Adding Value Through Renovation

By Wendy Gooditis

I know I am not alone in my fondness for TV shows about renovating houses. My attachment is long-standing, beginning with long ago how-to shows on PBS — in particular, This Old House series and its descendants. When HGTV came along, the abundance of these shows almost satiated my appetite. Almost.

Oh, the glorious new kitchens, gleaming bathrooms, acres of hardwood floors, and elevations of stairways —  and all completed in 30 minutes! And afterwards, all the houses had doubled, nay, tripled in value. What paradise for the homeowner. It was heavenly allowing myself to believe in all of it.

Most of those hours of enjoyment occurred before I became a real estate agent. These days, my enjoyment of these shows is still extant, but I am more educated about what I’m seeing. So I want to explain how the quality and the extent of the renovation really affect the value and marketability of a house.

First of all, a house and grounds should be clean, neat, and in good working order to attain its top value. Without these conditions, the house has a chunk cut out of its market value — sometimes that chunk is a huge one. Secondly, there are fairly simple, cosmetic updates that can truly add value. For example:

  • Fresh paint in currently popular shades (not necessarily all neutral),
  • Refinished hardwood,
  • New carpet and flooring,
  • New faucets and fixtures in  bathrooms and kitchens,
  • New kitchen countertops.

And again, clean, clean, clean! Corners and edges of woodwork and baseboards, power-washed decks, scrubbed or freshly grouted ceramic tile in the bathrooms.

But beyond the simple things, how can you do a renovation that makes your house the one everyone wants when it comes time for you to sell?

We recently sold a house in a lovely quiet neighborhood in Winchester which had started life as a humble brick ranch house sometime in the 1950s. But through the years, the changes made by various homeowners gradually enhanced it. The most recent homeowners did such a fantastic and thorough job that the house sold for top dollar within a week. The house isn’t huge, and it isn’t exactly fancy, but it is really appealing. Here are some features that made the house so desirable:

Gorgeous kitchen and bathroom renovations. Of course, kitchens and bathrooms probably matter the most, but this kitchen and these bathrooms are original and bold. They are built with good materials, and more importantly, the design is thoughtful, well-planned, with nothing cookie-cutter about it.

Beautiful floors. Some of the floors are wide hardwood, some are good carpet, and some are stone or ceramic. What they have in common is their quality and the design impact they make wherever they are. For example, the hallway along the bedrooms and bathrooms is done in a gray stone: very original. It’s a way to give real interest to what would have been a boring little space.

Handsomely designated spaces. The rooms in this house have been truly defined, and those definitions have been enhanced with built-ins which invite use. The small laundry area downstairs would in many houses be enclosed by standard louvered folding doors, but in this house is hidden behind huge sliding doors with tops of frosted glass. The doors are dramatic and beautiful, and add architectural interest.

Truly fantastic landscaping. The outdoor spaces have been attended to as much or more than the indoor spaces, with the result that one doesn’t know where to go first: the lovely rustic table under the pergola (Provencale style), the sweet swing tucked into a beautiful corner of the yard, or the front porch so gracefully adorned by the ivy cultivated in a trellis pattern on the shabby chic brick wall.

As a rule, the spaces in this house aren’t large, and they don’t appear elaborate to the point of fussiness. It is all eminently livable and relaxed. In my opinion, most of what the owners have done, they did to please themselves — risk-free for those gifted with impeccable taste! So they had their cake — living in their redone house — and ate it too by selling it for top dollar. Not everyone has such perfect taste, it’s true, but buyers do actually like a house with personality.

There is another way to do renovations, an all too common one. People try to please the greatest number of potential buyers by trying not to offend. The results: all the carpet is tan, all the granite counters are tan, all the ceramic tile in the bathrooms is tan, all the … well, you get the idea. Neutral colors have their place, but that place is rarely at the top end of the market.

On the other hand, it is foolish to overspend on renovations in an area or in a market where you can’t make your investment back, much less profit from it. It is a good idea to make a study of recent sales in your neighborhood, perhaps with the help of a real estate professional, to plan the amount of effort and money that has the best chance of bringing you a good return. Meanwhile, I suggest you make changes that really please you, and do them as well as you can.

Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots at 101 East Main St., Berryville, VA 22611, phone (540)955-0911. Wendy would be happy to answer any questions you may have about real estate; reach her at or at (540)533-0840.