Top home improvements that pay off when selling

By David Wilkening, Contributing Writer

Replacing an old and worn-out garage door is one simple way to boost a home’s curb appeal.

REGION – The housing situation in Boston and most of Massachusetts these days is best described as “sizzling.” Big demand is overwhelmed by short supply. It’s definitely a seller’s market. But that does not mean you shouldn’t consider renovation or improvements to the home you are selling.

“Right now, sellers are often overlooking those kinds of things simply because of the limited inventory available,” said Boston-based realtor Helen Tarantino. “Buying ‘as is’ is common. Sellers are losing out sometimes when just a coat of paint can be worth $50,000 in value here.”


Cost doesn’t always equal value

“Sometimes just a coat of paint can be worth $50,000 in value,” says Boston-based realtor Helen Tarantino.
“Sometimes just a coat of paint can be worth $50,000 in value,” says Boston-based realtor Helen Tarantino.

It may be startling to many home sellers, but some of the most valuable renovations to make the maximum return on a later home sale are often as mundane as a low-cost paint job and even a new garage door.

In fact, Zonda Media―previously Hanley Wood―released its highly-respected “Cost vs. Value” report in 2021 that found the leading returns were on exterior home improvements. The three exterior projects with the highest recoup on investments were garage door replacements (94%), manufactured stone veneer installation (93%) and siding replacement with fiber cement material (69%).

Eleven of the dozen projects with the highest ROI (return on investment) were exterior improvements. The indoor exception at the third ROI spot was “minor kitchen remodeling.”


Multi-year key trends find exteriors are best bets

Multi-year key trends have found exterior improvement projects such as manufactured stone sidings and veneers, as well as minor kitchen surfaces, have traditionally topped the list when it comes to getting back partial replacement costs. Popular renovations often return far lower than their actual costs.

Garage door replacements in past years typically cost $3,000 to $4,000, far less than a master suite addition, which in Boston might cost $300,000, while only recouping less than half of that price.

Those were national figures, but multi-year studies by Hanley Wood in the past with numbers broken down by specific areas found similar results in the New England area. Its last report rated garage doors as the best cost-value replacement with return values of 90-92%.

“Many people do not know that a new garage door goes a long way,” said Pavel Khaykin, founder and owner of the Boston-based Pavel Buys Houses.

If all of this sounds discouraging, it is realistic. Hanley Wood has pointed out in the past that, while improvements seemed like great ideas, they often have not justified their costs when homes were put on the market. Remodeling projects “dear to home-owner hearts” usually return far lower than actual costs. Some of the most in-demand projects such as room additions are among the lowest in percentage of returns.

“While the percentage of costs recouped are trending downward for all of the replacement projects covered by ‘Cost vs. Value,’ this change primarily reflects the sharp increase in material costs over the past summer,” Hanley wrote more than a year ago. With inflation continuing at record rates, that statement is even truer today.


Ways to maximize home value

Still, realtors have suggestions for renovations and repairs that maximize homeowner returns―even when the overall market here in Massachusetts and just about everywhere else has shifted to strongly favoring sellers. Some of those suggestions are at far lower costs than extensive overhauls.

Decluttering and storing pieces of furniture and other items elsewhere helps would-be buyers envision more spaciousness in a home for sale says Pavel Khaykin, a Boston realtor.
Decluttering and storing pieces of furniture and other items elsewhere helps would-be buyers envision more spaciousness in a home for sale says Pavel Khaykin, a Boston realtor.

Agreeing with Tarantino about painting as an inexpensive alternative is Khaykin. “You sometimes see houses with a lot of striped colors and things like that. Some people object. It’s better to choose one color that is neutral, white or gray,” he said.

He also suggests decluttering and storing pieces of furniture and other items elsewhere, at least temporarily. Doing that helps would-be buyers envision more spaciousness in a home for sale. “It opens things up in their imaginations,” he said. For older would-be buyers, having all access areas on one floor is also an added inducement for seniors often more concerned with accessibility than younger house hunters.

Curb appeal and first impressions can also add appeal, often at less cost than more extensive and expensive renovations, added Julie Horvath-d’Amico, a real estate agent with Century 21 Adams KC in Arlington. “Decks, balconies and patios are sought-after amenities, especially in the city, where lots are smaller,” she said. Many older buyers also value homes with open outdoor spaces for recreation.

Kitchen upgrades can also add value, studies have shown.

Seller tastes’ may not appeal to buyers universally, so Tarantino suggests foregoing any one particular style of decoration dominance in favor of less costly upgrades such as appliances, which have more universal appeal.

Khaykin also suggests a couple of other home improvements to quickly sell a home. One is kitchen upgrades. They can be expensive with larger-scale overall renovations, but less costly targeted areas such as countertops, faucets and sinks can be replaced during renovations. Bathroom remodeling such as replacing the shower and bathtub might also add value.

One more amenity that has popped up since the pandemic and the rise in working from home is the attractiveness of home offices. A Homelight study found that 60% of real estate agents cited it as a new top priority for buyers. That may very well be the latest popular renovation to offset its price in future studies. 



Demystifying your home selling costs (

Worcester Realtors Offer Experience, Client Commitment (

Tiny houses offer unique alternative to traditional homes (