Which Home Updates Make the Biggest Impact? Q&A with David Howell, McEnearney Associates

Whether you’re upgrading the home you intend to live in for the long term or you’re putting your house on the market, knowing which renovation projects make the most impact can save you a lot time and money. The Tuckahoe Home & Garden Tour Team (THGT) spoke with David Howell, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at McEnearney Associates, Inc., to find out which renovations pack the biggest punch.

THGT: If you’re planning to sell your home in the near future, what are the best quick renovation projections to get the best return on investment?

DH: A fresh cost of paint is a quick, inexpensive way to make your interior shine. If you have a yard, make it look great! Clean up any “untamed” areas and plant inexpensive flowers to give your home curb appeal.

THGT: Thinking bigger, are kitchens and bathrooms truly the best investments when it comes to doing a larger remodel or update?

DH: According to the Cost vs. Value Survey done by the National Association of Homebuilders, major kitchen and bath remodels only return 70 percent of their cost in the first year. If you’re staying in your home, these big investments certainly add to the enjoyment of your home and pay off over the long term. But if you’re selling, a kitchen or bath remodel probably has more impact on the marketability of your home than on your return, making it more appealing than the competition.

TGHT: If you don’t currently have the resources for a renovation but want to upgrade your current home, what are some inexpensive fixes that make a big impact? 

DH: The same National Association of Homebuilders study shows, surprisingly, that replacing a shabby entry door has the highest rate of return of any home improvement project. Upgrading your house, especially when you’re putting it on the market, is about taking care of deferred maintenance issues and making the house look clean and fresh. The things that fall under those categories—like replacing an old door, cleaning the gutters, or repainting trimwork—usually don’t take a lot of money, but when they’re not done, it really turns buyers off.

TGHT: Are there renovation projects that homeowners routinely overlook that make a surprisingly big difference?

DH: Fresh paint, replacing worn out carpet or refinishing hardwood floors always make an immediate, visual impact. Ditto for replacing old, leaky windows. Bigger jobs, like moving walls or major room renovations, may make sense if they can fundamentally impact the use of your home. For instance, adding a second bathroom to a one-bath home can make a big difference, but adding a fourth bath to a three-bath home probably won’t. Talk with your REALTOR® before making any of those big decisions.

TGHT: Finally, curb appeal! Why is it so important for homeowners to pay as much attention to the outside of their home as the inside?

DH: The outside of your home is the first thing that people see, whether it’s from the curb or online. It is your first—and sometimes last—opportunity to communicate the condition of your home to potential buyers. If it doesn’t look good on the outside, they may not look past that to see the inside. A freshly cut lawn free of weeds, freshly mulched and planted flowerbeds, and trimmed bushes and hedges all make a big difference. If you have an overgrown tree too close to the house, consider major pruning or taking it down. Cracked walkways and driveways should also be fixed. Put yourself in a buyer’s shoes: What would you hope to see when taking a first look at a home?