11 ‘Improvements’ Real Estate Agents Wish Homeowners To Stop Making

Sometimes, it’s best to leave upgrades to the buyer.
Updated May 10, 2024
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If you decide to sell your house, expect the process to become a race to see how much you can fix before the open house. Everything from a fresh coat of paint to a total makeover might be on the table.

Many people make these changes hoping it will help them sell at a price that allows them to get ahead financially. But does it really matter?

In some cases, the answer is likely “yes.” On the other hand, here are 11 home improvements real estate agents say you should skip when selling your home.

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Performing cosmetic repairs

aetb/Adobe focused Woman Painting Kitchen Cabinets

It’s often worth undertaking cosmetic repairs that are easy and affordable. So, plant new shrubs, paint the front door, or patch a small hole in the wall.

However, if you’re talking about cosmetic repairs that are more expensive and time-consuming — for example, installing new countertops or even painting cabinets — you might want to skip them.

Many real estate agents agree that a buyer may plan to upgrade anyway, which means skipping this project can be a way to avoid wasting money.

Planning major, time-consuming upgrades

WONG SZE FEI/Adobe engineer inspecting house renovation indoors

Even if you think you need to renovate your kitchen to keep up with similar houses in the neighborhood, it may not be worth it. That is especially true if the project will involve a long timeline.

Real estate agents will tell you there is often an optimal time to list your house. So, it might not be financially prudent to risk missing that deadline simply because you are waiting for contractors to finish a big job.

Upgrading the kitchen or bathroom

Kadmy/Adobe Tiler installing tile on bathroom floor

Kitchens and bathrooms can be among the most expensive renovations you will take on as a homeowner.

Real estate agents often say buyers have specific ideas about what they like to see in these rooms. Because of that fact, it’s unlikely you will recover the full cost of the renovation.

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Making minor electrical fixes

Love the wind/Adobe Hand unplugging switch from socket

Some electrical problems absolutely must be addressed, especially if they show up on an inspection report.

However, minor issues — such as an outlet plug that doesn't fit snugly — are unlikely to stop most people from buying your house.

Fixing cracks in the sidewalk or driveway

ckybe/Adobe man applying tar sealant to pavement

Cracks in a sidewalk or driveway are a normal occurrence when there is soil movement. Most buyers won’t give them a second thought.

In fact, many buyers who will notice the new planters or the flowers by your front door won’t even take a second look at the hairline crack in the walkway.

Addressing grandfathered-in code issues

Lisa F. Young/Adobe male architect conducting incomplete bulding inspection

Building codes change over time. Usually, if your home was built before a code was put into place, you don’t have to upgrade your home to meet the new regulations.

So, if you have been “grandfathered in,” your buyers should benefit from the same policy, meaning there is no need to worry about upgrading.

Engaging in trendy makeovers

dinastya/Adobe cozy sofa corner with pastel theme

While a trendy makeover with bold tile or statement-making wallpaper may grab a buyer’s attention, there is a good chance they will consider how much it will cost to renovate that look in a few years.

You are likely better off going with a timeless look if you make upgrades.

Stopping with partial upgrades

Jo Ann Snover/Adobe stone countertops in making inside kitchen

When a real estate agent walks through a home with a potential buyer, they will almost always notice upgrades and renovations that are half-done.

Such incomplete renovations make a buyer wonder what you are trying to hide, or why you gave up halfway through. They might think there is something wrong that made you decide to walk away.

Replacing the HVAC

DimaBerlin/Adobe worker installing air conditioner in apartment

A new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is nice to have, but buyers aren’t going to tack on the amount you spent on the new HVAC to the final sale price.

This is one presale upgrade that most real estate agents are unlikely to recommend.

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Installing new appliances

Александр Маликов/Adobe service worker installing dishwasher in kitchen

New appliances can be pricey, and they are not necessarily a worthy upgrade. You probably won’t even have much time to enjoy them yourself.

If your appliances are in bad condition or are severely dated, a real estate agent might recommend you replace them with cheaper, used appliances that are in good shape.

Replacing the roof

Louis-Photo/Adobe construction man inspecting house roof

A roof can cost up to $25,000 to replace, according to Angi. Is it really worth the cost if you plan to sell soon?

Buyers know they are taking on the maintenance costs of homeownership. While a new roof might be a bonus, you can probably sell the home and boost your bank account just fine without this repair.

Bottom line

Rawpixel.com/Adobe agent showing new house to family

Those who are selling a home often undertake repairs and renovations that they hope will help them sell at a higher price that allows them to build wealth.

However, too many real estate agents see homeowners spend their money on projects that don’t pay off. Talk with your real estate agent about comps in your neighborhood and the current expectations that buyers might have.

Then, determine where your budget is best spent.

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Author Details

Heather Bien Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.

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