Dream Kitchen Draws in Buyers

The kitchen is the heart of the house, and home buyers will be looking at its style and layout when house hunting. You want to be sure that your kitchen is looking its best and this means being current and on-trend. An updated kitchen can help your home sell faster and for a potentially higher sale price.

Whether your kitchen needs a renovation prior to putting it on the market or you just want to give it a small refresh, here are some kitchen trend ideas that will help your house stand out.

Kitchen Backsplash Trends

Hexagon Tiles

If you’re selecting a new backsplash tile, consider a hexagon shape. This shape is trending in a big way for everything from large tiles for floors to smaller tiles for shower pans. Hexagons can get a little busy, so be sure to select a simpler color scheme to keep it from being overwhelming in your space. The hexagon itself should serve as the pattern instead of getting an intricate design on the tile.

Stacked Squares

If you want a more traditional tile look, go for a square tile. Hang it in a grid style so the edges line up vertically and horizontally. This is a trendier layout than the offset or brick patterns that were more popular in the past few years. Be careful if you’re doing this DIY because it can be easy to get off the pattern. Make sure you have a straight edge you’re working off of.

Kitchen Cabinet Trends

Wood Finishes

While white cabinets will never go out of style, wood tones are really trending right now. Wood cabinets are tricky because wood tones so frequently go in and out of style. However, if you are planning to sell your home soon and need to replace the cabinets, you can focus on the wood tones that are really trending right now. For 2021, very light, almost natural-looking wood is the trendiest tone.

Pop Of Color

Painting your cabinets is a great way to update your kitchen without spending a ton of money. Colored cabinets – especially lower cabinets – are still trending hard. While a lot of bold, earthy tones are trending, your safest bets for selling your home quickly would be a charcoal gray, a deep, muted navy, or a deep forest green. Make sure that the color coordinates with both your flooring and countertops for the best look.

Kitchen Faucet Trends

Brushed bronze

Brushed bronze hardware is really having a moment. If you like warm-toned metals, this is a great option. However, it’s not the gold tones of the ’90s – be sure that you go with a matte finish to keep this look current. Angled and flat-edge faucets look much more modern as well compared to the intricate designs of the ’90s.

Black Matte Metals

Whether you go for a modern or rustic look, a black matte finish is both dramatic and trendy. Be sure to select a pull-down style faucet to complete the modern look. If you select a black faucet, try to add black accents in at least two other places in your kitchen, whether in the hardware on your cabinets, light fixtures, or other accessories.

Kitchen Storage Ideas

Open Shelving

Open shelving has been trending for a while, and for a good reason: it instantly makes a kitchen feel more light, open, and airy. If your space doesn’t have much storage, consider if there is a spot where you might add a floating shelf or two. Open shelving along the side of a cabinet or near a window are popular options. If you have plenty of upper cabinets, consider taking one or two down – especially near the sink or in a corner – and replacing them with stacked open shelving. When deciding on open shelving, plan to use that space to display your nicer, less-used items since they will be in full view for everyone.

Organized Pantries

Real estate photographers don’t often shoot pantries, but that might be changing. Thanks to the “Get Organized With The Home Edit” show on Netflix, people are obsessed with beautifully organized pantries. Prior to listing your home for sale, take an afternoon to purge and clean out your pantry. Donate or dispose of anything unwanted. Replace food in color-coordinated bins and baskets for a magazine-worthy look. You don’t need to spend anything or much for this project, but it can definitely excite potential buyers! If a buyer sees that you’ve taken the time to replace the wire shelving, they know you have cared for the home.

Kitchen Lighting Trends

Statement Lighting

In the past, it was common to put small, flush mount lighting in the kitchen. Now, it’s popular to add large, statement lighting. As kitchens have become more open and more of the center of a home, you want to treat them like the centerpiece that they are. Whether it’s an oversized lantern, an eight-armed modern chandelier, or even a large drum shade, statement lighting is a way to make a kitchen feel really special.

Pendant Lighting

If you have an island or a peninsula, consider adding pendant lighting overhead. Pendants draw attention to your island as a focal point without overwhelming it. The wires or downrods also help draw the eye upward, making the space seem bigger. In general, you want to have a pendant every 30 inches. Select a metal tone that coordinates with your cabinet hardware or an accent color to match the accessories in your space.

The Bottom Line

Preparing your home to sell can be a stressful experience. While full kitchen renovations typically provide only a 60% return on investment, minor renovations recoup an average of 80% of their costs. Keep these numbers in mind when deciding which kitchen trends to strive for – and which to skip.

Get more home inspiration on the ForSaleByOwner blog.


