Skip to main content
Looking to sell in the near future? Make smart use of your time and resources to ensure you get the best return on your investment. Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid.

DIY, construction, coupleGetty Images

Shortly after we bought our first house, my husband and I found ourselves excitedly painting, overhauling the back yard and diving headfirst into all manner of projects. It was thrilling!

Had I known we were going to sell two years later, though, I would have planned our DIY renovations more strategically -- and not acted so hastily. However much they may mean to you, all projects are not equal when it comes to the resale value of your home.

if you're thinking of selling in the next five years, there are some very specific DIY projects that can undermine your investment. Professional realtor Jenn Foster gave us an insider's opinion of which home improvements projects are likely to backfire and decrease your home's value.

Here are the top five home improvements to avoid if you plan on selling in the next five years:

color, paint, door, curb appealOne person's color fetish is another person's tacky taste. Photo: Corbis

1. Too Much Taste
We all have our own sense of style, right? Well, therein lies the problem. Though many of us see our home as the ultimate canvas (you should have seen the eye-popping blue we used to paint our kids' room), your specific taste can be a deterrent to potential buyers.

If you're planning to sell in the next few years, stick with neutral colors. This doesn't mean that you must abandon your own style, Jenn says, but reserve your love of fuchsia and leopard print to throw pillows, vases, lamps, and anything else that can be packed away before showing the house.

When picking paint, she tells us that, "The best rule of thumb is [to use] a neutral/monochromatic paint palette inside and out." Jenn emphasizes that this rule even applies to kids' rooms (oops!), where we often see the boldest and brightest color choices.

Avoid putting up wallpaper and borders if you're selling soon, too. According to Jenn, "Even the most stylish papers can turn off a potential buyer." As most DIYers know, removing wallpaper can be a grueling task. They'll likely factor that work into the price of the house.

2. Budget-Friendly Fixtures
When you're trying to stick to a tight budget, it's tempting to cut corners by opting for less expensive materials. Scrimping on personal items like piece of furniture or electronics is one thing, but installing low-quality fixtures -- things that become a permanent part of the house, like flooring, countertops, cabinets, appliances, and plumbing fixtures -- is another thing entirely. It may have made sense at the time, but cheap fixtures will become a thorn in your side when you want to sell.

Potential homeowners are on the lookout for attractive, high-quality fixtures, which are integral to the home's value. If you can't afford the most high-end material, though, Jenn tells us to choose mid-grade at the very least. This doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a great deal; in fact, it's a great incentive to hunt down overstock, wait for seasonal sales, or troll thrift stores for rare gems.

3. Big Ticket Items
Much like cheap items can undermine your investment, so can overly lavish ones. Jenn warns against installing pools or other optional big-ticket items as they won't yield adequate return. Unless your buyer wants them specifically, they will be seen as a disadvantage. Even high-end versions of things you do need, like professional-grade ranges, mega-BTU built-in air conditioners, and hot tubs, which can be seen as unnecessary luxuries and energy zappers.

Limit large jobs to those that update the mechanics and structure of the home, and if you're replacing big items, don't go over the top. Buyers will be looking for practical things -- a roof that is in good repair, efficient heating systems, and updated windows and cabinetry. This is where the bulk of your money should go. Jenn notes that it's worth thinking green too. Buyers typically support environmental choices and see the value in energy-conscious modifications and green building practices.

Earlier this year, we reported on Remodeling Magazine's 22nd Annual Cost vs. Value Report, which rated the 33 most popular remodeling projects based on cost vs. resale value. For all you short-timers, it's worth checking out.

One more thing: Jenn cautions against expecting to increase the value of your home far above your neighbors'. She says that "no matter how much a homeowner spends on their renovations, one cannot expect to get significantly more than the average price of other homes in the same neighborhood."

game room, pool tableTurning a bedroom into a game room can actually turn off a potential buyer. Photo: Corbis

4. Reinvention of Space
Many of us have repurposed rooms in our homes so that they better fit our personal needs. You may use the office as a play room or one of the bedrooms as a game room. Jenn tells us to "stage rooms to show their intended use for the duration of sale." She says that we should "never assume a buyer will inherently see the flexibility of a room. You must paint a clear picture for them to ensure top-dollar return." Needless to say, if you plan to sell soon, refrain from making permanent changes that detract from a space's original function. For example, converting a small bedroom into a second bathroom may be useful to you, but could be a deal-breaker to a potential buyer who would have preferred the house in its intended state.

The same rules are at play when laying out the yard, and these decisions are more permanent. Do not make any changes that limit how the space can be used. Jenn says that "when adding a deck, patio or landscaping features, always ensure you leave a healthy portion of the yard as a grassy area. An outdoor space should always offer all the uses a family looks for in a yard, such as outdoor dining, planting and playing for kids and pets."

5. Unfinished or Poorly Done DIY Work
Jenn advises homeowners to "do as much as you can yourself instead of paying trades, but never do work that you cannot be confident you can do well. This will devalue the home."

Sure, this is an obvious one, but it's important to remember at the outset of any project. Assess your skills and time realistically, not optimistically. You may be willing to live with a shed that isn't level or shelving that's been hacked together, but the potential buyer will immediately subtract poor workmanship from the value of the home, because they'll just have to do it over.

Jenn reminds us to "stay focused on completing one job at a time" and that we "should not start several [projects at once], as this can overwhelm you and decrease the probability of having them all done at the point of sale." In-progress DIY projects have the same effect, even if they're on track. Don't show your home until all projects are complete.

Match Your DIY Project to Your Personality (This Old House)
An Impressive Kitchen Addition (ShelterPop)
Renovate Your Rental (Networx)

  • Anna

    I agree about the budget friendly fixtures nothing worsi in the kitchen than cheap fixtures that do not work properly.

  • scott

    Its like I tell my customers all the time in the Insulation Buisness, "I can work on my own car, it doesnt make me a mechanic" Alot of the blame can be pointed at sat tv making ppl think they can do this .or that, when it should be hired out to a pro. I see it ALL the time.

  • Robyn

    I completely agree with sat TV making people think they can do anything on their own. But if the person is taught how (in person), it can make a real difference- that's how I've saved money with painting (my cousin owns a painting company and taught me) and laying laminate flooring (my father does some flooring work on the side). A couple of things I'd have as a rule of thumb NOT to do yourself unless you know how is some of the outside work, like roofing or siding.

  • GB

    I use my 2nd bedroom as a small workspace/den with a lovely pull-out couch. I have no intention of staging it with beds in order to sell it. In my FL condo. properties are being given away. It does not matter what I do now! I am not ready to take a $200K bath. 4 yrs. ago (even if it was trashed) I could have gotten top dollar-it would not have mattered what I did. I will live in it or rent it out and get an efficiency locally.

  • 4 Comments / 1 Pages

Follow Us

  • No features currently available.

  • More Hot Topics The Daily Fix  •  DIY Warrior  •  Home Ec  •  Handmade
    DIY Disaster Doctor  •  In the Workshop  •  Product Picks

    Home Improvement Videos