The Biggest Regret Home Sellers Have Right Now (and How to Avoid It)

You’ve probably gotten the letters and text messages: Interested in selling your house? Rising home values can make it pretty tempting—especially after two years of hearing about people simply listing their homes and immediately inciting bidding wars.

But, before you call your real estate agent, it’s worth considering research from Zillow. When surveying more than 10,000 people, they found the biggest regret people who sold—or were selling their house—had was…not doing enough early on to prepare their home before putting it on the market. Climbing interest rates mean homes are on the market longer (averaging 54 days, up 45 percent from last year), which means you’ll have to put in more effort to attract buyers than you did in 2021 or 2022.

“We’re no longer in a seller's market, but we’re not really in a buyer’s market yet, either,” explains managing editor and House Party podcast co-host Rachel Stults. “Your home ‘as is’ might not cut it—at least not if you want to sell quickly and for more money.”

But what prep work is worth it—and what will cost you way more money (and time) than you’d intended? Check in with your real estate agent to find out what’s in demand in your area specifically, and beyond that, “if you’re going to make improvements, the old rules still apply: Focus on the kitchen, bathrooms and your home’s exterior. These are the spaces that buyers will zero in on most,” Stults suggests. More specifically, that means doing things like:

1. Repaint Your Kitchen Cabinets & Boost Your Counter Space

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You may have heard that a vibrant red kitchen tends to decrease a home’s value by $5,000; similarly, other bright, in-your-face colors can be off-putting too, especially in this space. White and off-white are fairly safe upgrades, though navy and dark green have been trending for how soothing and luxe they can make even builder-grade cabinets appear.

Beyond a coat of paint, “increase your counter space wherever possible,” Stults says. “If you don’t have the budget to replace your countertops, you can add space on the cheap through counter-extension cabinets, or by adding a stationary kitchen island.”

2. Add a Skylight

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One thing everyone wants? A bright, airy kitchen that feels open and expansive, so you won’t be bumping into each other while cooking. “Install an elegant light fixture or, even better, a skylight. A skylight will draw the buyer’s eye upward and instantly make the kitchen feel bigger and brighter,” Stults says. (This typically costs $1,750 to $2,500 per window, so you may want to weigh this against what you think you can get for your house without it before committing.)

3. Trade Out Your Showerhead & Bathroom Hardware

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An impressive showerhead and modern hardware can instantly make a bathroom feel refreshed—and a bit less dated. Modern cabinets and flooring also help, but if that’s not in your budget, these small touches can go a long way.

4. Update Your Flooring

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Replacing outdated floors with tile or hardwood can yield up to an 80 percent return on investment, Stults says. (Indeed, other data suggests it could boost the sales price of your home by up to 2.5 percent. On a $300,000 house, that’s an extra $7,500. Just weigh that against the cost of labor and materials though, before going all in, to make sure the project is right for you.)

5. Opt for Warm Neutrals

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Yes, it’s true—painting your home a uniform, neutral shade inside makes the space flow more and creates a blank canvas for people to envision making the space their own. While gray has been popular for a while, warm, earthy tones have been trending, so consider warmer neutrals and (dare we say it?) beiges to draw people in.

6. Upgrade Your Garage Door

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Year after year, replacing the garage door tops Remodeling magazine’s list of home improvement projects that yield the highest ROI. As of 2022, the average homeowner recouped 93 percent of the cost.

If your garage door is in good shape, you can probably skip this; if it’s looking a little shabby, the impact on your curb appeal may be worth the effort.

7. Paint Your Front Door

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In terms of projects you can tackle in an afternoon that yield a major impact, head to your entryway. Painting your front door a high-contrast color—like black—can boost your resale value by up to $6,449. Slate blue was another choice buyers loved, according to Zillow, though it’s worth considering the impact the color will have on the overall vibe of your house and what tastes are like in your town. (Your real estate agent may have some insights here, based on what they’re seeing buyers respond to.)

The New Rules of Homebuying Today