It’s the eternal question when your home starts to feel a bit dated: Renovate or sell? Landing on an answer gets even trickier when you’ve spent years investing your heart and soul — not to mention your cash. At what point does your home become a money pit? Is now a good time to renovate or sell? If you do renovate, what home improvements will give you the most bang for your buck?

Neyshika Tellis with Charles Rutenberg Realty

We know you have a lot of questions. And we’re here to help. Read on for five renovation questions we think you should consider as you weigh your options. For this series, we spoke with professional real estate agent Neyshika Tellis with Charles Rutenberg Realty to give expert insight as to what renos are most valuable for your home.

Are home improvements good investments?

Yes, upgrades and rehabs are positives in the real estate biz. They can make a difference in a sale — who wants a home with ’80s-style appliances when two streets over you can get state-of-the-art stainless steel? And any improvement to your home’s structure is a plus, regardless of whether you’re wanting to sell. But how much should you invest in house renovations? These days, maybe not as much as you thought.

Let’s take selling your home as an example. In a steady real estate market, there’s generally a six-month supply of homes — meaning every buyer seeking a new home can typically find one within half a year. But as we inch toward the end of 2021, supply is dwindling to 2½ months worth of homes, according to the National Association of Realtors. Simply put, there aren’t enough homes available to satisfy the number of buyers. The added benefit for you? In this “seller’s market,” buyers are often forced to sacrifice their must-haves and take on any needed renovations themselves after they’ve moved in. 

An itemized home renovation sheet

Likewise, if you’re wanting to stay in your home and simply make some updates, there are several home improvements you can make to your house that don’t involve spending thousands (more on that later).

Bottom line: If your home needs a bit of work here and there, you’re likely not endangering a potential sale by taking the “as is” approach and leaving the renovations to your buyer. Gone are the days — at least for now — when a buyer had the power to dictate updates regarding home repairs. Today’s seller is in the driver’s seat. And, when it comes to deciding what updates you want to make in your home (that you plan to stay in), unless you have an issue that needs to be addressed, you can make the call on how much you want to spend on the investment.

A couple doing kitchen renovations

What home improvements add the most value in 2021?

Two words: kitchen and bath. The kitchen is the heart of a home. Peek in on any party, and regardless of how many guests are in the living room and on the patio, the kitchen is generally packed. Next in the valuable-upgrade category is the bath. If the kitchen is the heart of a home, the bath is its soul and sanctuary. Potential buyers should feel a sense of clean, quiet, comfort, and privacy. So when it’s time to think about renovating, the kitchen and bath are good places to start. And although they can get pretty pricey, they’re a good bet for returns on your investments.

Q: How much do kitchen and bathroom remodels cost?
A: “Minor kitchen remodels can run about $25,000 in today’s market,” said Tampa Bay, Florida realtor Neyshika Tellis, citing national averages, “and you can recoup about 80% of that when you sell.” Mid-range bathroom remodeling can run about $20,000, on average — and you can recoup 60% of that cost, according to Tellis. 

NEW KITCHEN APPLIANCES

New appliances are the no-brainer upgrade. Stainless steel is standard in today’s market; if you’re still rocking the once-stylish goldenrod or white fridge and range, it’s time to trade. But not everything has to start from scratch. Refacing cabinets, for instance, is a less-expensive alternative to a complete cabinet overhaul. A good rule of thumb for DIY renovators? When the bones are good, you’ve got a solid head start.

REFRESHED COUNTERTOPS

Refreshed kitchen and bathroom countertops are another way to fully refresh the overall look and feel of the spaces. If you’re considering selling, though, Tellis recommends sticking with neutrals rather than the latest fad or even your own preference, particularly if you lean toward flamboyant or super-trendy style. “Your goal is to let the buyers imagine themselves in the house,” she said. “Try to keep an open mind and get inspiration from books or even Instagram accounts that feature a broad range of styles. And keep in mind that what you consider functional might not be so functional to the next person. When in doubt, ask a designer to weigh in.”

REFINISHED BATH ESSENTIALS

Refinished showers and tubs are a terrific step to smooth out the bumps and bruises a bath acquires over the years. And like kitchen renovations, go with neutrals so your future potential buyers can envision taking on home decorating with bathroom ideas of their own. 

Pro Tip: Sprucing up your image can be an easy DIY project if you’re feeling crafty. Check out estate sales or thrift and antique shops for mirrors — castoffs from an old-fashioned dresser or a solo piece that once graced a foyer or bedroom wall. Paint the frame to blend with your color scheme, and you’ve got a signature mirror for your powder room or master bath. 
A woman using a caulk gun on the outside or her house

What are some easy renovations to help add value?

