Planning Your Home Improvements Before You Sell

Here are the important things to consider when planning your home improvements 

  • Understanding what buyers are looking for in your area is the key to knowing how to fix your home up and get the best return.
  • Know your market and how your home stacks up against the competition.
  • Look at your home objectively to identify your home’s strengths and weaknesses prior to doing any work and putting it on the market.
  • Devise a plan that will get your home from its current state to the state that it needs to be in to make buyers fall in love, while at the same time not overdoing it and not wasting money on repairs or updates that won’t make a difference.
  • Approach fixing up your home to sell by developing a priority list. Priority should be given to the items that will bring the highest return, and be prepared to nix things that won’t make a big enough impact.

What Are Santa Clara Buyers Looking For in a Home

Let’s identify what buyers are looking for when they are shopping for homes in Santa Clara. Santa Clara home buyers want bright, open, fresh, and contemporary feeling homes. Ideally, buyers would like a home that feels like a new home.  

In Santa Clara, new homes are hard to come by and often come with high price tag that many buyers can’t afford. Housing in Santa Clara mainly consists of post-war tract homes built in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  

In order to attract buyers we need to think of how to transform your 1950’s Santa Clara tract home into a bright, open, fresh, and contemporary home that buyers will love without overdoing it.


Seller Tip: Keep in mind that many sellers put too much money into fixing up their homes before listing them for sale. They focus on areas or flaws that buyers don’t care about or just won’t pay extra for.

Santa Clara Home Buyers

Know Your Home and Market Before You Sell

There are a number of factors besides the condition of your home to consider before making any repairs or updates when selling.  Things like the current market, competition, your home’s location, and the season will all influence how to get your home ready to sell.

If your home is located in a highly sought-after area or neighborhood and there isn’t too much competition on the market, then you shouldn’t have to do a lot to get your home noticed.  

However, if your home is a typical Santa Clara home in a average neighborhood and you are selling in the prime selling season, you may have to do quite a bit to make sure your home stands out from the competition. 

The important thing to note here is to consult with an agent who specializes in your area and knows the market. 

This can save you thousands of dollars and avoid lots of headaches.  Smart sellers will contact an agent well in advance to strategize and time the sale for optimal results.

Santa Clara home exterior paint

What Improvements Can Increase a Home’s Value

Let’s start with improvements that give you the highest return and the best bang for your buck when getting your home ready for buyers in our market.

Interior Paint – This is the best improvement you can make to a home to make it look bright and fresh. Unless the home’s interior paint is in great condition and is within the range of stylish and acceptable color palate than we generally paint the interior of most of the homes we sell.

Knowing which colors to use that are popular and contemporary among today’s buyers and work with your flooring and lighting are key when selecting paint colors.

Exterior painting – A home’s curb appeal is important. That’s not to say that it’s more important than a home’s interior, but a home’s exterior makes a homeowner proud. Sitting out front and admiring how nice your home looks is a wonderful feeling, and as a seller it’s the type of feeling your want to convey to buyers who are in the market to buy your home.  

When painting the exterior make sure to chose a contemporary color scheme and be sure to consider things like roof color, exterior stonework, and even neighboring homes when choosing your home’s color.

Flooring – Like interior painting, a home’s flooring extends throughout the home and leaves a powerful impression on buyers. Modern flooring is light, textured, and looks natural. It’s important to pick out flooring that compliments your interior, is contemporary, and looks beautiful.

Cabinet Hardware Update
living room recessed lighting update

Interior Improvements

Hardware – Change out door handles, hinges, knobs, door stops, etc.

Lighting – Update bathroom lighting fixtures, exterior and interior lighting fixtures

Recessed lighting – 1950’s homes in Santa Clara are typically ranch-style homes, and those were designed with large overhangs to keep the heat out.  Unfortunately they often take away from the home’s natural light. Recessed lighting can really brighten up a home’s interior and make it feel modern.

