Selling: Preparing the Interior of your Home

Make the Best Second Impression

There are many interior enhancements that will push all the right emotional buttons in prospective purchasers. In all rooms, certain minimum standards should be met:

  • Make sure all plumbing and electrical systems are in working order;
  • Repair cracks in the wall;
  • Paint — a fresh coat of paint throughout the house will more than pay for itself;
  • Remove torn and discoloured wallpaper;
  • Replace missing moulding;
  • Replace cracked or broken window glass;
  • Make sure window and door hardware match;
  • Install new floor coverings;
  • Install new light fixtures;
  • Make sure switch and outlet plates match from room to room;
  • A coat of paint can literally make the difference between a sale and no sale. Be sure to stick to neutral colours - white or off-white. They tend to make everything look new, clean and bright.
  • Be sure to paint everything: inside closets, cabinets, pantries, etc. If a prospective buyer opens a door and sees dirty walls or shelves, you've just squandered the advantage you had achieved by painting in the first place.
  • Like paint, new carpeting should also be in a neutral shade. This will help buyers visualize their furniture in their possible new home.
  • Wallpaper, like wall colours, makes a personal statement about the owner's tastes. Remove it. Buyers want to visualize what they would do with your house, and wallpaper gets in the way of their dreaming.
  • Many buyers value good wood floors, so sand and refinish yours if they need to be restored. Otherwise, you might consider new flooring. If your home is short on storage space, consider how you can add shelving, cabinets or other storage systems to remedy this inadequacy. You may also consider replacing windows and doors with more energy-efficient models.

Each of the above improvements may seem overwhelming. But you'll find that the cumulative effect of fixing even relatively minor problems will be dramatic. A crack in the wall, a carpet stain or a light switch that doesn't work can send a negative signal that results in the loss of a buyer. I've seen it happen.

Let's take a closer look at improvements on a room-by-room basis, starting with your two most important rooms.

Kitchens and bathrooms have long been the top two remodelling projects, and you can expect them to remain so for years to come. They are the rooms that most consistently make or break a sale. A new or updated kitchen, a sparkling bathroom...these are features that help to sell a home.

The Kitchen

If you can get away with a remodel rather than a new kitchen, do it. Because the kitchen is so important, sellers sometimes over-improve them to the point where there is no chance of recouping their investment when they move. Don't fall into this trap. Add a new coat of paint, refinish the cabinets and replace the counters, change drawer handles, install new appliances, even put down a new floor—but don't gut and start over it if isn't necessary. When adding new appliances, be aware that many buyers consider brand name to be an important factor. If you don't paint everything, at least repaint the ceiling bright white.

You'd be surprised how much it can lighten up the room. Another great way to brighten a kitchen is to add a skylight or a new window ( you may be pleasantly surprised at the cost of adding one). If you do choose to put in a new kitchen, keep in mind what helps sell. Buyers are looking for lots of cabinets and counter space, new appliances, and an easy flow between the sink, food prep areas, stove and refrigerator. Think sunny, spacious and clean.

The Bathroom

New fixtures, wall tile and flooring can make a big difference. If the bathtub is in poor shape, you can replace it, but a less expensive option may be to re-enamel. If you keep the old tub, at least regrout and recaulk it. A good bathroom remodel or expansion can easily return more than 100% of its cost when you sell the property. If you're feeling ambitious, adding a half-bath or second bath to a one-bathroom house is another option to consider. Whatever the family size, one bathroom never seems adequate to most people.


For most people, the master bedroom is the third most important room in the house. If you have a large home with four or five small bedrooms and the floor plan allows for it, you might consider combining two rooms into a master bedroom. If you have a two - or three- bedroom home and a decent-sized lot, you might consider adding another bedroom.

Trends to Watch

A more recent hot remodelling trend is the 'great room' - combining the kitchen, dining and family room into one larger living area. While still not as prevalent as kitchen and bath remodels, it is definitely a trend on the rise. Living rooms, family rooms and formal dining rooms, on the other hand, are decreasing in popularity. Another relatively new concept in renovations is the home office. With more home-based businesses and more companies allowing employees to telecommute, many people are looking for office-ready space in their homes.

A recent survey conducted by Builder magazine found that nearly one third of buyers in their 20's, 30's and 40's plan to use a room as a home office. Other rooms that are becoming popular are the exercise and media rooms. Questionable projects include fireplace additions and installation of elaborate security systems. You can find professionals who will argue for and against both of these projects. But with concerns about home safety on the rise, security systems appear to be moving into the 'desirable' column. Many of these projects are relatively inexpensive and will easily pay for themselves. With some projects, you may not recoup your investment, but you will have removed obstacles of the sale.

If you don't take care of things like leaky plumbing, drafty windows or outdated light fixtures, you're giving a buyer ammunition to use against you during negotiations.

The Don'ts of Home Improvement

There are several things you can do that can actually lower the value of your home or make it more difficult to sell. Here are a few rules to keep in mind:

Do It Well or Don't Do It At All

You may be intrigued to do a lot of work yourself to save money. That may be viable if you know you can do a great job. But if doing it yourself means a careless paint job or imperfections in the vinyl flooring, then I suggest hiring an expert. Hiring a professional can often be less expensive and quicker in the long run. This is exceptionally important when dealing with electrical systems or plumbing problems.

Don't Over-Improve

Any project that raises your home's value by more than 20% above similar homes in your neighbourhood should be reconsidered. The reason is simple. Say your home is in a typical neighbourhood of $130,000 homes, and you make $50,000 in improvements. Buyers looking for a $180,000 home are looking in neighborhoods where that is the norm, not the exception.

Spend Less If Moving Soon

You probably won't recoup your investment if you plan to move in less than two years. If you plan to move sooner, spend less money and focus your efforts on the most extreme problems. For example, turn a bad kitchen into a decent one rather than a gourmet's delight.

Don't Make Unique Improvements

Sure, you may like built-in bookcases on every wall of your guest room, but prospective buyers will probably view them as a nuisance to tear out — which means they'll be less willing to meet your price. Also, avoid improvements that make unusual use of a particular room. Anything that limits flexibility will limit interest in your home.

Don't Create a Mess

Make sure your floor plan will make sense when you're done. Be careful not to make changes that impede the natural flow of the house - closing off halls, doorways, etc. Room additions, in particular, are often done very poorly. If it looks like something was tacked on to the original house, don't do it. Adding a bedroom where the only connection to the rest of the house is through another bedroom should also be avoided. As you can see, squeezing every last dollar out of your home sale can be a fairly involved process. But when you consider the end result — a quicker sale and top dollar for your effort — I think you'll find that a few well-chosen home improvements are worth both the time and the effort.