The right combination of upgrades can boost a  selling price by 10%, but owners with limited funds often don’t know which projects offer the most bang for the buck – an owner stress point early in the process, in part because each home is different.

NEW YORK – Getting your home ready to sell can seem daunting. Should you paint the whole house? Replace the roof? Renovate the kitchen?

Some 79% of sellers nationwide make at least one renovation or improvement to their home before a sale, according to Zillow. The right combination of upgrades can add as much as 10% above your anticipated home sale price, according to figures from HomeAdvisor.

The most important thing to consider? Looks, according to Grant Lopez, who has been a real estate agent in San Antonio for more than a decade.

“I can take a buyer into a house that has new windows and new roof and a new HVAC system, but if it’s not visually appealing, most buyers will cross it off their list,” said Lopez, who also is chairman of the San Antonio Board of Realtors.

Take the experience of Sammy Shores and his wife, Faron.

Shores, general manager of the Lexington, Kentucky, branch of Landscape Workshop, figures the couple doubled the selling price of their 1940s bungalow in the city’s Kenwick neighborhood after slowly updating their home over four years.

Improvements included removing a wall to open up the kitchen and adding a wrap-around counter area with stools. They also upgraded basic systems in the house, including the roof and air systems.

Most of the improvements weren’t made with selling in mind, Shores said. But the family of four wanted more space and decided to sell.

One of their last projects included a revamping of the home’s outdoor areas. Shores, who did much of the work himself, added Japanese maples, an area for flowers and vegetables, a place for his kids to play and a natural stone retaining wall in front in a neighborhood where families tend to linger on porches.

“Adding those features to the front of the home, I think, was a big selling point for the current buyer. She mentioned that all the time, like during the closing,” Shores said.

Groom your yard

A minimal outdoor spruce-up can add as much as 5% to the sale price of your home, said Dan DiClerico, a HomeAdvisor home expert.

Outdoor space these days can be as valuable as a kitchen remodeling, much in the way an open floor plan was for baby boomers, said Rusty Underwood, Shores’ real estate agent. That’s “especially true for the younger generations that are coming into the buyers’ market,” Underwood said.

Adding an outdoor deck, for instance, costs an average of $7,000, according to HomeAdvisor. Such features, even in the South where it gets really hot, can help sell a home, San Antonio’s Lopez said.

The kitchen is key

Inside, the kitchen is the most important room, real estate agents said. But don’t bother with a gut job. Major renovations return just more than 51 cents on the dollar, according to Zillow.

A total remodel can set a homeowner back an average of $22,000 and up to $50,000 in the luxury market, according to HomeAdvisor’s DiClerico. Instead, a “smart, cosmetic makeover” for $3,000 to $5,000 will do the trick, raising the sale price by roughly 5%. That can include new appliances, countertops and floors that coordinate.

“The kitchen is where people live,” said Lorrie Marro, a real estate agent in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Upgrading “is going to give you your best return on investment or get you the sale more than any other room.”

In California’s Antelope Valley, buyers are looking for stainless steel kitchen appliances, wood or laminate flooring, and updated bathrooms that are “clean and move-in ready,” said Jill Furtado, a real estate agent in the valley north of Los Angeles.

Appearance inside counts, too

Painting inside can make a home feel new, something more buyers are demanding thanks to the rising popularity of home-improvement television.

Furtado, in the Antelope Valley, recalled one recent seller who did all the typical staging, including thoroughly cleaning the house. Three weeks later, still no sale. So Furtado persuaded the couple to paint the interior and replace the carpets.

“The house sold within a week,” Furtado said.

The average cost to paint an entire interior runs about $1,750. according to HomeAdvisor, and can add 2% to 3% to a home’s selling price. Furtado’s clients ended up happy: They got their asking price, she said.

“Smart” features are becoming more popular

While not in widespread demand, younger buyers are starting to ask about such features as a connected thermostat, fridge and security system they can monitor from an app on their phone, real estate agents said.

Enabling a thermostat, doorbell, lock, camera and a speaker costs roughly $1,500 and can boost a home’s sale price by up to 5%, according to HomeAdvisor.

But don’t ignore a home’s major systems. Major items such as air systems, roofs, plumbing, smoke detectors, fireplaces and fences should be in “good working order,” said Furtado. Most buyers need a mortgage. A lender can dictate those items be fixed during the appraisal and require repairs before closing, Furtado said.

For Shores, having the basic systems in place helped reassure the home’s first-time buyer. “She wasn’t necessarily thinking about ‘how long is this roof going to last,’” Shores said. “And so we were just like, here’s the things that we … already fixed for you.”

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY, Rachel Layne