10+ Winter Plants That Survive And Thrive In The Cold

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your home exterior needs to be, too. Create a warm and inviting look by using winter plants among your other holiday decorations. A quick trip to the nursery will save you staging time and effort, especially if you plan on selling your own home. First impressions mean a lot, so whether you’re looking to sell, renovate or just give your property a quick facelift, winter plants and flowers are a smart way to go.


Use the list below to jump to the topic that interests you the most:


How To Protect Plants In Winter

winter plant care tips

As a rule, it’s crucial that you research the needs of the individual plants and flowers you pick beforehand. The fact of the matter is that not all plants can survive a harsh winter. Depending on the climate you live in and the specific plant type, it’s care requirements will change – use tools like Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder for care specifics. 

It’s also important to note the classification of your plant. According to, plants can be classified as annual, biennial, or perennial. Annuals live for one growing season, biennials live for two growing seasons, and perennials live for two years. This has a large effect on the care they’ll need. Below you’ll see some basic tactics used to protect plants from chilly weather.

  • Take some indoors: Certain plants are just not built to survive winter and must be taken in for shelter. Some varieties require that their bulbs be dug up and removed for winter.
  • Insulate perennials: Some plants will simply require a couple of inches of mulch to protect their root systems 
  • Adequate watering: Water trees and shrubs generously (about two times as much) before the first frost when the ground freezes over. This ensures they have enough water to get them through the winter, and the frozen ice layer acts as insulation. If you don’t experience a seasonal freeze, plants will require considerably less water once the weather is colder.


10 Colorful Plants That Survive Winter 

Even though most plants and flowers do best in the warmer months, there are many that survive and thrive in freezing temperatures. The best way to tell if a plant can handle winter is by its “hardiness zone” rating, which is based on an area’s climate in its relation to supporting plant growth.

Different zones can support different types of plants depending on if they’re built for colder or warmer climates. If their zone falls within the hardiness zone where you live, you should be good to go as long as you treat the plant with proper care.

Looking for some cold weather garden and front yard inspiration? We’ve got you covered with the visual below. It explores 10 different colorful plants and flowers, their hardiness ratings, when they bloom as well as what makes them special. 

See a condensed visual here and more detail in the copy below:

button to Download winter plant guide


1. Snowdrop (Galanthus Nivalis)

photo of snowdrop flowers in the snow

With a name like “Snowdrop,” it’s no wonder these plants are a great winter garden option. They are able to survive in zones as low as 3, or -40°F (-40°C). Depending on where you live, you can expect to see blooms as early as February. It’s important to note that these plants are poisonous to humans, dogs and cats, so plant with care if you have little ones or critters around.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 7
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Mid-winter
  • Great for: Walking paths 


2. Helleborus (Helleborus Orientalis)

photo of a helleborus

Helleborus flowers are no strangers to some frost and snow – they typically bloom in late winter and are about 1 foot tall. The petals come in a variety of colors from white to pink to purple, contrasted against vibrant yellow stamen. These flowers are not only hardy to inclement weather, they are also pollution- and deer-resistant.

  • Hardiness Zone: 4 – 8
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Part shade to full shade
  • Blooms in: Late winter/early spring
  • Great for: Ground cover


3. Camellia (Camellia Japonica)

photo of camellias

These colorful beauties bloom on branches that grow to about 7 – 12 feet tall, perfect for hedges. Depending on your region, you can count on blooms anywhere from December to March. They require a little more attention than some other varieties as they are susceptible to some fungal diseases and pests like aphids, mites and mealybugs.

  • Hardiness Zone: 7 – 9
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Sun: Part Shade
  • Blooms in: Winter
  • Great for: Hedges


4. Mountain Fire (Pieris Japonica)

photo of mountain fire

Mountain Fire feels very festive with green and red leaves. when it blooms in late winter/early spring, it produces white flower buds. These deer-resistant plants do best in rich, slightly acidic soil. When mature, they can reach heights up to 12 feet but earlier on they are usually 4 – 8 feet. Also called “Japanese pieris,” they are especially fitting in a predominantly Japanese garden. 

