Home improvements that are worth the money

Living Well | Cathy Anderson | Posted on 05 February 2020

Renovating your home? These are the improvements that are worth the money.

When renovating a home, most of us are working to a budget so it’s important to think about where best to spend your money. Maybe you want a pool or an outdoor kitchen to help build lasting memories with family or friends. That’s fine, but it’s also important to consider what improvements will give you the best return on investment, if you decide to sell at some time in the future. (Plus, the eight home DIY jobs you should never attempt.)

Wide shot of modern kitchen with grey cabinetry and large island bench

Kitchen and bathroom upgrades are well worth their hefty price tags. Picture: Kinsman Kitchens, via Facebook.

There are simple ways to improve your home’s allure, from a lick of paint to a fully renovated kitchen. But not all home improvements are created equal. There are some you should consider carefully, according to Melbourne-based buyers’ advocate Nicole Jacobs. She’s the author of SOLD! How to Buy and Sell Your Home With Real Confidence, but you may recognise her from TV renovation show The Block.

“While you want to spend time and money on creating your home to live in, it can be done wisely with future planning of a sale too,” she says. “It really comes down to what is the price point of the home. What buyers expect and what they will pay for in a $500,000 apartment will be very different to a home worth more than $2 million.”

Lachlan Bishop, sales executive with West Footscray real estate agency Compton Green, agrees it’s important to consider your spending carefully if you’re planning to sell.

“You obviously don’t want to over-capitalise by spending too much on major improvements that buyers might not want,” he says.

Here, Nicole and Lachlan nominate five home improvements that are worth the money, and five that aren’t.

Tiler laying subway tiles on wall

Bathroom renovations are worth the investment.

Interior home living room with built-in fireplace

Floor future buyers with beautiful timber flooring.

Roller of white paint on wall

A fresh coat of paint is always a good idea.

Five home improvements that are worth the investment (and five that aren’t)

1. Painting

This is a simple task you can do yourself. A fresh coat of paint on walls, window frames, skirting boards and architraves (ceilings too if you have a safe ladder and strong shoulders) will breathe life into a worn home and hide a multitude of sins from pets, kids and house parties. “Buyers love nothing more than a home that is well painted and feels fresh,” says Nicole. 

2. Outdoor upgrades

Lachlan says paying attention to garden design and maintenance can pay off. Think new plants, bark and mulch, even new lawn – and engage a professional gardener. “When the buyer looks at it, they are seeing it as a brand-new house with a brand-new garden and they can move into it, as is, without needing to do anything,” he says. This also extends to outdoor entertaining areas, whether it’s a timber deck or a paved or concreted space. 

3. Kitchens and bathrooms

Somewhat controversially, Nicole believes kitchen and bathroom upgrades are well worth their hefty price tags. “Kitchens sell homes, so updating the kitchen is always a good investment,” she says. She recommends spending appropriately for the value of your home – invest in a bespoke kitchen for properties valued in the millions, and consider kits from the likes of Ikea or Freedom for more affordable properties. Bathrooms are another key selling point: but spend wisely. “You can respray the tiles and the bath and they look amazing – it’s a very cheap way of refreshing, and the buyer can renovate it further if they choose. Shows like The Block have given buyers the inspiration to achieve both small, sometimes cosmetic, renovations to larger more detailed renovations.” (More: Are architects worth the money?)

4. Built-in robes

Storage is still king, says Lachlan. “Buyers are looking for space,” he says. “New cabinetry, built-in robes, just more storage in general is a great investment.” Wardrobe space in each bedroom is a must-have feature and so are overhead laundry cupboards.

5. Consistent flooring

Nicole says buyers love consistency, and ensuring your home has beautiful floorboards throughout, for instance, can really tie a home together. “If you have mismatched flooring it will detract,” she advises. “And when things don’t go together, buyers will start to look deeper.”

Bright interior living room with funky blue and white tiles

Don't go overboard on fancy fittings.

Close up of bluetooth speaker on table

Smart sound systems have replaced hardwired audio.

Aerial view of home with pool in backyard

Installing a pool is rarely a worthwhile investment.

Five improvements that won’t get you your money back 

1. Backyard pool 

They’re great in summer, but the expense of installation and constant maintenance may not be worth it. “It is $100,000 you don’t need to spend because at the end of the day you may not get $100,000 on the other end,” says Nicole. 

2. Over-fitting

Don’t go overboard with fancy fittings that few will appreciate when you can pay a fraction of the cost for something that looks just as good, says Nicole. “I remember seeing a house in Brighton once and they had flown in tiles from Italy and they were nice but nothing amazing,” she says. “I knew the agent was doing his best to sell the house with all these bespoke finishes but the broader market won’t appreciate them.” Also, refrain from adding sinks to a butler’s pantry, hyper-expensive tapware or bidets. 

3. Butler’s pantry

These kitchen offshoots can have a little ‘wow’ factor, but are often built at the expense of space for other rooms, and for little value. “I don’t think a seller gets a lot of return for it,” says Lachlan “One client built one and when I saw it I thought ‘why did you do that?’ They made the kitchen and living areas smaller to just hide away more food with two cupboard doors.” 

4. Hardwiring

Homes are becoming smarter and older-style wired systems are becoming rapidly outdated thanks to the availability and popularity of inexpensive wireless systems, says Nicole. “Buyers will be coming with their own Google Home or Alexas,” she says. “Or you can always build it in and leave it there for the new owners.”  

5. Saunas

This is not Scandinavia. Is there a need for a sauna outside a gym or bathhouse? Lachlan says he has seen two in multi-million-dollar properties in Melbourne’s inner west that fit their luxe stylings but it’s such a niche idea that many buyers would be chopping up the wood for the firepit in winter instead. 

Thinking of renovating or building a new home? iBuildNew allows you to compare a wide range of builders in your local area, and provides expert, one-on-one advice for your individual needs.

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