For relatively quick fixes that’ll bring some pizzazz to your home, consider these ideas: 

OUTDOOR SPACES 

As the pandemic has forced people to be mindful about social distancing and the risks of gathering indoors, outdoor living areas have become essential — particularly for entertaining. And sprucing up your deck or lanai doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few thoughts on easy outdoor makeovers:

  • Flash your green thumb: Curb appeal is obviously a draw for buyers. An overgrown mess of plants and shrubbery isn’t going to attract a family looking for a welcoming front yard — and it’s much more pleasant to gather outdoors when the lawn is tidy. A relatively affordable re-do with pretty flowers and greenery can make all the difference. Consider container gardens for a mini-vegetable patch or some native blooms to add a dash of color.
  • Spruce up the deck: Years of dragged chairs, spilled food and drinks, and general wear and tear take their toll on even the most pristine patio. How to fix it? Apply some touch-up paint to scrapes and scratches. Add color with accent pillows in your sitting area. Place a plant or two to add warmth and cover up sore spots. And for those sunset and after-dark patio gatherings, hang a couple strings of lights atop your space for a subtle, flattering glow. Your guests — and potential buyers, if you’re thinking of selling — will love the look.

INTERIOR PAINTING 

What room doesn’t immediately improve with a coat of fresh paint? And there’s a good payoff for refreshing the entire house, as well: “For an average home, an investment of about $1,000 will give you a 55% rate of return,” said Tellis. 

GARAGE DOOR

Often overlooked when you’re thinking about renovations, the garage door is more than just a tool. Along with landscaping, it’s a visitor’s first impression of your property. Fix any peeling paint spots, update rusted fixtures, and replace cracked or clouded window panes. Done properly, a garage door boost is like getting a mini facelift for your whole house. 

PRESSURE WASHING 

Pressure washing is another exterior quick fix — but you may want to get a professional to do this job. You want to make sure the pressure part of pressure washing is appropriate for your driveway, outside walls, and landscaping, so don’t skimp on this service.

CAULKING

Like wrinkles and age spots, those nooks and crannies that start to appear on your house can make a difference in overall appearance and value. But they’re easily fixable with a little caulk and a spatula. Get the kids to help with the patch work, and then let the adults (you!) take over when it’s time to do the touch-up paint. 

A man putting new flooring down

How important is flooring?

Besides redoing the entire kitchen, replacing your flooring is likely the most important home remodeling effort you can take on in today’s market. Styles have shifted from the dark hardwoods of the past couple decades; today’s buyer is looking for a lighter, airier look — so again, a good rule of thumb is to stick with neutrals. Kitchen tile is no exception.

And be consistent, says Tellis: “It’s not appealing to walk into a house that’s got four different types of flooring meeting at a central point — dark hardwoods in the foyer, a lighter gray in the dining area, and still another shade in the family room. Don’t go for trends and fads, especially if you’re planning to sell.” 

man opening the door of his PODS portable storage container

Once you’ve decided which home renovations to tackle, the next step is to figure out where to put your belongings during the project — especially if you’re updating the floors in your kitchen, bathroom, or other area of your home. Fortunately, with a PODS portable storage container, you can store your things safely out of the way while keeping them close by (right in your driveway, to be exact).

A man conducting a home appraisal

When do you know it’s the right time to renovate or sell? 

Unless your walls are falling down and your plumbing and electrical systems are failing, it might be difficult to decide when to pull the plug and put your gently (or not so gently) used house on the market. How can you leave the home where you raised a family — or where you yourself grew up? Whatever the scenario, homes occupy a sacred space in our lives, so the concept of leaving one behind can be tough. 

This is when we recommend bringing in the experts. Call an appraiser to give you an unflinching analysis: the current value of your house, what needs to be fixed, and what’s beyond repair and needs replacing. Factoring in your budget and living situation, you can then make the decision that’s right for you based on data and facts, rather than sentimentality. 

Home, after all, is where the heart is. And in today’s market, that means your next crush could be just around the corner — in about six months, that is.

Whether you decide to stay and renovate or sell and move on to a new home, visit the PODS blog for more insights into budget-friendly decorating ideas, DIY renovating, and buying a home during the pandemic.

Special thanks to Neyshika Tellis — Tampa Bay, Florida real estate agent with Charles Rutenberg Realty — for providing her professional insight for this article!


Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.