  • Hardiness Zone: 5 – 8
  • Maintenance: High
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Late winter/early spring
  • Great for: Borders and fences


5. Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)

photo of winterberries

A classic winter plant, the vibrant winterberry is a no-brainer for your cold-climate garden collection. These resilient plants survive well in wet, eroded or clay soil. They grow somewhat slowly and usually fall in the range of 3 – 12 feet tall. As a bonus, these trees attract birds and will surely provide a beautiful bird-watching spot when the weather gets warmer.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Fall/winter
  • Great for: Rainy climates


6. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana)

photo of witch hazel

Witch hazel is hailed as a skincare solution and medicinal powerhouse, but these plants also make a great winter garden addition. Give your space a vibrant pop as these plants bloom in late fall into early winter. Due to their deer-resistance and tall height, 15 – 20 feet, they make great garden borders. When the weather warms up, witch hazel also attracts birds.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 8
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Fall/winter
  • Great for: Medicinal uses


7. Winter Jasmine (Jasminum Nudiflorum)

photo of winter jasmine

These yellow stunners are native to Northern China and can survive temperatures as low as -10°F (-23.3°C). Throughout the cold months, winter jasmine boasts pretty green vines and in mid- to late-winter, their pretty blooms appear. Their malleable 10 – 15-foot vines are great for sloping ground and to train on wall trellises.

  • Hardiness Zone: 6 – 10
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Mid-winter/early spring
  • Great for: Wall trellises


8. Sester Dwarf (Picea Pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’)

photo of a sester dwarf

Sester dwarfs are extremely similar to the massive evergreen trees you’d expect to find in the Rocky Mountains, only these are only about 3 – 5 feet tall. Their height combined with their thick, sturdy spread of needles make them great for hedges. Also, this spruce variety is deer-, rabbit- and drought-resistant. Try dressing these shrubs up with lights for a festive touch.

  • Hardiness Zone: 2 – 7
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Blooms in: Non-flowering
  • Great for: Shrubs


9. Pansy (Viola × Wittrockiana)

photo of a pansy in the snow

Pansies come in a great variety of colors ranging from blue, purple, pink and red to yellow, coral and white. These deer-resistant blooms can survive in temperatures as low as -10°F (-23.3°C). When the cold weather melts away, they are great for attracting butterflies to your garden. Their smaller size (no taller than 8 inches) makes them ideal for container gardening, bedding and window boxes. 

  • Hardiness Zone: 6 – 10
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Blooms in: Fall
  • Great for: Containers 


10. Algerian Iris (Iris Unguicularis)

photo of an Algerian iris

Algerian Iris are also known as “Winter Iris” and can survive in temperatures as low as 0°F (-17.8°C). The stunning blooms come in a deep purple and are drought-, deer- and rabbit-resistant. They grow to be about 2 feet tall, which makes them ideal for pathways and flowerbed borders. This is another variety that does well in loamy, chalky, or clay-rich soil.

  • Hardiness Zone: 7–9
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Late fall–spring
  • Great for: Bed borders


Winter Plants Perfect For Curb Appeal And Staging

Just because you’re spending more time inside doesn’t mean you should neglect the exterior of your space, especially if you are trying to sell your home. The holidays are a special time of year for most buyers. Help them envision themselves in your home by including elegant and seasonal winter touches. 

Not only is winter curb appeal a great way to tie your home’s interior and exterior together, it’s also a great way to increase offers on your home. First impressions mean a lot, so remember that your front exterior is the first thing potential buyers will see.

10 Additional Winter Plants 

Below is a list of plants that are perfect for winter staging:

    • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
    • Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
    • Catmint (Nepeta)
    • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
    • Kaffir lily (Schizostylis coccinea)
    • American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)
    • Coneflower (Echinacea)
    • Siberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata)
    • Sunset Kale (Brassica oleracea)
    • Honeywort (Cerinthe)

Pro Tip: If you don’t have the resources to fully landscape, focus on your front door and porch area. Add potted plants and portable topiaries to increase your curb appeal on a budget.


How to Style Colorful Winter Flowers and Plants

When staging your exterior, it’s important to keep general staging tactics in mind:

      • Mass-appeal: Make sure your space appeals to a wide range of buyers.
      • Show off: Highlight the best features of your property.
      • Color choices: Neutral colors are preferred by most buyers, but don’t forget to add in pops of color and pattern in the decor.
      • Cohesiveness: The whole property should have a unified look that goes along with the architecture of your home and the area you live in.

With these basic staging ideas in mind, here are some tips for styling winter plants and flowers on the exterior of your home:

    1. Frame your entrance: This can be done by using topiaries, garlands or even lights.
    2. Accessorize your door: After giving your door a fresh coat of paint, adorn it with an elegant and seasonal wreath. 
    3. Complement existing decor: Try adding potted plants or window boxes to the setting.
    4. Replace delicate flora: Remove plants that can’t withstand the cold and replace with hardier ones.
    5. Landscaping upkeep: It’s crucial that you tend to your landscaping as well as plowing the pathways to your house. 
    6. Consider snow cover: Some plants will look great year-round and will be especially pretty with snow cover. Keep this in mind when landscaping. The hardy plants you pick must be taller than your average snowfall so they aren’t buried.