Wall Switches & Outlets – Replace outdated, discolored switches and outlets, with bright white contemporary ones. Old switches and outlets will remind the buyers of the homes age and the age of the electrical system. This is an improvement that isn’t too expensive, but again extends throughout the home.

contemporary kitchen
Santa Clara Bathroom Remodel

Kitchens and Bathroom Improvements

Now we are getting into the expensive and very important components of a home, the kitchen and bathrooms. This is where homeowners can really spend a lot of money and where costly mistakes are often made.

Keep in mind that large-scale projects don’t usually translate into good returns on your investment when considering the best improvements to do before you sell. 

Home improvements that make an impact for less money are the way to go and easiest to identify. 

Seller Tip: Important tip, when considering what repairs or updates to do before you sell.  You must take into consideration the condition of your entire home and not just specific areas such as kitchen or bathrooms.  

Bathrooms – Remodeling bathrooms can be expensive.  In order to make sure that your bathroom improvements are going to result in the return you expect, you have to compare them to the rest of the home and see how they fit in.  

One way to evaluate your home’s bathrooms is to see if they are showing their age. Is there a way we can update the flooring, vanity, countertops, toilet, or fixtures to give it a nice clean and modern look without a full-blown remodel?

If there is a way to add functionality or space that could really add value to the bathroom it may make it worthwhile to do a full remodel.

For instance, Santa Clara bathrooms are typically on the small side, especially the master bathrooms. If there is a way to enlarge the shower stall or vanity area and make the space more desirable to buyers in our market, then a full remodel may be worth the expense.  

If there is wood damage to a bathroom from a leaking shower or toilet and the recommendation is to remove the shower stall.  Such a remodel would take care of two issues, an outdated bathroom and structural damage that could scare away potential buyers. 

Kitchens – By far the most expensive room in the house, kitchens are the area that can potentially make or break a sale. Many buyers are looking for spacious, bright, open, and remodeled kitchens.  Just because you remodel a kitchen it may not meet a buyer’s criteria.

A properly designed and laid out kitchen can really excite buyers and give sellers a big return on their investment. A poor design can have an adverse effect.

Santa Clara homes typically have small to medium sized kitchens that don’t meet the expectations of what today’s buyers are looking for.  Before you decide on a full kitchen remodel you’ll want to evaluate what options you have to make your existing kitchen passable to buyers.

If you come to the conclusion that the kitchen must be remodeled.  Are there opportunities to make design improvements such as adding more storage or counter space that can add more value.

One other major factor to consider when thinking about remodeling your kitchen is the electrical.  In many cases, your home’s electrical panel will be insufficient and will likely require an upgrade to modernize your kitchen.

Before picture of remodel office
after image of office remodel Santa Clara

Creative Improvements that Add Value

Lastly, improvements that can open, brighten, or make a home more functional or add useful space can turn a negative space into a positive space and add lots of value.  

For instance, a wall that can be removed or added making a space more attractive or valuable to a buyer. 

Is there an awkward element to a space that if removed could render the area more usable? 

Can you add a bedroom or office space, or open up an area that will make the overall area feel brighter and larger?

These are the sort of items that should be considered because they add real value and remove objections from prospective buyers of your home.

Be Cautious with these Home Improvements

These last areas where home improvements can be made need to be very carefully considered if you are fixing up a home to sell.  Generally, these improvements don’t bring a return on investment to the seller.  In most cases, you would leave them be.

finished garage

Garage – Garages are important, they store and protect your car, provide a large area to store things, and if you live in Santa Clara you are likely doing your laundry in your garage.

The idea of having a bright and clean garage may seem like an obvious improvement to you and it is to most buyers.  The priority or the importance of the garage is not as high up on buyer’s list of considerations as other aspects of a home.  

Therefore finishing a garage or adding epoxy floors or storage systems to a garage are generally not enough to impress buyers and motivate them to make an offer.

modern windows

Windows – Replacing a home’s older 50’s style windows, whether they are wood-framed, aluminum or other older style window can definitely make a positive impact on a buyer.

Today’s dual-pane windows are more energy-efficient, seal better, reduce exterior noise, open and close easier, and are generally better all around.

However, replacing the windows on an average home can be expensive.  Ranging anywhere from 10K-20K, and can take months to order the windows.

