What Not to Fix When Selling a House

Learn what repairs and upgrades to avoid when preparing a home for sale

Preparing to sell a home can be daunting. Popular shows like “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop,” and “Property Brothers” make it seem like you have to spend thousands of dollars and make renovating a full-time job to prepare to put your house on the market. While real estate flippers do frequently make money doing cosmetic renovations on homes and reselling them, these people are professionals who have spent decades building up their own skill set, knowledge base, and network to be successful.

The average homeowner getting ready to put their home on the market won’t see a huge return on investment (ROI) for many of the biggest home renovations, such as kitchen remodeling. Even the most popular fixes, like repainting your interior and exterior, offer only a 51% ROI, according to an analysis done by real estate agent referral company HomeLight. For homes with neutral colors in good condition, repainting is even less profitable. Our conventional wisdom on what is worth fixing is often skewed in favor of spending more money and time than necessary.

Key Takeaways

  • Cleaning, decluttering, and increasing your curb appeal should be done ahead of every sale.
  • Expensive repairs and renovations should be avoided.
  • Think about the return on investment (ROI) before making any repairs.
  • Keep your home updates in line with your neighborhood and comparable homes. Don’t install Italian marble when everyone else has linoleum.

Consult a Real Estate Agent Before Making Repairs

No matter your market, there are several things that everyone should do to get a quick sale. You should make sure your home is clean, decluttered, and staged to some degree, with the highest curb appeal that you can manage.

A local, experienced real estate agent should know the market conditions in your area and have a good idea of what repairs are necessary to get your home in line with comparable sales at your desired price.

Ask your agent for a comparative market analysis (CMA) so you can see what other homes are selling for. If everything on your CMA at your desired sale price is in a condition similar to yours, you may not need to do any repairs before listing. If everything on your CMA is much more updated, do some estimates to see your cost in money and time that it would take to get your home to the sale price you need. The cost of updates often won’t be recouped in the sale.

Take your agent’s suggestions on repairs with a grain of salt. Real estate agents get paid commissions based on the sale price of your home. If multiple upgrades cost you $200,000 and increase the sale price by $100,000, that is a bad investment for you but a big jump in commission for your Realtor. Make sure that you are working with an agent who keeps your best interests in mind.

Don’t Do a Major Renovation

While many costly upgrades can increase the overall home sale price, depending on the project, owners can also recoup a high percentage of the value in the increased sale price, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

In the table below, using estimates from the 2019 Remodeling Impact Survey, the most recent year available due to COVID-19, remodelers estimated the cost of certain projects and Realtors estimated the cost recovered in the sale price of the home.

Return on Investment of Major Renovations
Renovation type Estimated cost of project Estimated cost recovered % of value recovered
Kitchen renovation $68,000 $40,000 59%
Bathroom renovation $35,000 $20,000 57%
Adding a bathroom $60,000 $30,000 50%
New master suite $150,000 $75,000 50%
Most big home upgrades simply don’t recoup their cost. If you are dying to renovate your bathroom, do it early on so you can enjoy your renovation. It won’t be financially worth it to do right before selling. (From the National Association of Realtors.)

Don’t Start a Task That You Can’t Finish

Home repairs are frequently more expensive, take longer, and need more skill than most people expect. With supply chain issues and a tight labor market as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is harder than ever to finish a home improvement project on time and under budget.

The Federal Reserve Bank has been tracking delivery time data for the manufacturing sector in New York, Texas, and Philadelphia and has seen an increase in some areas of 300% over pre-pandemic timelines. That means you’re not only waiting for your appliances to get to your local store from the warehouse and then waiting for an installer, but also waiting 300% longer for the materials to even arrive at the manufacturer to make your appliance.

This means that you should not go into the demolition phase of any repair or upgrade until the items and tools that you need to finish your project are physically in your home. It is better to keep the 1970s shag carpeting than tear it up and expose stained floorboards, because the 2,000 square feet of hardwood that you ordered six months ago still hasn’t been produced or is sitting on a ship outside the Port of Los Angeles.

Don’t Fix and Replace with Trends

Replacing broken or damaged things like light fixtures, faucets, cabinet hardware, and so on can quickly change the appearance of a home and help it sell quickly or even appraise for more. Repainting a room, door, trim, or cabinetry can also provide a quick face-lift. However, be sure not to replace anything with something too obnoxious or trendy.

What is currently trendy for a specific slice of the population may be extremely off-putting for others. Keep your population of potential buyers as broad as possible by picking neutral colors and common fixture styles that can appeal to everyone.

Should I sell my home for cash?

Selling your home for cash is more convenient, but you are typically accepting an offer from a buyer that is subtracting any fixing-up expenses and then offering 75% of what they expect to sell the home for. Doing whatever cleaning, decluttering, and fixing that you have the time and money to complete while listing your home on the market most likely will net you more money than selling for cash.

What do I have to fix at a bare minimum?

If you are able to, you should fix anything that is a significant safety issue and would cause your home to fail inspection. Any major leaks, infestations, sewage issues, or electrical hazards should be repaired before putting your home on the market, unless you intend to sell for cash.

Should I stage my home?

Yes. Staging a home can cause your home to sell quicker and for more. However, staging doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a professional staging service. Cleaning and decluttering are part of staging and need to be completed for moving anyway, so do it before listing photos are taken to have the greatest positive impact on your sale.

The Bottom Line

You may not actually need to fix anything to put your home on the market. The most important thing is to make sure that you clean, declutter, and increase your home’s curb appeal. Talk to a real estate agent to get an idea of what is needed in your current market. Run some basic math on your repair costs. During the current supply chain crisis, make sure you don’t start anything that you can’t finish before your listing goes live, and if you’re doing upgrades right before selling, do things in neutral tastes rather than your own.

Article Sources
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  1. HomeLight. “Cost-Benefit Analysis: Should You Repaint Your House Before Selling?” Accessed Dec. 22, 2021.

  2. National Association of Realtors. “Remodeling Impact Survey.” Accessed Dec. 22, 2021.

  3. The White House. “Why the Pandemic Has Disrupted Supply Chains.” Accessed Dec. 22, 2021.

  4. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, FRED Economic Data. “Current Delivery Time Diffusion Index Graph.” Accessed Dec. 22, 2021.