If you’re a homeowner, it’s most likely your “castle” is your biggest investment. Whether you’ve been in your home less than a year or are going on 20 years in residence, it’s important to maintain your house in order to ensure its appreciation when it comes time to sell.
Unfortunately, it’s an ongoing process. Fortunately, it doesn’t always require a huge investment.
At a minimum, it’s good to enact a five-year plan for potential home improvements. If you’re a newcomer to home ownership, it’s always a good idea to wait at least a year before undertaking renovation projects. Except for maybe replacing dated appliances or applying a coat of paint, living in a home for awhile gives you a better idea of what improvements are important and which ones can wait. A yearly plan should detail how much you can spend, whether through saving or taking out a loan, and what areas you want to address. That way, you are less likely to go over budget, and can focus on comparing costs and return on investment.
Personally, had I acted on a couple of projects I initially thought were good ideas after moving into my house, I'd be kicking myself right now. Over time, those projects would have been costly and unnecessary for my lifestyle. Furthermore, it’s always important to consider how any improvement will add value to the home when you sell. Any renovation should add to your enjoyment of the home but also be an amenity to the future buyer.
Below is a list of home improvements, in no particular order, to consider when toying with the idea of updating your home.
Meet with an Interior Designer
If you don’t have an eye for detail and can afford the fee, it’s always a good idea to get a professional’s take on your home. Interior designers are up on the latest trends and can help transform a vanilla living space into a dreamy escape. From paint colors to furniture, maximizing space to selecting appropriate lighting fixtures, designers are worth consulting when it comes to making the right decisions about your home’s appearance. Furthermore, they usually have the inside track on where to shop for the best merchandise (at the best prices) and what will look best in your space.
Address the Inner Workings/Structure
Unfortunately, making these kind of improvements isn’t sexy. They aren’t elements you’re likely to show off to your friends and family. But updates to the electrical panel, replacing the roof, fixing cracks in the chimney, repairing soffits, fixing improperly draining rain gutters/downspouts, adding insulation, or replacing the hot water heater or furnace are all items you’ll probably have to address at some point. If you have any problems in these areas, don’t wait to get them fixed. An asphalt/shingle roof older than 20 years should be replaced and downspouts should be wide enough to handle the surface area of the roof.
Energy Saving Devices
Many municipalities will provide you with a rebate if you replace antiquated toilets, hot water heaters and other water-saving devices. The City of Denver offers rebates on efficient toilets, rotary/high efficiency sprinkler nozzles and smart irrigation controllers. You can also find rebates through energystart.gov on a variety of appliances including furnaces, A/C units, washing machines, water heaters, light bulbs and ductless mini-split heat pumps (perfect for heating/cooling specific rooms in your home).
The value Denver trees add to a home is more than you probably realize. According to a University of Washington newsletter, the presence of large street trees or yard trees, coniferous or deciduous, can add from 3% to 15% to home values. That is significant, especially since Denver was more or less devoid of trees prior to 1900. Nurturing trees and other vegetation around your home is both appealing to potential buyers and makes living in your home more private and aesthetically pleasing. Regardless of the size of your lots, trees help screen your home from neighbors and street noise, and provide wonderful curb appeal.
Water Filtration System
I never knew I could become a water snob until I moved into my house. The previous residents installed the penultimate filtration system for the home. Not just a water softener, mind you, but a triple-step process that creates soft water for the entire house and incredible drinking water. There are double filters on the water line leading into a water softener. In addition, a kitchen sink has a dedicated drinking water faucet which is attached to a reverse osmosis unit under the sink. Once you taste this water, you’ll never drink bottled water again. The water is free of contaminants and pollutants, creating a crisp, clean taste. Remember to change the filters once a year.
Update Window Coverings
Does your home have dated drapes or curtains? Are you still pulling that shade down? It’s probably time to enter into the 21st century and look at the huge selection of window coverings that are available on the market. There are tons of colors, fabrics and styles from which to choose. From timeless plantation shutters to dramatic solar shades, new window coverings can turn your drab home into an artistic display.
