It’s a question I hear often from real estate clients, whether they’ve purchased a property that could use updating or are living in a house they want to freshen up before they sell in a few months or few years.

Which improvements, they ask, are most likely to boost their selling price and earn them back the money they spend on the improvements?

The answer can vary, depending on how long you’re planning to live in the property. If you’re expecting to remain in a home for years, you can take on larger renovations as your budget allows, such as major kitchen or bathroom renos to create the rooms of your dreams.

 “How much you spend on improvements should depend, in part, on how long you plan to live in your home. If you are thinking shorter-term, smaller and less expensive improvements may be your best bet to recover your investment,” says an article by the Appraisal Institute of Canada, the largest property valuation organization in the country. These improvements include things like new coats of paint, updating lighting fixtures, de-cluttering and doing some simple things to improve your exterior for added curb appeal.

Of course, for all homeowners, there is also the essential upkeep that helps your home maintain its value as the property ages. These are not frills, but include things like replacing the roof, updating the heating and cooling systems when necessary, replacing windows and doors, updating your electrical system and repairing any structural defects.

This basic upkeep helps your home’s value. If you can tell buyers you recently replaced the roof on your 40-year-old house, you’ll obviously get a better offer than if a home inspector tells a potential buyer that your roof is in sad condition and will need replacing soon.

But aside from expected maintenance, there are lots of things we can do to make our homes more contemporary and appealing to buyers. The Appraisal Institute says these are the top five renovations with the highest return on investment:

KITCHENS: When you enter a house as a buyer, the kitchen is often the first room you will inspect closely, to see if it suits your needs. If buyers see tired linoleum flooring, outdated fixtures and lighting and avocado-coloured appliances, many will write off the property.

The good news is that you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to bring your kitchen up to date. You can make a big difference with a fresh coat of paint, some new faucets, taps and lighting fixtures. If you don’t want the expense of replacing your entire cupboards, for example, there are companies that will replace just the cupboard doors to give your kitchen a fresh look.

And you needn’t pay for custom-made cabinetry when there are outlets such as IKEA that offer attractive and contemporary cabinets at a fraction of the cost.

As with other renovations you are considering, the Appraisal Institute says that for highest return on investment, ensure the workmanship is good quality and the materials are consistent with what people would find in other homes in your area.

The Appraisal Institute says the average return on investment for kitchen updates is from 75 to 100 per cent of what you paid. Depending on the renovations and the neighbourhood, the difference in asking price for a home with an updated kitchen can be significantly more than what you spent on those updates.

BATHROOMS:  Bathrooms are also a big factor in influencing buyers’ decisions. Like kitchens, bathroom updates don’t have to cost thousands. New lighting, paint colour, faucets and taps can make a big difference. You can purchase new sinks and toilets for just a few hundred dollars. If the tiles and cabinet are badly outdated, consider replacing those as well. Because bathrooms are smaller than most other rooms, new flooring need not be expensive.

If you have an older house with only one bathroom, you can also boost the value of your property by finding somewhere to add a bathroom, even if it’s only a two-piece. While you should never take away space from a bedroom, many homeowners find they can add a bathroom when finishing their basement or can find a space under the stairs where a bathroom could fit.

The Appraisal Institute says you’re likely to recover 75 to 100 per cent of the money you spend on updates or new bathrooms.

PAINTING: Repainting your house, whether inside or outside, in contemporary tones “with wide-ranging market appeal”, can make a big difference in attracting buyers and strong offers. Among the updates you can make to your house, fresh new coats of paint are also among the least expensive.

When going through a property for the first time for a seller client to make suggested changes, I always recommend that any rooms painted in unusually bold colours be repainted in a neutral tone to appeal to the widest market possible. I have seen many of my buyer clients turned off by an unusual colour. While some buyers realize they can repaint themselves, some find it difficult to imagine that room in a different colour. Neutral is best.

UPDATING THE DECOR: The Appraisal Institute says this can include simple things like replacing a dated countertop, replacing dated vinyl or carpet with new flooring, and refinishing any hardwood floors. These inexpensive changes can boost your resale value and more than pay for the updates.

DE-CLUTTERING:In terms of return on investment, this one perhaps offers the biggest return, because there is no cost other than your own time and some elbow grease. This is also probably the number one thing that my stager and I recommend to seller clients when we first go through a house to get it ready for sale.

Buyers want to see a home that looks airy, spacious and uncluttered. They don’t want to see the piles of magazines and closets that are crammed to the rafters with clothes and boxes.

We recommend that our sellers go through rooms and either give away or box up items that can be stored while the house is for sale. If necessary, rent a space to store your items while your home is for sale. If you want to get an idea of the result we are aiming for, have a look at some of the current listings on my website, at www.nancybenson.com

Once we have finished de-cluttering a home for photographs and for showings, we’re proud of the ‘wow’ factor we achieve. Many owners tell us they have never seen their home look so beautiful. That’s something we love to hear. If an owner feels that way, then buyers will too!

If you’re considering buying or selling property in the Ottawa area, I’d love to meet with you and chat about the Ottawa market and the expertise I offer, with more than 30 years of experience as a Realtor in this region.

You can contact me through my website, at www.nancbenson.com, where you can read about our services and view my current listings. You can also give me a call at 613-747-4747.