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Home/Real Estate

Change agent: Home renovations with the best returns

May 16th, 2017 by

A luxury real estate agent reveals the best investments in home renovations


The most common advice before selling a property is to update kitchens and bathrooms. According to Nancy Robertson, Senior Vice President of Sales at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada in Oakville, Ontario, there are no guarantees. “If the quality of the renovation is poor or the style too quirky or unattractive, that reno can actually reduce the value of the home.” 

Trying to decide what to renovate? Here are Robertson’s expert tips on how to invest wisely. 

First impressions

“Most buyers decide to buy a home within six minutes of seeing it, so the best investment is to make that first impression a fabulous one. A pot of pink hydrangeas at the door, a sparkling clean entry, all the light bulbs aglow and not a spot of dust or clutter – these efforts cost little and pay off well.”


“The decision to buy a house is made at three judgement points.”

  1. Viewing the photos. Consult a professional, or get inspiration from Pinterest, for styling tips—and invest in great photos.
  2. Curb appeal. Prospective buyers will likely arrive by car, or drive by before making the decision to go to an open house. Make sure your home looks great from a moving car. Make your curb appeal count.
  3. Walking through the front door. Make this moment count. The buyer is seeking a connection and will either think, “I love it, this is the one!” or “Eh, I don’t know.”

Clean Slate

“People underestimate the value of elbow grease to get the basics right.”

Mow the lawn, pull weeds and edge flowerbeds. Paint the trim and polish the hardware. Scrub every surface of the exterior and interior. No scuffed walls, dusty baseboards or grimy venetian blinds. You may be blind to signs of wear-and-tear but a new visitor won’t be. 

Pack it in

“Buyers want to see the house, not your stuff.”

Purge your closets and “edit” your rooms. Remove all but the essential furniture. Let in as much natural light as possible. Create space where people can imagine their own things.

Grey, yes—yellow, no!

“Yellow is not a good colour. It doesn’t photograph well and the colour is too subjective.”

Painting is the easiest way to modernize and refresh a space. Keep it airy with white or pale beigey-gray (“greige”). Robertson likes “Agreeable Gray” by Sherwin-Williams.

Keep it classy—and classic

“Kitchens and bathrooms should be timeless.”

Keep the renos simple and neutral. Skip trendy glass tiles and stick to classic subway tiles. White cabinets are popular with 90 per cent of buyers, according to Robertson. Quartz is the new granite.

The hard part

“Hardwood floors make a good impression. Solid or engineered hardwood creates a feeling of quality underfoot.”

Carpet should be limited to upper floors and laminate is only acceptable in the basement.

Care package

“Buyers look for evidence that you care.”

Robertson’s rule-of-thumb is to set aside an annual 1% of your home’s value for maintaining structure and operations.You might not use it every year and some years you will spend more, but on average, you won’t overspend. 

Don’t believe HGTV

“Don’t believe everything you see on HGTV.”

These shows give a false impression for what can be done on a certain budget. The show buys the materials but they don’t pay for labour. Doing a makeover on the same scale will cost you much more.


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