Less is Better
Declutter has become a popular catch phrase over the last couple of years. You don’t have to become a minimalist but it is healthy to clean up your space and re-evaluate what you really need in your life. By cleaning out your cave, you can maximize the square footage of your house, regardless of whether you’re in an 800 square foot bungalow or an 8,000 square foot mansion.
This is a money room, meaning people want good looking bathrooms. Best of all, you don’t have to bust the bank to make some meaningful improvements. You can find great deals on beautiful tile, pre-constructed vanities and lighting. Even if you don’t make structural or hardware changes, you can spruce things up with a fresh coat of paint, a new rug and fluffy towels.
In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, ceiling fans are a tremendous way of keeping air flowing in your home and distributing both hot and cold air to where it needs to go. Having a soft breeze in the summer can transform your living room into a pleasant escape from the heat. Most newer ceiling fans have remote controls so you can adjust the speed of the fan and alter the movement of the blades for the different seasons (clockwise winter, counter clockwise summer).
Believe it or not, I had to buy a dehumidifier for my home here in dry climate Colorado. I live in a house surrounded by huge trees, a big lawn and other vegetation that creates a canopy effect. Days when we get rain, the humidity levels can top 45%. Invest in a humidity gauge to find out what your humidity levels are. Conversely, having a humidifier in your home during those dry days of winter is imperative to keep your skin from cracking, and your furniture happy.
Everyone loves the ‘wow’ factor of a kitchen. From granite or quartz countertops to stainless steel appliance to impact lighting, this is the room that often defines your home. It’s where your friends and family want to gather so make it stand out. Low budget improvements include new paint, under cabinet lighting or a stylish overhead fixture, refacing the cabinets and adding a new farmhouse sink. If you’re interested in more bang for your buck, consider replacing old appliances, opting for new surfaces and new flooring. A kitchen designer can be extremely handy when determining what route to take with any improvements or additions.
There is still a place for carpeting in today’s home but to create a truly clean and sleek look in your house, consider hardwood floors. There are so many options now: from laminates to traditional hardwood red oak to engineered Brazilian cherry. I recently replaced the ratty carpeting in my bedroom with red oak hardwood flooring and it transformed the room. I opted to used water-based polyurethane finish as opposed to oil-based, and I’m thrilled with the look. With dogs and kids under the roof, I didn’t have time to wait several days for the oil-based treatment to dry.
Fix the Dings
It’s easy to get used to all those little blemishes and dings on the walls, electrical sockets that don’t work, squeaking cabinets and doors, chipped paint and caulking needs around windows and tile. Get the small stuff fixed before it turns into big problems. It’s a good idea to go room by room and jot down the items that aren’t working or need fixing. If your DIY skills are non-existant, there are many handymen out there who can probably take care of the punch list in a day. You’ll love your home a lot more when these minor issues are addressed and corrected.
Front Door (Curb Appeal)
People often forget about the entrance to their home. From the sidewalk or driveway to your front door, you want to set the tone for how you feel about your property. Fixing the cracks on the surfaces leading to your door, replacing broken pavers or chipped flagstone, repairing sections of the sidewalk and maybe even adding a new front door are great ways to enhance the curb appeal of your home. And don’t forget to beautify the entrance with flowers, plants and other vegetation.
Upgrade the Closets
There’s no reason your storage areas can’t have some pizazz. Whether it’s in your bedroom or hall, a well-designed closet is certain to make your life easier. Inserting shelves or drawers, in addition to a hanging clothes rods at the right height can help you on your way to being a better organized person. Plus, you’ll end up with more storage and less wasted space.
Bring in the Light
If you have the budget, installing skylights or sun tunnels can turn a dark room or hallway into a bright and inviting area. You’ll actually save energy with the installation and get a federal tax credit in the process. You can get fixed, electric and even solar powered skylights. A handy remote control device can open and close individual openings or all of them at once. You can even have blinds installed to keep out the heat on hot days. Bring fresh air in and lower your electric bill by letting the sun into your home.
(Editor's note: This blog was originally published in September of 2018. It has been updated and edited to provide current information).