In many areas, it’s still a strong seller’s market. But that doesn’t mean you can count on a buyer paying your desired price without making needed upgrades. Selling a home successfully requires providing what homebuyers want. That means offering in-demand home features and avoiding what homebuyers hate.
This can be tricky to determine without help. It pays to consult closely with your real estate agent and do your homework. Learn what home features are popular and will bring a higher return on investment.
What the research suggests
The National Association of Home Builders’ What Home Buyers Really Want report indicates these home features are most in demand:
Laundry room – 91% (rated as “essential/must have” or “desirable”)
The cost of a new laundry room ranges from $500 to relocate your hookups to over $5,000 for a small addition or closet conversion. The project would include appliance installation, new floors, storage and plumbing.
Energy Star-rated windows – 89%
The average cost for a 2,500 square feet house is about $20,000.
Patio – 87%
The cost of a new patio can vary widely depending on the size and materials. Pavers, concrete and flagstone can cost $5 to $30 a square foot. So, a 16′ x 18′ patio might cost $1,440 to $8,640.
Energy Star-rated appliances – 86%
The average cost of a new washer is $750, a new dryer is $550, a new air conditioner unit is $220, a dishwasher is $550 and replacing a furnace is $1,400 on average. New waters run $300 to $1,200 depending on their size. New refrigerators cost about $1,100, but if the old one isn’t at least ten years old, you won’t save much on your power bill.
Ceiling fan – 85%
Ceiling fans can cost under $100 or run into thousands. But the average cost, installed, runs between $150 and $350.
Garage storage – 85%
Garage storage can be as basic as a few shelves, but most people prefer some cabinetry. Costs, depending on how fancy you get, run between $650 and $2500 on average.
Exterior lighting – 85%
Lighting fixtures cost about $500, installed. But if you opt for solar lighting, you can do it yourself easily. Each unit runs between $25 and $100 on average.
Walk-in pantry – 83%
Cooks love walk-in pantries. The cost of converting existing space averages $1,000 to $6,500, depending on the size, features and grade of construction.
Hardwood flooring – 83%
This classic surface runs $6 to $22 per square foot installed.
Double kitchen sink – 81%
Households appreciate a sink that can be divided into washing and food prep. The cost of a double sink ranges between $250 and $650 on average.
Energy Star whole home – 81%
The average cost of an energy audit is about $400. But Energy Star certification requires builders and home energy raters to inspect during the building process, so existing homes usually cannot meet the requirements.
Why focusing on the right home features is important
Dr. Jessica Lautz is vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). She says it’s crucial for sellers to consider amenities wanted by buyers carefully.
“Homebuyer expectations have increased over time. Buyers today want their homes to look like those they see on TV,” she says. “They want homes to look beautiful in photos they see online, have great curb appeal as they drive up, and look beautiful once they walk inside.”
Jim Kabel, president of Case Design/Remodeling San Jose, agrees.
“You want to ensure that your home isn’t outdated. Prospective buyers want modern-looking homes that offer quality, comfort, and convenience. If your home doesn’t appear to have those traits, it could linger on the market,” he says.
Also, “you have to catch a buyer’s attention immediately,” Mike Valente, real estate agent, general contractor, and founder of Renovation Sells, says. “The best way to do that is to showcase a design-forward space that looks like it jumped off the page of a magazine.”
Lautz says Realtors often know best what improvements sellers should make in their homes before listing.
“Sellers should ask their local Realtor,” she adds. “They can tell them the most popular items for the local market and which things they must fix up before selling.”
You can also look at online photos of homes for sale in your neighborhood.
“Understanding what the standard is in your community and what buyers are looking for should help influence your decision making. Say prospective buyers care most about a good kitchen. Or say most homes in your neighborhood have pools. If so, consider investing your remodeling dollars in those areas,” Kabel notes.
Home features to consider
Based on NAR’s 2019 Remodeling Impact report, Lautz says Realtors believe three particular projects are most appealing to buyers: a complete kitchen renovation; kitchen upgrades; and an HVAC replacement.
Other projects that appeal most to buyers, per the report, include new wood flooring; a bathroom renovation; hardwood flooring refinish; new master suite/owners’ suite; new bathroom; basement conversion to a living area; attic conversion to living area; insulation upgrade; and closet renovation.
“Also, anything that’s a minor repair should be fixed. Chipped paint should be repainted. Carpets should be cleaned,” recommends Lautz. “And Realtors also recommend decluttering the home, performing an entire home cleaning, and removing pets.”
“There are also a number of light construction renovations that won’t break the bank. These will make a major visual impact and appeal to a larger pool of potential buyers,” says Valente. “I recommend painting dark kitchen cabinetry white or a lighter color. Replace dark countertops with seamless countertops in light neutral colors that mimic marble. Sand and stain wood flooring. And modernize light fixtures and hardware.”
Kabel seconds many of these suggestions.
Features buyers don’t want
Then, there are “upgrades” homebuyers, especially younger buyers, don’t want. They include:
- Wall-to-wall carpeting (buyers prefer hardwood and rugs)
- High maintenance landscaping
- Rigid floorplans and formal dining areas (the open concept still rules)
- Trophy, game and media rooms.
- Home offices
These preferences reflect technology today. If your books are on a reader or your phone, you don’t need a library. Or an office or home theater if you work and watch movies with a tablet or laptop. And with fewer specialized spaces, homes can be smaller and cheaper.
Other improvements to ponder
“I also suggest implementing a stand-up enclosed shower,” says Kabel. “It should offer spa-like features such as a rainfall showerhead, bench seat, and built-in shelves.”
Kabel advises investing in home automation features, too. And he advocates removing oversized and outdated bathtubs.
“In addition, replace outdated white kitchen appliances with stainless steel appliances,” Kabel says.
What homebuyers hate, too, are outdated tile backsplashes, dark speckled countertops, track lighting, and dated wallcoverings, adds Valente.
“Today’s buyers want modern interiors and sleek lines that gravitate toward a neutral color palette,” Valente says. “That’s why I also recommend adding a fresh coat of neutral paint to your walls, which can quickly update your home.”