5 Tips for Home Improvement on the Cheap

Ah, the home seller’s dilemma: I want to sell my house. Is home improvement now an investment or just a way for me to hemorrhage cash? Can I somehow invest more time, but less money? Because surely, sellers hoping for a quick home sale and full (or better than) asking price in today’s market might logically consider home renovation: such work could make a home more valuable to potential buyers. But unfortunately, home improvement can be very expensive, sometimes unexpectedly so, which causes many a seller to wonder if this investment will pay off when the home is sold. And it may not, if the renovation is something like a whole new kitchen or adding a second story to the house. That’s why those easy remodels, the quick—and cheap—fixes we can often do ourselves, are so helpful in raising the perceived value of our homes without eating up our home’s equity in the process.

Luckily, you really don’t have to spend much to make your house show a lot better to those who come to see it. Here are 5 easy, relatively inexpensive ways to help your home shine (literally and figuratively).

1. Clean up!
This seems like common sense until you remember all the open houses you’ve been to and home-for-sale photos you’ve seen featuring a dirty house. This is a silly mistake because you can easily clean house all by yourself, or with the help of family and/or friends you ask nicely or bribe. The cleaning process is pretty cheap too, since hopefully you have most of the products you need already. If you have ever been to an open house in which the bathrooms were unclean (Please! Toilets should look brand new!), you know you cannot underestimate the damage dirt, grime, and mystery stains can have.

2. Make minor repairs of highly visible, regularly used home features
Now is a good time to screw in that outlet hanging from the wall, align your askew doors and screens, replace burnt bulbs, and oil door hinges. The polished appearance such care creates is almost beside the fact: really, you’re creating a feeling of a well maintained home in general.

3. Clear away your clutter
Fact: a cluttered house whose junk falls on prospective buyers as they open closets has less appeal that one that’s organized. Also, empty space makes a home feel more spacious in general, which can be a boon to a smaller place. Consider also that home buyers want to imagine their lives within this home, not your life. If you seem to be right in the middle of living here still, buyers won’t feel comfortable with the idea of moving in on top of you. And though this is hard to accept, your prize collection of Hummel figures or velvet “dogs playing poker” paintings appeal very much to you, but they may repel (even frighten!) your prospective buyer.

4. Paint
Both exteriors and interiors benefit greatly from a fresh coat of paint to rid the marks of your messy life from the walls of your home. Keep in mind though that if you are selling, it may not be a great time to go surrealist. Simple, undemanding colors (okay, yes: boring) are the best bet for showing. Incoming artist types can paint the purples and mustard greens if they want them.

Here’s a tip: to save money on paint, try mis-tints. These you can get at any paint store; they are paint cans filled with custom colors the original customer ordered, but then didn’t want. Since they’re custom, they cannot be re-sold at regular paint prices and you can get a full size cans for just a few dollars. True, most of the custom colors are a wee bit bizarre (think the purple and mustard green from above, and mix them together), but you’ll find plenty of whites, beiges, and off-whites. Be sure you take a sample and paint it onto a small piece of wood or plaster (something close to your wall’s surface at home), then let it dry to see what the color really is before you get too crazy with it.

5. Your yard is the first and last thing a buyer sees
Home buyers form first and last (and lasting!) impressions from the property around the house itself. They don’t need a corn maze or topiary animals, but a few plants that aren’t dead, a swath of grass, and no weeds taller than an average two year old child go far in improving our estimation of your home.

Of course, these are just 5 of many, many simple ways you can spruce up your place before you try to sell it strangers. So, we ask the community: what other tricks do you know?