening its appeal, says Curtis.
Since the pandemic started, home shoppers have been keen on having flexible spaces that can be a work, craft, hobby or wellness area, says Curtis, who calls having a bonus room “the best seller.”
If an owner has the resources, converting underused space in a house into an in-law apartment for extended family members or a lower level with an exterior door into a rentable accessory dwelling unit (ADU) can be rewarding now and enticing to a future buyer.
Research shows that sellers get the most bang for their renovation bucks by focusing on the kitchen, bathrooms and curb appeal with a handsome front door and low-maintenance landscaping.
The front yard is the first impression a home shopper sees after liking the property’s online photos and description, says Curtis.
The biggest payoff, however, now and in the future, comes at little cost but big effort: Decluttering.
Clearing floor space, shelves and closets so a potential buyer can visualize living there is key. Current residents also benefit from putting or giving away unneeded objects.
Studies show removing clutter and other distractions promotes creativity and a feeling of being in control, and orderly environments are relaxing and can reduce dust that irritates allergies.
If you plan to move sometime, it’s helpful to start boxing and storing excess objects now, says Curtis.
“Most people can move a third of their possessions to a corner of the garage and still have a livable, workable home,” says Curtis. “Many people instantly see this as an improvement and wonder why they didn’t do it years earlier.”
Real estate agents, interior designers, home stagers and professional organizers can be consulted long before an owner lists a property.
Often, these experts can suggest economical ways to dress up a room such as applying a fresh coat of neutral-colored paint and adding container plants.
Sometimes, just rearranging furniture makes a home look more inviting, and pulling back heavy drapes to let natural light into a dark space is a quick fix, says Curtis.
If expensive kitchen cabinets and other built-in renovations are on the home improvement to-do list, select timeless styles and finishes that won’t look dated in the future.
Give in to trends with an accent wall color or textile like a sofa pillow or rug.
Faded or frayed wall-to-wall carpet should be replaced unless the home is being sold at a discount “as is” or buyers are offered a flooring allowance to make their own choice.
An owner purchasing new carpet should select a budget-friendly brand in a neutral color, according to the real estate marketplace Redfin. Better yet, install laminated or hardwood floors or tile, which often appraise higher than homes that have equal parts hardwood and carpeted flooring, says Redfin.
Can’t decide on how much to invest before selling? Research the market to see recent nearby sales. Then get advice.
Curtis is a licensed contractor as well as a broker, and he has restored houses over his career. His insight: Renovations don’t have to look like every other new remodel, he says.
One of his recent listings, which he describes as a “truly unique, tasteful and bold” renovated midcentury modern house in Northwest Portland’s Kings Heights neighborhood, received an accepted offer in four days.
“It’s just not one of those renovations, but it was thoughtful and extensive,” he says.
Erin Davis of Mosaik Design and Remodeling in Portland says kitchens and bathrooms are the most used spaces in a home and the most sought-after remodeling projects.
“Staying with quality materials and a timeless style is a safe bet that both you and potential buyers down the road will enjoy,” she says.
Davis has found that these looks appeal to homeowners and home shoppers:
Quartz countertops will continue to be a top choice due to their durability and low maintenance, says Davis.
Quartz comes in a wide range of whites and lighter color ranges not available in most marble and granite.
Homeowners are drawn to the organic, textural quality of a natural stone, says Davis.
A full-height backsplash is both popular and practical with homeowners, and can be an attractive focal point while offering wall protection from water, grease and dirt, says Davis.
Tile in interesting shapes — elongated hexagon, picket, arabesque — are trending, while subway patterns in varying sizes and installations are still going strong, she says.
Colors and styles are all over the board, ranging from geometric cement tiles to Moroccan-influenced patterns, and black and white or solid color in an interesting shape for texture.
Flooring materials popular in the Pacific Northwest are wood or options that look like wood such as luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and prefinished hardwoods.
People are opting for planks as wide as 5 to 7 inches, says Davis.
Kitchen cabinetry made of high-end European laminates provides protection and textures that cannot be duplicated with painted or stained wood.
More expensive cabinets are often used on lower cabinets since they get the most use and can suffer from wear and tear. Mixing two colors, like darker lower cabinets and white cupboards, adds visual interest.
Other popular kitchen amenities include:
- Steam ovens can steam fish and vegetables, as well as slow cook casseroles, reheat leftovers and prove bread dough. Also, many people prefer a smaller oven for everyday use since they are more effective and energy efficient, says Davis.
- Cabinet accessories and inserts are great options for customizing cabinetry for specific needs.
- Some touch-less faucets have improved technology. Research or ask a professional for brand recommendations, suggests Davis.
Tile is still the No. 1 choice for bathroom floors and many are heated for comfort during chilly Oregon winters.
“We often use large-format porcelain tiles that are relatively inexpensive and maintenance-free,” says Davis. “They come in a wide variety of sizes and textures.”
A zero-threshold shower replacing an alcove tub allows better accessibility as people age in place. This improvement project can be relatively simple or complex and expensive depending on the existing framing, says Davis.
Preserve at least one tub in the house to sell the property in the future, she adds. Freestanding tubs and steam showers also remain popular.
Lighting is a combination of general light that evenly illuminates a room, task lighting at the vanity, and art or mood lighting to highlight artwork or an interesting wall application. A nightlight can be incorporated into the vanity toe kick.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
Our journalism needs your support. Please become a subscriber today at OregonLive.com/subscribe.
• 1909 Irvington mansion for sale mixes original Colonial Revival architecture and modern updates
• Preserved 1902 house, owned by one Oregon family, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places