Pro Tip: In your online listing, include pictures of your property’s exterior from all different seasons. This makes it easier for buyers to envision their life there year-round.


Tie It All Together: Seasonal Botanical Prints

Photo of two winter plant botanical prints on the wall, namely a spruce print and a winterberry print

A great way to tie your exterior into your interior and give your home a fresh feel is by including touches of plants and flowers indoors. Aside from adding evergreen garland and colorful holiday plants, another fun nod to the outdoors is using a fun and seasonal print. Use this simple and elegant prints below to spruce up your interior this winter.

button to Download botanical prints

It’s easy to shake off the winter blues and increase buyer interest with simple touches of greenery and seasonal flowers. Many people don’t see winter as the ideal time to sell. Turn that idea on its head by leaning on the nostalgia and love that surrounds the holiday season. 

There are many buyers still searching for homes in the colder months, so take advantage of the decreased competition and make your place stand out. You will have great success in selling your home if you are able to create a lively atmosphere that helps buyers imagine hosting their family for years to come.



“Reality TV” vs. Reality: How The “Highlight Reel” View of Life is Impacting Your Perceptions

Perception versus reality is a tricky thing. It’s easy to get caught up in a fantasy world and lose track of what’s real and what’s not. Whether it’s a perfect career, an ideal partner or your dream home, we tend to build up ideas in our head only to realize the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Reality television is a perfect example of people manipulating what’s real for the sake of entertainment.

Why We Should be Critical of “Reality” Media

From the Real Housewives of who knows where, to the Kardashians, to various house flipping shows, there is an excess of reality television almost everywhere you look. And oftentimes, there’s nothing real about these shows at all. Some series own up to their fabricated , while others continue to push a narrative that’s just plain fake.

Some of the biggest culprits of this are house flipping shows. They make it seem simple to find an abandoned home, get an investor to buy it and convert it into a stunning, modern palace that most of us would be honored to call home.

Real estate investor Engelo Rumora offers this piece of advice to those considering quitting their day job to try and get rich quick by flipping houses: “replace those rose-tinted glasses with real ones.”

He says that most reality TV flipping shows “make the average viewer think that they too could invest just a little money, turn a house around and sell it for sky-high profits. These shows often make the investors look like knights in shining armor, but those who’ve worked in real estate can tell you that most of the figures they show on TV are .”

According to Rumora, most of the numbers that viewers see are fabricated and created only for the show. He says, “They don’t take many costs into account. Things like fees, holding costs, commissions, closing costs, etc. are all left out.”

House Flipping on Social Media

Many times, social media paints a picture of someone living a fantasy life, filled with beaches, champagne and delectable food. But other times, social media is where people show their true selves and their daily challenges.

For example, on television you may watch an hour-long show where massive renovations take about two or three minutes of airtime. But if you follow someone on social media who’s actually going through a huge construction project, you’ll see all the dirt, grease and grind that goes into a home renovation. It’s no easy task, and timelines and budgets oftentimes go above and beyond initial estimates.

What Does Social Media Get Right?

If you want to get a real look at a home improvement project, check out home improvement bloggers who document their renovations from beginning to end on their websites and social media accounts. Bloggers tend to share more of the nitty gritty details of what went into a project and how they were able to handle any unexpected roadblocks. Plus, they may even spark some inspiration for your next home project!

What Does Social Media Get Wrong?

While bloggers can help give you a realistic view into the world of home construction, other influencers may use social media to exaggerate how well things are going.

Whether it’s showing a real estate investment project going off without a hitch or a home renovation where construction was ahead of schedule and under budget, many people tend to embellish on social media to make things appear better than they are. And hey, it’s easy to make everything look perfect on social media, after all, no one forces you to post any of the bad stuff.

It comes down to what we touched on earlier, perception vs. reality.  That’s why it’s so important to not compare your life, job, home remodeling project, or anything to anyone else. It’s impossible to truly know what their reality is.

House Flipping on TV

More and more people are interested in turning “trash” into treasure, and who can blame them? The problem is that many times the challenges house flippers face aren’t given nearly the same amount of airtime as the finished product, meaning many folks don’t know what truly goes into a major renovation.

What Does Reality TV Get Right?

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think reality TV and social media is all bad. Enthusiasm for flipping homes is surging, with more than 200,000 Americans flipping homes in 2017 alone — an 11-year high!

“There are definitely more people interested in flipping because they watch these shows on HGTV,” Elizabeth Kee, associate broker for CORE real estate tells the New York Times. She says she frequently fields calls from people with no real estate experience who have a newfound interest in investing in homes to flip.

