5 Affordable Home Upgrades for Your Starter House
Cosmetic changes are your best bet.
Say you’re living in a starter home. You don’t plan on being there forever, but you also aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. You’d like to make some home improvements, but you’re worried you won’t get much return on your investment when you’re ready to sell.
While this thinking could be accurate if you’re planning to fully gut and renovate your kitchen, there are plenty of projects that will add enjoyment to your day-to-day living without overimproving your abode. “Think cosmetic changes, not huge overhauls,” says Audrey Loder, showroom director at Wilkinson Supply, a luxury kitchen and bath retailer in Raleigh, NC. These five projects are inexpensive (around $5,000 or less) to implement and will provide you with enjoyment for years to come — or at least until you hang that “for sale” sign in the front yard.
1. Swap out your kitchen countertops
But don’t assume granite is always the best choice. “Granite isn’t as special as it once was because every kitchen has it now,” advises Loder. If the countertops are the only upgrade you’re planning, splurge on recycled glass (around $85 per square foot) for a true wow factor, or for a less expensive but equally stunning option, try quartz (around $60 to $75 per square foot). Stick with neutral colors like white, gray, or “greige,” which will appear clean and bright and won’t turn off potential buyers. If your budget allows, Loder recommends upgrading your backsplash with wide, light-colored subway tiles (think 4-inch-by-16-inch tile) arranged in a unique pattern, such as herringbone.
2. Invest in a free-standing bioethanol fireplace
“They add a ton of character without breaking the bank,” says Erin Davis, lead designer at Mosaik Design and Remodeling in Portland, OR. “Free-standing units use piping to vent the smoke out of the home, so it makes for an easier, more cost-effective installation.” Things to keep in mind: Since the heat radiates from all sides, you’ll need at least 36 inches of clearance around the unit. Opt for one that comes with a stand (most do), which will alleviate the need to add noncombustible flooring.
3. Increase your living space with decking
“It’s an affordable extension of your home and a perfect place to entertain guests or relax with your family,” says Thomas O’Rourke of DeckingHero.com, a resource guide to buying and installing decking. And we’re not just talking raised decks either. Decking materials can be used to create patios, outdoor living rooms, and even outdoor kitchens.
4. Add low-voltage outdoor lighting
Think lights along your driveway, walkways, and patio, and uplights on trees. “Doing so creates ambiance in the evening, especially when entertaining, and it will increase the quality of any photos you post of your home when it comes time to sell,” says John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management site. Once you have a lighting system in place, make sure to install timers, which can also deter burglars.
5. Give your exterior a makeover
Have your house exterior and front porch professionally power-washed, upgrade light fixtures (this can be as simple as replacing the bulbs with Edison-style ones, which instantly ups the cool quotient of your current fixture, says Loder), swap out the hardware on your front door, upgrade your mailbox, replace worn-out or broken shutters, and freshen up your landscaping. These simple changes outside will pack a punch without crushing your budget.