Homeowners would need to plan ahead and should really consider whether replacing their existing windows for new windows before they sell is worth the trouble.

When preparing our listings we rarely ever upgrade the windows of a home and choose instead to work with existing windows.

The only exception would be if the existing windows were in such terrible condition that they really needed to be replaced. Perhaps some did not open or several were cracked or broken.

Buyers can easily contract with a window company to have their windows upgraded.  Then they can decide if they want regular vinyl clad windows or want to upgrade to a designer or premium style. 

Also they can choose additional features like Low-E glass, or even different styles like casement windows as opposed to sliders.

new roof on sant clara home to sell

Roof – A home’s roof serves two vital functions, prevents water from entering the home and also makes the home’s exterior look good.

In many cases, roofs are at or entering the end of their useful life and will need to be changed.  

This is also another big cost item and can generally range in cost from $12K to $20K, depending on the size of the home and quality of the roof.  When changing a roof we generally will upgrade the gutters to make the home’s trim look better, which is an additional expense.

If your roof is at the end of its useful life and you are considering whether to change it, here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is the roof currently leaking?  If yes, then you should change it.

If the roof is not leaking, but at the end of its life and showing signs of excessive wear.  If it’s taking away from the home’s exterior appeal then you may want to consider replacing it, but it still would not be a convincing argument for me.

A new buyer can easily have a roof installed and decide on the type of roof, add some skylights, and pick the color. The roof replacement can generally happen in 3 days and with very little inconvenience to the new owner.

The only time you may really want to consider changing out the roof is if there is a good amount of wood damage around your eaves. 

The first thing to do is order a termite inspection and after you get the results you want to evaluate the wood along the eaves. If there’s quite a bit of damage to those eaves, changing the roof will also make it easier to repair the damage.

By replacing the roof you will benefit from being able to market the home with a new roof and take care of thousands of dollars worth of wood damage for very little cost.

If the roof is not leaking, there is a little of life on the roof and it looks fine, and there is not much damage along the eaves, then I would recommend leaving the roof.  You can always get estimate from a reasonable roofing company and just add it to the disclosures.

tidy yard landscaping

Tidying up the yard – Landscaping is an often overlooked aspect of a home.  Because of the size of a lot or yard, landscaping can be very expensive.

A well-landscaped yard with hardscape, lawn, flowerbeds, shrubs, irrigation system and even a drainage system is hard to do and can be very costly. 

As a homeowner, you may have enjoyed your yard and know its value, but buyers in our area typically don’t understand the costs of proper and quality landscaping.

As a result, the best bet is to do comprehensive clean up your yard.  If your lawn is dead, you may consider adding sod, but that only makes sense if the rest of the landscape is in great condition.    

Some people like to add flowers to give the look of the home more color.  

While putting new sod down and adding flowers are not very expensive, the exterior improvements of a home are much lower priority than the interior.  

So before you start to plan these exterior updates make sure the interior of your home is set up to impress buyers.  No amount of exterior landscaping is going to help buyers overlook a home’s interior shortcomings.


Adding Tankless Water heater to a home to sell
Adding AC to a home to sell

Updating or Adding AC or Other Systems

Lastly, there are the systems of the home such as heating, AC, water heating, supply and waste plumbing, and electrical.  These are essential components of a home and they need to be functional and safe.  

Many buyers assume that these components work and won’t give too much consideration if you have upgraded your electrical panel, or newer water heater.  Unless these items are not in operating condition or pose a safety concern they are best left alone, as upgrading them do not give the seller a significant return .

Many homebuyers take these systems for granted.  They assume a home’s heating system or water heater work.  Whether you splurged to buy the highest efficiency heater, a water softener, or a tankless water heater is really not going to be a strong motivator for buyers.

If anything you have to ensure that these systems are in good operating condition and they don’t pose any safety concerns.


There’s a lot to consider here. It’s no wonder that many homeowners don’t know where to begin and end up spending more than they should. 

Hopefully this article puts things in perspective for you and saves you some time and money.

Please post a comment below, let me know your thoughts or questions.

Santa Clara Real Estate Guy
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