And while house flipping shows do face some criticism from real estate experts, they do show some of the real issues buyers deal with. For example, many of the shows will document the hassle of getting building permits, as well as how to handle foundational problems and even tackling asbestos infestations.

What Does Reality TV Get Wrong?

What’s unrealistic about house flipping TV shows is how quickly such problems are handled, setting impractical expectations for home buyers and real estate investors who find themselves in similar situations. For example, shows like “House Hunters,” “Fixer Upper” and “Property Brothers” follow couples on their home buying journey while showing the ups and downs of their experience. But, that’s about as real as it gets.

Bobi Jensen, who appeared on “House Hunters” tells Kiplinger that things weren’t always exactly as they seemed on TV. In fact, she says producers told her they typically choose couples who’ve already closed on a property, even though the show centers around people supposedly searching for their next home.

“I wasn’t thinking this is something that’s going to be seen by other people as my real life. It wasn’t until I actually watched the episode . . . that I realized I was preaching to the world about the necessity of more space when I hadn’t even lived that way myself.”

Patrick Hurst, owner of Hurst Design-Building-Remodeling, tells a similar story. His company appeared on “House Crashers,” which aired on the DIY Network. The show searched for homeowners at home improvement stores and then followed them back home to complete a renovation project on the spot. “When you see a large project get finished quickly on television, what you don’t see is all the scrambling that goes on behind the scenes to get the job done on time,” Hurst says. “On screen they show you three or five people working, but it’s really like 30 people in the background working.”

At the end of the day, those interested in flipping houses must do their research before jumping in. Following social media accounts and reality TV shows is just not enough to prepare yourself mentally, physically and financially.

How Perception Impacts Reality

The main concern with house flipping shows is they don’t truly show how long it takes to go house hunting, get through closing and all the hurdles in between. Perception may be that the entire process takes a couple of weeks, when in reality, it typically takes several months, at a minimum.

These shows tend to gloss over the fact that buyers first need to determine how much they can actually afford and understand their mortgage options. Not to mention tour dozens of homes before finding one that matches what they’re looking for, negotiate to get to a price that both the home buyer and seller agree upon, and did we forget to mention the mounds of paperwork? Yeah, somehow that gets skipped over in reality TV.

We don’t tell you all this to deter you from buying or selling a home, rather we want you to really understand and be prepared for everything that goes into the process, not just what’s as seen on TV!


Simple Staging Tips that Make Buyers’ Dreams Come True

Paula Ramos has no idea how she accumulated so many magazine pages, newspaper clippings and website printouts, but she can tell you that they no longer fit in one box.

Or two, for that matter.

In fact, Ramos’ collection of home decor ideas now fills three filing boxes stowed under the kitchen table in her Tampa, Florida, home. “I like to dream, as my husband says. I like to be ready to try something new and different, and all these clips come in handy when I’m feeling inspired,” says the 31-year-old occupational therapist. “One of these days, I’m going to build my dream house, and I’ll put ideas from a lot of these clips to good use.”

Until then, Ramos says she’s more than willing to tell others how to use their residential space, including buyers who have looked at the last two homes she and her husband have sold without an agent.

“One of the best things about not working with a real estate agent is you don’t have to necessarily play by their rules,” Ramos says. “I know all the conventional wisdom, and how sellers are told to downplay the cool things they’ve done with their space, or the cool things they want to do, but if I’m showing my house, I want to give my potential buyers some ideas. I want to see that spark in their eyes if I suggest something or show them a picture of something that might work.”

Ramos says she always asks the buyer a few questions before she schedules a showing. Nothing too intrusive, she adds, mostly just the basics. “I just ask how many people might be moving in, what their ages are, real baseline stuff,” Ramos says.

The answers to those questions give her a place to start when she begins showing those prospective buyers around. “It’s easy to get people to tell you how they’d like to use the house, or how they use the house or apartment they live in now,” she says. “When I walk into a den, I don’t say it’s a den to a family with small kids. I say it’s a game room or a playroom or a family room. Then I might show them a picture I cut out of a magazine and say, ‘If we had kids while we were here, I was planning on doing a chalkboard wall right here because there are no windows and it’s a great big open canvas.’

“All of a sudden, they see your house as their house, and that’s pretty much the goal.”

Ramos says her most successful selling suggestion occurred last year, when she and her husband sold their home in Sarasota before moving to Tampa. “Our house had a nice big garage that we used for our cars, but there are some people in Florida who use their garages as an extended living room,” she says. “I found these great photos of man caves online and basically laid out how our garage could be a great place for the man of the house to hang out with his friends.”

