Top 5 Upgrades to Help Your Listings Sell Faster


June 4, 2019

Our school holds both South Jersey real estate license courses AND real estate seminars for existing Realtors®. And while the focus on the former is how to pass the NJ real estate licensing exam, once they get their license, they are faced with a challenge: How can I offer my clients the advice they expect from a real estate professional?

So, when you are invited to assist a client who wants to sell their home, you should be able to provide guidance on how they can make improvements that will make it stand out and be attractive to potential buyers.

Upgrades don’t need to break the bank

When one hears the words “upgrades,” the image of having to spend thousands of dollars is bound to cause looks of panic on your seller’s face.

It need not be so!

Some of the most obvious—and free—ways to improve how a home shows cost nothing:

  • Tidy up the front yard. Keep the lawn cut short and the gardens weeded. Remember the adage: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. I have literally had buyers select a house to see, I have made an appointment to do so, and when we pulled up to the home they have told me to drive away when they see the appearance from the driveway.
  • Declutter the home. Remove stacks of magazines and newspapers.
  • Having numerous photographs of your family, and your kids’ 10 swimming plaques from 5 years ago that cover every wall prevents the buyer from imagining it as “their” home.
  • Thin out your closets. Buyers will look in your closets, and if your clothes are jammed in, it conveys the impression to them that the closets are too small. Remove your out-of-season clothes to the attic, basement, or a storage unit so that your closets seem more spacious.

Other than these obvious tidying-up steps, which upgrades provide the best return on a home-seller’s investment?

  1. Bathrooms

A total bathroom remodel can be very expensive, but you can make a bathroom appealing without having to spend $20,000. If your tub and the tile surround are old or show signs of mold or staining, you can spend $7,000 to $12,000 replacing it, or for much less than a thousand dollars, you can have that pink tub and matching tile with moldy grout re-glazed in a sparkling white that makes everything look clean and new.

If your tub or shower has caulk that is broken, dirty, or blackened by age, spend less than $10 to buy a spray-on caulk remover such as Goo Gone to easily get rid of the horrible-looking old caulk, and then re-caulk so everything looks clean.

Speaking of clean, replace your shower curtain with a new one.

HGTV claims that simple upgrades like these will return more than 100% of your investment when you sell your home. A buyer who likes a house except for the dirty or dated bathroom is likely to offer thousands of dollars less when they figure the cost of having to make the upgrades themselves.

  1. Kitchens

Few rooms make—or kill—a decision purchase more than the kitchen. Like the bathroom, a complete kitchen rehab can easily cost $20,000 or more. But you can “tweak” your dated kitchen for a tiny percentage of that.

If you have laminate countertops, consider replacing them with granite. Granite is very inexpensive nowadays and you can find companies everywhere that are offering special discounts. Depending on the square footage of your countertops, you should be able to install shiny new granite counters—usually with a free kitchen sink—for $2,000 to $2,500.

Are your kitchen cabinets showing their age? Don’t bother spending thousands on new ones; get an estimate on having your existing cabinets refaced—for a fraction of the cost of new ones.

  1. Paint.

Few upgrades give a better aesthetic and financial return than new paint. New paint also goes a long way to cover up odors that exist as a result of smoking or pets in the house.

Try a bold, bright color for the front door. Inside, there is nothing wrong with white or off-white, but bring back from your paint store some color charts and consider a color that adds a little pleasant character to the rooms. Just stay away from dark colors, such as dark red or black or colors such as yellow that almost require one to use sunglasses when entering the room!

You can easily get more than a 100% return on your investment of paint, especially if you do the work yourself.

  1. Dress up the deck, porch or patio.

Before putting the house on the market, powerwash the path to the front door and the deck, patio, and porch. Remove cobwebs or leaves that have accumulated there. Place a couple of accent pieces, such as planters with bright flowering plants that you keep weeded and dead-headed. Another nice touch is to add a couple of chairs. Get rid of those dirty, faded cushions that have been there for years and replace them with cheerful bright new cushions that you can pick up for under $20 each.

These simple treatments will allow you to convey the image of relaxing outside on a sunny day to potential buyers.

  1. Windows.

Make sure you have the windows cleaned before putting the home on the market.

Few things create more concern with buyers than the discovery that an older home has original windows. Barely a week goes by without envelopes arriving in the mail with coupons offering discounts from replacement window companies. Many of them even offer no-interest financing, which means you might not have an actual cash outlay until you have sold the home. But if you negotiate the replacement of the windows for, say, $8,000, if you don’t replace the old windows, a buyer will mentally note that they will have to bear that cost and could easily deduct $15,000 from their offer price to account for the expense.

Establish yourself as a client resource

The ink may still be wet on your New Jersey real estate license, but you can still be a valuable resource to potential clients wanting to sell their home. Our real estate school has seminars that help Realtors® become more successful, but why don’t you follow our example? Why not use your broker’s conference or training room to stage a “Top Tips on How to Prepare Your Home for Sale” seminar? Your cost could be as little as some coffee and donuts, and maybe some social media boosts and every attendee would be a potential seller client for you.

Good luck!

David C. Forward is a licensed real estate broker and instructor and was first licensed as a Realtor® 31 years ago. During his career, David and his business partner sold more than 450 homes in South Jersey.  He is now School Director of Garden Real Estate Academy, has won numerous awards for real estate sales, is a much-requested public speaker who has addressed audiences on six continents and is the author of 14 books. David can be reached at

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