This periodic sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos of Arlington-based real estate firm Arbour Realty, voted one of Arlington Magazine’s Best Realtors of 2013. Please submit follow-up questions in the comments section or via email.
Question: My wife and I recently purchased a house in Arlington and plan to make some improvements to it over the next couple of years. Can you recommend which improvements will bring us the most value when it comes to resale value?
House flipping isn’t just a popular TV show genre (Flip This House, Flip That House, Flip Men, Flipped Off, etc.), it can also be a profitable mindset to adopt when considering home improvements.
Here is a list of the top 5 improvements in order of what I think Arlington home buyers will value most. Each of these improvements can have wildly varying degrees of style and quality. You will have to weigh the options against your budget when making these choices.
1) Kitchen – A nice kitchen is not just a box the potential home buyer is checking off, it is often where the emotional attachment to the home begins. Granite counters and stainless steel appliances used to make a home stand out from the crowd. Now they have become a minimum standard in Arlington real estate.
If you are on a tight budget, I recommend exploring some of the options available at Ikea. If you are not on a tight budget I recommend choices that will help your home stand out such as eco-friendly materials or exotic stones and woods. Amicus Green Building Supply in Kensington, Md. is a great source for eco-friendly options.
2) Bathroom — I’m sure it is no surprise that bathrooms are a close second to kitchens. Many home buyers appreciate a nicely updated bathroom. The level of your bathroom upgrades should correspond to your target audience and your “competition.” Consider the homes you looked at while shopping for the one you ultimately chose. Which bathrooms stood out to you?
Some savvy shopping can save you a lot of money on this category. I’ve even spoken to builders who are now relying on the internet to purchase vanities from places like Overstock.com.
3) Flooring – There are people out there who want carpet, but they are in the minority. Whenever possible go with a hard surface. Hardwood is usually the preferred option. Alternatives like bamboo and cork are also very nice. I would stay away from ceramic and marble in the living areas of your home. They are expensive and not appealing to the masses.
Be sure to research the durability of the flooring you are considering. Nothing is worse than investing a lot of money only to have it damaged by pets and high heels.
4) Landscaping – Too many people underestimate the power of tasteful landscaping. You can use trees and shrubs to create privacy where needed. You can score big time with an area that can be used for entertaining outdoors, such as a deck, patio or screened porch. Remove or replace the chain link fence if you have one. Beyond these basics, you can begin adding beauty with the lawn, plants, trees and shrubs.
Consider low maintenance drought tolerant greenery, because most of us don’t have a lot of extra time to be maintaining a beautiful yard. Even if you do have the time, chances are the people who buy your home will appreciate knowing that it will not be a part-time job for them.
5) Efficiency – This is somewhat of a catch-all for windows, insulation, HVAC systems and other upgrades you can make to increase comfort and reduce utility bills. In some cases it is just a matter of bringing your systems up to current standards (i.e. a 1950’s house with original insulation or a heating/cooling system on its last legs.) As I’ve recommended in a previous article, you may want to start this process with a home energy audit. Let an expert design a strategy for getting back the largest gains for the dollars you invest in your home.
The nice thing about efficiency upgrades is that they will start paying you back right way with lower utility bills.
Please remember that part of the value in the improvements you will make to your home is the enjoyment you will get from them. Therefore, make the improvements sooner than later, so that you can enjoy them longer.