The buyers agreed, adding a portable air-conditioning unit, indoor-outdoor carpeting, a big-screen TV, a sound system, a leather couch, a few chairs and a poker table before they even moved in. “The guy was a retired cop from New York who wanted a place to watch Yankees games with his friends,” Ramos says. “It’s a perfect spot for him.”

Read more: Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff


Cracks in Your Foundation Can Derail a Home Sale

Erin Walton learned a lot selling four houses in the past 10 years — the first two with a real estate agent, the next two on her own — but the last sale taught her the most important lesson: Be honest with yourself.

Walton, a 41-year-old attorney in Iowa City, Iowa, says she had listed her home in Joliet, Illinois, far above its appraised price because she felt that it was undervalued. “It was a beautiful house,” she says. “Open space, lots of windows, very bright.”

And there was one more thing, but it wasn’t exactly something Walton bragged about in her home’s MLS listing or online ad: The house had serious foundation problems.

“There were some pretty major cracks and a little settling — maybe a lot of settling,” Walton says. “I knew it when I bought it but just asked for some money off instead of having the previous owners fix it. I guess I assumed it wouldn’t get much worse and that the next buyer would make me the same deal I made the previous owner.”

It didn’t turn out that way. In fact, two prospective buyers bailed at the last minute because they refused to budge on who had to fix the foundation. “They didn’t want money off,” Walton says. “They wanted it fixed. There was no compromise.”

Walton neglected to consider that the cost of repairing the foundation might have increased dramatically — and when she obtained an estimate, she learned it would run $10,000 to $15,000. What was she offering the potential buyers?

“Well, that was probably part of the problem,” she says. “I offered them $5,000 off of their final offer. That’s what the previous owner offered me and I had been dumb enough to take it.”

Walton shouldn’t be so hard on herself. She has a receipt with an estimate for the foundation work from the previous owner for $5,500. “I should have taken care of it then,” she says. “The work doubled and tripled in price.”

After two strikes with potential buyers, Walton knew she had to take matters into her own hands. “I found a contractor who repaired my foundation for about $11,000, and he was gracious enough to take half the money up front and the other half after I sold the house,” she says, adding that the payment schedule was part of the contract and included a provision that the work had to be paid off regardless of a sale within 18 months.

Once confident that her home stood on terra firma, Walton told the first two prospective buyers that the foundation work had been completed, but both had already purchased new homes. One, however, told Walton about a friend looking for a house. Walton contacted the friend, set up a showing and had an offer within a week. Eight weeks later, the buyer closed on the house, Walton paid off her contractor and put a down payment on a house in Iowa City, where she had accepted a new job to be closer to her boyfriend.

“I got pretty lucky,” says Walton. “I could have sat on that house for a while — and knowing that I had lost two buyers would have killed me.”

Read more: 7 Tactics for Preparing to Negotiate

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Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff [Infographic]

Before you call the contractor (or pick up the hammer), find out which home repairs, renovations and remodels reap the most rewards.

Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff

To view, download and print Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff [Infographic] as a PDF.


Best and Worst Improvements If You Want to Sell Your Home

Home improvements are one of those aspects of real estate that can’t always be summed up solely with cold hard facts.

One benchmark for judging the best home improvements is the annual Cost vs. Value Report published by Remodeling magazine in cooperation with the National Association of Realtors for the past 16 years. The report, which can be downloaded free, compares 35 midrange and upscale improvements in 100 markets nationwide. The projects range from relatively inexpensive ones like replacing entry and garage doors to substantial investments like adding an attic bedroom or an entire second story.

5 Improvements that Provide the Most Resale Value:*

  • entry door replacement (96.6 percent)
  • deck addition (wood) (87.4 percent)
  • attic bedroom (84.3 percent)
  • garage door replacement (83.7 percent)
  • minor kitchen remodel (82.7 percent)

* Based on percentage of cost recouped nationwide according to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report

Home office remodeling returns the worst value at 48.9 percent, according to the Cost vs. Value Report. Other potentially poor choices are sunroom additions, bathroom additions, master suite additions and backup power generators, all of which yielded less than a 68 percent return on investment.

With window replacement so highly rated, another area to consider when investing in home improvements is energy efficiency. According to a new National Association of Home Builders Remodelers survey, high-performing, low-emissive windows proved to be the most common green building products used by residential remodelers.

“Remodeling can not only improve the overall layout and features of a home, but depending on the upgrades you choose, you can also save money on utilities, improve indoor air quality and strengthen the long-term value of your home,” says NAHB Remodelers Chair Paul Sullivan.

