14 Small Upgrades Realtors Swear Make a Big Difference When Selling

You can knock out a few of these projects in an afternoon.

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Updated June 6, 2024
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If you’re getting ready to sell your house, you’re probably wondering what you need to do to make sure your house is in the right condition to get top dollar. 

But it’s usually not realistic — or financially savvy — to renovate every square inch before listing. Instead, you have to prioritize the projects that will have the biggest impact and, often, they’re not the most expensive changes.

They’re little things that buyers may not even realize have been renovated, yet they make the space feel and look fresh. Here are 14 small upgrades that will keep cash in your wallet and that realtors swear make a big difference when selling.

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Change the hardware

Emily K. Means/Adobe bathroom vanity details

You may not notice little things like cabinet hardware or door knobs on a daily basis, but they’re the subconscious things that you’ll notice if you’re walking through a home for the first time.

It may not immediately jump out to a buyer that all of the door knobs are mismatched, but they will think to themselves, “It seems like this house needs some work.” It’s an easy DIY to swap out that ’90s brass for more modern hardware.

Replace the bathroom essentials

Textures & Patterns/Adobe bathroom with a white tile wall

An entire bathroom reno might not be in the budget, but what about the things you can DIY? Something as simple as vanity hardware, shower heads, or a new toilet can make a bathroom seem fresh — and that’s something buyers notice.

Paint the front door

ImageFlow/Adobe front door of white house

A first impression makes a huge impact. If buyers walk up to a door that’s peeling, faded, and in dire need of fresh paint, they’re going to think your home is a fixer-upper before they even step inside.

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Upgrade the finishing touches

kirill4mula/Adobe us post mail letter box

While thinking about curb appeal, there are lots of small touches that can make the difference between a house that looks fine and one that stands out. It’s the finishing touches that are inexpensive upgrades, yet they make a big difference.

Think about replacing everything from the numbers on the front of your house to the mailbox to the exterior lights.

Replace old outlet covers and switches

pishit/Adobe finger turning on lighting switch

If your old outlet covers and switches are the taupe-meets-cream color that was popular in the ’80s, it might be time to replace them with a crisp white.

This is a simple upgrade that costs just a few dollars yet gives your room a crisp look that buyers will notice.

Add new light fixtures

bmak/Adobe white kitchen with dark accents

If any of the lights in your house are flush-mount dome lights, spend a few hundred dollars to upgrade them to more modern lights before you put your home on the market.

A striking modern chandelier or flush-mount light is something buyers will notice, and it makes a difference in the overall style of the house.

Make all the small fixes

hanohiki/Adobe apartment renovation

Now’s the time to make all the fixes that have been nagging you. From doors that don’t close to cabinets with loose hinges, it’s time to pull out your toolbox and get to work (or call a handyman).

If a buyer opens a closet and realizes they can’t close the door again, that’s something that will stick with them. And you don’t want buyers at the open house making a punch list of things they’d have to do upon moving in.

Stage a home office

Photographee.eu/Adobe posters in natural home office

With more people working from home, seeing a home office in a house may add to the value. But unlike other room renovations, this one can be done on a budget.

All you need is a guest room, dining room, or other space that you can afford to lose. Add a desk, maybe a chair or two, and voila! A room that buyers will add to their pro list.

Put in a fire pit

Kirill Gorlov/Adobe cast iron fire pit

You want buyers to envision themselves enjoying life with friends and family in your home. 

By adding a DIY fire pit in your backyard, you can create an entertaining space that will seem far more expensive than it actually is. What looks like a professional landscaping design could just be an afternoon of laying stone.

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Organize your pantry

Valerii Honcharuk/Adobe interior of wooden pantry

Anytime a buyer sees a well-organized closet, they immediately start dreaming of their new life, where they find a new home and become the meal-prepping person they’ve always wanted to be.

By adding some simple organization elements to your pantry, like extra shelving or hooks, you help make that dream a reality.

Replace or regrout tiles

Neeqolah/Adobe dark grey ceramic floor tiles

Whether you decide to DIY it or bring in a professional, it’s a critical presale upgrade to replace broken tiles and regrout where grout is missing. This can spell the difference between a bathroom that a buyer sees as livable versus one that needs to go immediately.

Rent a carpet cleaner

Andrey Popov/Adobe person cleaning carpet with vacuum cleaner

If you have wall-to-wall carpet, then renting a carpet cleaner before you sell is a must. It’s the difference between a home that feels like it’s been taken care of and one where buyers are wondering what’s hiding.

DIY a backsplash

MatildaDark/Adobe modern kitchen with teal base cabinets

Depending on your DIY skill level, installing a backsplash can be an affordable way to give your kitchen a new look. It can be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be expensive as long as you’re doing it yourself.

Install new faucets

vxnaghiyev/Adobe sink in a luxury kitchen

Install modern faucets in your bathrooms and kitchen for an easy upgrade that makes a big difference in how your space looks. Even if your countertops are older than you’d prefer, the faucet will give the room a facelift.

Bottom line

Andy Dean/Adobe unfinished room in house

Getting your house ready to sell is all about prioritizing what matters. Not every project is going to have the right return on investment.

For example, your bathroom is slightly dated but livable. A new buyer might want to put their own spin on it, so it’s not always worth pouring money into that renovation.

If you have a number of must-do projects, you might consider getting a no-interest credit card instead of a home equity line of credit to cover those costs.

To figure out the right projects to spend on, look at comps in your neighborhood. Bringing your house up to par with those around yours will help you get the top market rate for your home.

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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.