Top four home improvements that bring the best return on investment in San Diego County.

return on investment home improvement tips

Were you thinking about moving? Are you starting the potentially costly work of upgrading your home with the thought of selling it?  

Some home upgrades improve your return on investment better than others. I did not even know where to start; you’ll want to get all the facts and consider your options carefully if you are like me. When in doubt, speak with a trusted Realtor. Of course, you’re not going to do anything unless it makes sense to you and your unique circumstances.  

Here are some ideas of the improvements you can make and their average costs so you can begin to think about making those upgrades or selling as-is. If you plan to sell FSBO-For sale by owner or as a traditional listing on the MLS-Multiple listing service with a Realtor, my goal is to get you some data that can quickly help you decide whether you should spend time and money on home improvements or sell your home as-is. See my article on selling as-is here.

Curb Appeal

Never underestimate the power of aesthetics and first impressions. Small things can make a big difference, from changing the light fixture on the front porch to changing the doorbell and buying a new front door welcome mat. What’s lovely flooring, a great kitchen, and bathrooms worth if the outside looks terrible?

Cut the grass and hedges, keep your landscaping maintained, and clear your walkway.  

A poorly-kept exterior can make buyers worry about what they will likely encounter once they walk thru the front door. I always tell prospective buyers when we are touring properties, “If we pull up outside and you’re not feeling it, just say so, and we’ll move on to the next house to preview.”

Paint and landscaping are essential. If the front door is wood, get out the wood oil and clean it up. If there is a screen door, be sure the screen is flawless. If there are cobwebs on the exterior or interior close to the front door, be sure to clean those up. Consider repainting the front door a bright, cheerful color.  

Replacing the front door brings on average a 70% return on investment.

Consider matching siding or trim with front door color or garage door color. We did two other upgrades this past year: redo the front of the house with a manufactured stone veneer, average cost of $10k. Consider upgrading your garage door and door opener motor to average $4k. Ensure that the lawn looks healthy and watered, or relandscape the front yard for drought resistance and water conservation, average cost $15k.

Upgrade the Kitchen average cost $26K

Lots of time is spent in the kitchen and dining room. A kitchen renovation is seen as the most return on investment you can make. Increase your resale value and thrill home buyers with even minor kitchen upgrades. As a realtor, I always encourage Sellers to invest in a new refrigerator and replace the stovetop. You’d be amazed at how many folks walk right to the kitchen and open the refrigerator and freezer doors first thing. When I recently sold my parents’ home, their appliances were new, so I had them clean up the crew to make sure everything was spotless, and no crumbs were left.

The same is true with the cupboards. Remove old shelf liners with new ones. 

Buyers prefer lighter colors, so we recommend white cabinets with light countertops. White or light-colored quartz countertops are a fantastic option for price and durability. It is very modern, sleek, and neutral so that the color won’t offend anybody. Prospective buyers can design their kitchen around neutral whites and greys.

If you need to replace the appliances, energy-efficient appliances will likely be a bonus. Black appliances may cost the same as white or neutral-colored appliances but have a higher perceived value. I don’t like to mix and match Stainless steel with color appliances.

At a specific price point, an ultra-fancy kitchen is a must. Most homes don’t need that. Bottom line, a nice clean large kitchen is key to getting top dollar for your home. 

Install New Flooring

Experience shows, Buyers love seamless floors. When I say seamless, I’m talking about one flooring type throughout the entire house makes the home flow and feels more extensive and open. Clean floors help potential buyers to feel relaxed and at home. I recommend staying with lighter, neutral or natural colors, giving a warm brighter feeling.

The best option in most scenarios is either hardwood floors, new generation laminate flooring. If you pay for the labor to install new flooring, you can find new generation laminates for similar carpeting costs. However, you get a more affluent, higher perceived value from laminates.

Outlet stores often carry basic hardwood options, luxury vinyl planks, or bamboo flooring at reasonable prices, which is my personal favorite. Home flippers use a crushed vinyl resin flooring that is super inexpensive, durable, and waterproof.

Quick Updates may be just the thing.

Small interior and exterior updates can impact buyers’ impression of your property, creating a return on investment from even minor home improvements, especially if you don’t have time for major renovations. Consider hiring a home decorator and landscaper to give you a consultation and a fresh set of eyes on both the exterior and interior of your home:

  • Smart home features. Energy-efficient or intelligent thermostats or other smart-home technology give a home a more energy-efficient profile. Remote access monitoring and environmental controls have a tremendous perceived value because they are convenient.
  • Update lighting fixtures. Replace outdated lighting fixtures over the dining room table, and recessed lighting throughout the house can inexpensively update a home’s appearance.
  • Change the locks. A numerical keypad can impress buyers make showing the house much less complex. When selling my grandparents’ home in another city, I efficiently managed previews with a numerical keypad.
  • Countertop upgrade in the bathroom.  If you’ve upgraded the countertops in the kitchen, it makes good sense to do the same in the bathroom. One feature that can put you over the top in the master bathroom is the addition of dual sinks. Master bathroom matching sinks can bring a huge wow factor and keep your home top of mind with potential buyers.
  • Add a feature wall.  In contrast, it’s super easy and inexpensive to paint one or two walls with darker contrasting colors juxtaposed to an off-white color; it makes an impact. For example, when showing a Buyer couple several different homes in one day, the one they remember had a feature wall.
  • Remove popcorn ceilings.  Popcorn ceilings can be a health hazard and are seen as a thing of the past. We had ours redone 15 years ago and recessed lighting at the same time. Personally, it’s one of the best investments I have ever made. Modern families want a clean and updated-looking home. Some companies specialize in popcorn ceiling removal. Typically it’s a two-day process.
  • Add double-paned windows and doors. Replacing your windows with dual-paned Energy Star-approved windows can also boost the value of your home, make it quieter, and save as much as $800 in energy costs annually. Average price $20k.

Call or Text Kevin McClenahan – Local Realtor and Relocation Specialist at 858.284.7778.  If it’s after-hours email me at and let’s talk about what your goals are in making a move in San Diego.  Remember, one in ten families move every year, give a call and lets discuss your options.

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