The home builders group says other popular green projects include high efficiency HVAC systems, programmable thermostats and Energy Star appliances.

Go Green to Get Green
The return on investment of green home features shouldn’t be underestimated. In Builder magazine, researcher Suzanne Shelton says that about 25 percent of the population has embraced the concept of more sustainable, efficient, healthier homes. “They see it not only as something good for them and their families, but as a way they can do their part to make the world (and) environment a bit better,” Shelton says. “They tend to be on the affluent side, and consistently tell us they would pay a price premium for a home with sustainable, efficient features.” Shelton estimates that a home with such features could yield a 5 percent to 10 percent price premium.

Although some projects can be expensive and extensive, careful attention to a home’s exterior curb appeal and its interior staging can pay off in many ways, not the least of which is in ensuring a great first impression for potential buyers.

Kitchen Aids
Minor kitchen upgrades provides one such good return on investment. Leslie Molloy, a Certified Kitchen Designer and residential designer at Normandy Remodeling in Hinsdale, Illinois, says that at an absolute minimum she recommends updating finishes, painting cabinets that are a less-than desirable color and adding new knobs and hinges. “That would be huge,” Molloy says.

Granite countertops are big, too, she says — but advises caution. “I’ve seen so many kitchens with new granite but dated cabinets and fixtures. People will pick up on the fact if you’ve done a half-hearted job.”

When considering home improvement projects, don’t forget to evaluate your kitchen appliances. If any are more than 20 years old, homeowners should consider replacing them. “Stainless is a way to convey modernity and quality,” Molloy says.

Making sure your kitchen impresses prospective buyers is extremely important. “People want to move into something that’s ready,” she says. In addition, with today’s buyer preference for open floor plans, buyers realize they’ll be “staring at that kitchen the whole time.”

The Power of Paint
In the kitchen and elsewhere, paint goes a long way, Molloy notes. Get rid of dark trim, and if, like so many homes built 25 years ago, yours has “oak everywhere,” whip out that paintbrush. “Paint oak railings, pine doors and wood trim (in a white tone). That will have a huge visual impact.”

Donna L. Stoutenburg of Artistic Endeavors 4 U, a staging and redesign company based in Streamwood, Illinois, agrees that small remodeling can have a big impact. She agrees with Molloy that painting is something sellers must address, especially if they have rooms — bedrooms are repeat offenders — with garish colors.

In such situations, prospective buyers see negative dollar signs. “They know they’re going to have to paint, and that one coat isn’t going to do it,” Stoutenburg says. Sellers should do the painting themselves, rather than risk having a buyer suggest a price reduction.

Neglecting to perform careful and cost-effective remodeling and staging can seriously derail your ability to market your home, she says. If a home remains on the market for a long time, incremental reductions demanded by a property that fails to ignite buyer interest can add up.

“We’re talking maybe $20,000 in a year’s time,” Stoutenburg says. “If (the sellers) had spent $2,000 in the beginning, they’d be out of there and in their new home.”

Read this: The repairs that improve FSBO home sales


The Top 5 Mistakes First-Time Real Estate Investors Make

Many novice real estate investors don’t know where to start when purchasing their first property. We reached out to Rick Sharga, executive vice president of, about his tips for avoiding common pitfalls.

As the market continues to recover, many people are starting to think again about real estate investing. Have you decided to dip your toe in the water? That’s great, but be aware that even though there are many good opportunities out there, real estate investing is a lot more complicated than other forms of investing.

Here are the top five mistakes I see novice investors make when they’re first starting out.

1. Lack of a strategy. Most first-time investors don’t have a good plan in place. They jump in because they saw someone on late-night cable television claiming that they can buy a house with somebody else’s money and flip it and become a billionaire. But there’s a big difference between buying a property at below-market value and being able to profit from buying a property at below-market value.

Before you do anything else, decide what type of investor you are based on what you want to do with the property. This will dictate the type of properties you look for — and where you look for them.

Are you trying to maximize the number of turns your money makes in a short amount of time? You’re probably a “buy-and sell” investor. Start by looking at what kind of properties are selling. What you don’t want to do is buy a fix-and-flip property that then sits on the market for nine months.

If your strategy is to buy a property and hold onto it for several years, make a certain amount of rental income and resell it as prices appreciate, you’re a “buy-and-hold” investor. Look for properties that don’t require a lot of repair because that determines what you can spend on the purchase in the first place. You want properties that will maximize your rental returns, namely, markets where rental occupancy rates are high.

Think about whether you want to manage the property yourself or hire a property manager. If it’s the former, that probably limits you to local properties. You don’t want to find yourself managing an apartment building in Detroit if you live in California.

