1. Swap in some dimmer switches.
You won’t break the bank buying dimmer switches; expect to pay $15-40 apiece. And the end result is a modern, chic home ready for a romantic dinner with mood lighting.
Granted, you don’t want to electrocute yourself in the process. Read an article or two on swapping out light switches, so you don’t end up with Einstein hair. But the process is pretty simple: You unscrew the cover plate, pull out the box, disconnect the old switch, connect the new switch, and then cover it again with the plate.
Related: The #1 Money-Saving DIY Skill Every Rehabber Should Learn
Oh, and safety tip: Flip the breaker for that room first, so if you mess it up, you don’t lose your eyebrows!
You really can do this, eyebrow jokes aside. A trip to Home Depot and a few hours this weekend, and you’ve got yourself a classier property.
2. Replace (or Refinish) the Front Door
Once again, you don’t need hard-core handyman credentials to swap out a door. You know those round things the door swings on, better known as hinges? They’re held in by a couple screws.
If you can use a screwdriver, you can replace a door.
Of course, you’ll also need to use a measuring tape. It might ruin your day if you go through the hassle of taking the door off, only to discover the new one is the wrong size.
But this small home upgrade actually makes a big difference. Don’t take my word for it—in Remodeling Magazine’s annual report on home upgrades’ ROI, a new steel front door delivered the second-highest return on investment. And that’s if you pay someone else to do it!
The average value return was 90.7%, with the average cost being $1,413 and the average value boost being $1,282. But a new steel door itself only costs $200-400! Your actual ROI could be closer to 400%.
And if you don’t want to buy a new door, you can always refinish your old door, if it’s wooden. A little sanding, a little lacquer, and you have a gorgeous new (looking) door.
3. Get real with curb appeal.
Curb appeal matters. A lot. Psychological studies reveal that most people make up their mind whether to purchase (or rent) a home within seconds of seeing it. Everything they see afterward just confirms their decision.
So, what can you do to make sure your property leaves an alluring first impression?
Start by scraping away any flaking paint and repainting. Flaking paint is the dandruff of a home’s first impression.
Next, look to the landscaping. Think with words like “coif” and “primp” as you get that lawn and/or garden looking picture-perfect.
Would it help to add an extra bush here or shrub there? Or if that’s more trouble than you want to get into, what about a few well-placed potted plants? For urban properties, a few potted plants can make your property look like the nicest home on the block.
Imagine your property is going on a series of first dates. Get it looking appropriately polished because if people don’t like what they see on the outside, they’ll never give the inside a fair chance.
4. Power wash the siding, brick or patio.
You know that greenish/brownish residue that starts coating a home’s siding after a few years?
Another bad first impression. Think sweat stains on that first date.
Keep your home looking fresh and well-groomed with a quick power wash. Don’t own a power washer? No problem. Ask around amongst your friends. If that fails, rent one for the weekend, preferably splitting the cost with several like-minded friends or family members.
Just like your lawn and grounds should be perfectly coiffed, your home and patio should be spotlessly clean.
5. Polish or refinish hardwood floors.
Who doesn’t love hardwood floors? No one, unless those floors are dull, dirty, and drab. Then they’re not so impressive.
Hardwood floors should sparkle and gleam. Your reflection should beam back at you in them. When flooring is this shiny and clean, people can’t help but notice it.
As a (not-so-strapping) lad of eight years, my grandmother used to hand me a can of wood polish and a pair of thick socks and tell me to start dancing on her hardwood floors. I now realize that my parents got free babysitting, my grandparents got a free floor polishing, and I got… character? Maybe.
If the floors need sanding, you can rent a sander or just use sandpaper. Applying a little stain is optional for a rich red or deep teak look. And then some polish and voila! Gorgeous, brand-new looking hardwood floors.
6. Try a new look in the kitchen.
It blows my mind how much people spend on new kitchens. It’s routine for people to spend $10,000, $20,000, or even $30,000 or more! And curiously enough, it seems that these are rarely the same people who get their hands dirty cooking up delicious meals week-in and week-out. But I digress.
You don’t need to spend five digits (or four, for that matter) on a new kitchen. Just to get a new look. If the cabinets are geriatric, give them a fresh paint job. White never goes awry in the kitchen, but don’t be afraid to get wacky with colors like “atomic tangerine” or “bayside periwinkle” or whatever.
Have grody old Formica countertops? Sure, marble looks great, but we’re keeping things cheap and DIY here. Consider a butcher’s block instead—it’s low-cost, simple to install, and even doubles as a cutting board.
Or if even that is more trouble than you can be bothered with, just buy a butcher’s block and sit it on top of your existing counters.
Ugly laminate floor? Try a big throw rug.
Boring cabinet knobs and handles? Swap them out with fun, funky new hardware.
Decrepit faucet? Replace it.
The limit isn’t your budget. It’s your creativity.
7. Remember: Cleanliness is next to godliness (and ROI).
I’m not entirely sure what godliness is. Reverence? Or perhaps becoming more god-like? Maybe just behavior that the gods would smile upon? But apparently cleanliness is next to it, which is most certainly a good thing.
By one estimate, sparkling cleanliness adds 3-5% to the value of a property. For a $250,000 home, that’s up to $12,500. Real money, no matter how rich you are.
If you’re like most people, you probably sweep the floors before showing a property. Maybe you even mop. Then you call it a day.
Related: How I Went From Zero to DIY Hero (& How You Can, Too!)
Go deeper. Start by decluttering if you live in the property, removing any non-essential furniture or other items from the property. As an added bonus, it will make each room look larger.
Then de-personalize it. Prospective buyers or renters don’t want to see your photos from Cancun last spring. They want to visualize their own décor in the property.
Once you’ve done what you could for the furnished rooms, pull out the scrub gloves and get busy in the bathrooms and kitchen. If you were to drop a sauce-covered meatball on the floor, would you pick it up and eat it? No? Then keep scrubbing. Every surface of every bathroom and kitchen should literally be clean enough to eat off. Every piece of chrome should catch the light and sparkle. Every strip of grout should be clean, fresh, and not crumbling. (Side Note: you can patch crumbling grout yourself with a $7 “sanded” caulk can.)
This 3-5% value boost from extreme cleanliness is the easiest money you’ll ever make.
8. Get smart—and green, while you’re at it.
Smart home technology is getting greener, and green home updates are getting smarter. The upshot is that you can boost both your home’s tech and green credentials simultaneously.
Exhibit A: Smart thermostats save money on utility bills by saving energy.
But it doesn’t stop there. Smart sprinkler systems save water (and therefore save money). Smart security systems often include air quality monitoring nowadays. On-the-fly water heating systems only heat water when it’s required.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can boost those energy returns even further with new fiberglass insulation in the attic—which, if you were curious, was the number one highest ROI home update in the Remodeling Magazine study mentioned above.
Want more? Here are some further smart home ideas for investors.
9. Paint, of course!
It’s amazing how far a fresh coat of paint goes in making homes look better.
Who can’t paint? You can even recruit your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins once-removed. Offer them some of that pizza—and a beer if they’re old enough.
Neutral colors are never out of style. Or if you have impeccable taste, trust your judgment and choose some more stylish colors. For the rest of us, take a friend with impeccable taste to the paint store and get her feedback if you want bolder colors.
Remember, the most important part of painting a room is not the actual painting. It’s the taping and draping! If you’ve draped the floors properly and taped in neat, straight lines, you could splatter cans of paint everywhere with no ill effects.
Invest some time taping and draping before you start handing out those beers, and the actual painting itself will take no time at all.