Which DIY home renovation projects could add the most value to your house — and which ones to avoid

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have a lot more time on their hands — and they’re spending that time at home.

Earlier in the health crisis, economists predicted that spending on renovation projects would actually dip across much of the country. But recent data show that there’s been a definite surge in interest in certain home improvement projects.

Just look at the lumber market: There’s now a shortage of pressure-treated lumber used to build decks across the country.

Meanwhile, the housing market has recovered well from the start of the pandemic, with home sales rising considerably thanks to pent-up demand among buyers fueled even further by record-low mortgage rates.

As a result, many homeowners may be considering the benefits of fixing up their home to make it more appealing to potential buyers — and a nicer place to live in the era of social distancing. And they may be thinking about going the do-it-yourself route, given the extra free time many people have this summer.

“They’ve been sitting at home for a few months, and they want to just spend a little bit of money, invest in their house, and make it a little bit better,” said Steve Cunningham, owner of Cunningham Contracting in Williamsburg, Va., and vice chair of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers.

But not all DIY home improvement projects will offer homeowners a solid return on their investment. Here’s what homeowners need to consider before breaking out the toolkit.

To start, know your limits

Remodeling Magazine produces an annual list tracking the cost of various improvement projects versus the percentage that was recouped in the home’s resale value. Many of the projects at the top of the list are not for the faint of heart — or someone who isn’t a trained professional.

No. 1 on Remodeling Magazine’s list: Adding a manufactured stone veneer to the outside of your home.

“Their only limitation would be their skills,” Cunningham said. “These DIY shows, they show a person starting, and then you go to a commercial and come back and it’s ready to use. They show you just a portion of the process that’s needed to do it correctly.”

Getting in over your head can prove extremely costly. Take, for instance, retiling a shower. If a homeowner doesn’t know how to properly waterproof under the tile, their work could lead to leaks. And by the time they notice the leak, they could be looking at thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in terms of rotted wood and replaced tile, Cunningham said.

‘These DIY shows, they show a person starting, and then you go to a commercial and come back and it’s ready to use. They show you just a portion of the process that’s needed to do it correctly.’

— Steve Cunningham, owner of Cunningham Contracting in Williamsburg, Va., and vice chair of NAHB Remodelers

Same goes for anything involving plumbing. In these cases, hiring a professional is often the cheaper route in the long run.

The projects that pay off

Many projects that add value to a home aren’t as complicated as retiling a shower, though.

A fresh coat of paint can do wonders, particularly if you choose the right spot and color. “Paint the front door,” said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s
home trends expert. “A glossy coat of exterior paint can really amp up your curb appeal.”

When it comes to paint, though, the devil is in the details. Painting your front door black, in particular, could add as much as $6,000 to your home’s sale price, according to Zillow’s research. Similarly, blue bathrooms can add nearly $3,000 to a home’s sale price. Throughout the rest of the house, aim for modern neutrals like gray and taupe to boost a home’s appeal. Plus, paint is relatively affordable, adding to the ROI of these changes. On the other end of the spectrum, a home painted yellow sells for $3,600 less on average than similar homes.

Another relatively simple change a homeowner can make is to replace lighting fixtures with smart lights. “Not only are you going to save money on your power bill, but you’re going to sell your home seven days faster,” Pendleton said, citing additional research from Zillow.

There are also cheaper, easier alternatives to major home improvement projects such as replacing the flooring in your home. A Zillow survey found that 87% of real-estate agents suggest cleaning the carpets before listing a home. Many homeowners will switch out the carpet anyway, so rather than investing in installing a new one, a homeowner can rent a carpet cleaner from their local home improvement store and refresh their carpets on the cheap.

Similarly, rather than installing new tile around the house, a homeowner can safely regrout their flooring instead. “You could even switch the color out,” Pendleton said. “If you’ve got a beige that’s gone yellow, you could put in a gray grout and it’s going to look a lot more modern.”

Cunningham recommended DIYers think about the finishings around their house, including kitchen backsplashes and bathroom faucets. “It does so much for the look of something to make a little update,” he said.

And if money is of concern, it’s good to prioritize the spaces buyers care about most. “I love my remodeled kitchen, the kitchen is the worst place to spend your money,” Pendleton said. Instead, focus on the main bathroom of the house, which often holds a lot of appeal with buyers.

Don’t forget the outdoors

With crowded public spaces representing a threat in the age of COVID-19, home buyers are much more interested in buying a home that offers outdoor living space they can enjoy safely.

“Good landscaping is proven to help homes sell faster, so get to work on making your yard look pristine,” said Rachel Stults, deputy editor at Realtor.com. “Gardening has become a hot trend during quarantine, so why not show buyers what they can do with your space by starting a small vegetable garden?”

Sprucing up one’s outdoor space doesn’t need to be difficult. Cutting back overgrown trees, edging the lawn and planting colorful flowers goes a long way. “

Homeowners who want to kick things up a notch though might want to consider installing a fire pit. Homes with fit pits mentioned in their listing description sell for nearly 3% more than similar homes.

‘Good landscaping is proven to help homes sell faster, so get to work on making your yard look pristine.’

— Rachel Stults, deputy editor at Realtor.com

Home offices aren’t a foolproof investment

Millions of Americans have suddenly been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. And companies like Twitter
have even suggested that their workforce may remain remote even after the coronavirus outbreak has ended.

Indeed, listings featuring a home office fetch a 3.4% price premium and sell nine days faster than listings without one, according to Realtor.com data. “Buyers are going to be looking for well-appointed home office space now more than ever,” Stults said.

(Realtor.com is operated by News Corp
subsidiary Move Inc., and MarketWatch is a unit of Dow Jones, which is also a subsidiary of News Corp.)

But home-office projects have their pitfalls. Many people’s first instinct is to convert their unfinished basement into a workspace, Pendleton said.

“What we found from our Zillow research is that you only get about 50 cents in resale value for every dollar you invest in a basement remodel,” Pendleton said. “And at the end of the day, even if you’re working from home, you don’t want to do it in your dark, dingy basement.”

Plus, people are very particular about their home office needs. Some people will want space for multiple computer monitors, others will want larger bookshelves. Making a space too tailored to your current needs could alienate buyers down the road. “Each client is a little bit different — it’s not one shoe fits everybody,” Cunningham said.