No matter what type of investor you are, be willing to shift your strategy as the market changes to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Don’t get locked into a strategy that the market won’t support.

2. Overvaluing the asset. First-time investors almost invariably fall in love with a particular property and overpay for it. They don’t get good market data on what a property is actually worth.

Do your homework. Visit, or to research mortgage and refinancing rates., Zillow and Trulia can give you information about local market and price trends. If you’re thinking of investing in foreclosures or short sales, consult RealtyTrac, or

Consider working with a professional until you get a better idea of what you should be paying for a property relative to the state of the market. Find a local Realtor®, ideally one who specializes in distressed properties; many advertise their services on Zillow, Trulia and RealtyTrac. (Be sure to ask for references.) Another option is a local appraiser, who can give you a formal work-up on the value of a property.

3. Underestimating the cost of repairs. On the other side of the coin, first-time investors almost always underestimate what it’s going to cost to repair the property. The combination of overvaluing the property and underestimating the repairs can take you from a nice profit to a significant loss overnight.

Unless you’re a subcontractor or construction professional, hire someone to evaluate the property and give you a written estimate for what it would take to bring the property up to your standards.

Again, your strategy will dictate how much you’re willing to spend on renovations. If you’re looking for a fast turnaround, you might just want to clean the house out and put a new coat of paint on it. If you’re looking to hold the property and rent it — or if you’re planning to make it the nicest property in the neighborhood and increase your returns — that could take you to a completely different level of renovations.

4. Not having your financing in order. The wrong time to start figuring out your financing strategy is after you’ve agreed to buy something. If you’re buying on a site like, in most cases you have to buy with cash. Do you know that going in? Do you have cash ready? Do you have pre-approved financing lined up before you get started?

By the way, investors who need to finance a purchase are at a significant disadvantage in today’s market, where many buyers pay all cash. At a minimum, it’s important to be pre-qualified for a mortgage loan so that the seller knows you’re serious. CitiBank and Quicken have started to promote “pre-approval” loan programs; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have specific programs for investors.

5. Not thinking about property management. Most people underestimate the degree of complexity and the cost involved in managing properties. Do you have cash reserves if the tenant suddenly decides not to pay you for a couple of months? Do you have cash set aside in case the water heater breaks? Are you managing the property yourself, or are you paying a property manager to do it? Who gets the call at 2 a.m. when something goes wrong? If your answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” you’ll need to either hire a property manager or reconsider your strategy.

These five mistakes may seem obvious, but I’ve seen people make them time and time again in their rush to “buy a property cheap.” Do your homework. Think through your strategy and goals. It will pay off even before you bid on a property — and could save you a lot of money.

Rick Sharga is executive vice president at As one of the country’s most frequently quoted sources on foreclosure, mortgage and real estate trends, Rick has appeared on NBC Nightly News, CNN, CBS, ABC World News, CNBC, FOX and NPR. He has briefed government organizations such as the Federal Reserve and Senate Banking Committee and corporations like JPMorgan Chase, Citibank and Deutsche Bank on foreclosure trends, and done foreclosure training for leading real estate organizations, including Re/Max, Prudential and Keller Williams.

Questions for the author about real estate investing? Tweet @ricksharga for his insights.


No Need to Fear Home Improvements

Thinking of selling, but afraid your home looks a little like 1313 Mockingbird Lane, where the Munsters lived? It’s probably not that scary, but the last thing you want is for potential buyers to tour your house and get scared away by the amount of work they’d need to do to bring it into the 21st century. If you need to make any repairs before listing, consider getting the work nailed down now. 

Five reasons to tackle frightening home improvement projects this season:

  1. Save on labor. Fall through winter is a slower time of year for most contractors. Get on their schedule now before they get bogged down with a flurry of jobs that drive prices up in the spring. 
  2. Get a jump start on your competition. If you start planning and budgeting for home improvement projects now, you stand a better chance of being Open House ready for the spring selling season. 
  3. Lock in low interest rates on loans. If you’re considering a home equity loan or line of credit to make home renovations or repairs, you may never get a lower rate. 
  4. Prep your home for the holidays. Your family will have plenty of time to celebrate the holidays in your house stress-free if you complete home improvements in the fall. 
  5. Make yourself feel better. Winter can be a gloomy time of year. Giving your home a fresh look just might make the winter months more bearable. 

Not sure where to start, or what projects to plan for? A certified home pre-inspection is one way to assess what needs to be fixed before listing your home. It can also give you a leg up with buyers when they find out that your home has already been pre-inspected by a professional.

Tell us in the comments: What frightens you about home improvement projects?