If you’re hunting for a starter place in the Boston area, chances are high you’ll be looking at an older single-family home or row house or perhaps an old apartment building that’s been converted into condos. Massachusetts has the second-oldest housing stock in the United States, just after New York, according to the American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.
When you buy a starter home, you may be purchasing something a little smaller than you anticipated or in less-than-ideal condition, but there are multiple improvements you can take on to make your home more livable and possibly increase its value.
“Before you start spending, be sure that you have funds set aside for emergency repairs and unexpected expenses,’’ said Dan DeClerico, a home expert with HomeAdvisor based in New York City. “After that, anything that can be done to increase the amount of usable indoor or outdoor living space will check the boxes of making your home functional, making it your own, and possibly adding to its value.’’
DeClerico recommends that buyers keep a minimum of 2 to 5 percent of their home’s value in cash as an emergency fund — that’s $12,000 to $30,000 for a $600,000 house.
“It’s best to create a renovation budget prior to closing, then include those costs into your loan so you’ll be paying the renovation cost with your mortgage,’’ said Kevin Diarbakerly, a real estate agent with Century 21 Cityside in Boston.
Kitchens and bathrooms are the focus for many buyers and sellers, and there are options for improving them without going overboard on spending, said Nick Schwertschlag, a regional project manager in Boston for Curbio, which provides presale renovation services.
Some ways to add value to your home include:
Repainting kitchen cabinets and updating hardware. Refinishing or painting cabinets can instantly transform a room for about $2,500 or less, said DeClerico. Schwertschlag recommends changing the hardware in the kitchen for an inexpensive, fresh look.
Replacing appliances. New appliances can be added for as little as $2,500 for a fast kitchen upgrade, said DeClerico.
Replacing or refinishing floors. Diarbakerly estimates that sanding and refinishing floors can cost $750 to $1,500 or more depending on the size of the room. “Another option is to replace the floor with luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), which are 6-inch-wide planks that look like wood and are extremely durable,’’ said Schwertschlag. LVT flooring can be installed in the kitchen, bathrooms, living areas, and bedrooms, or you can lay new carpet in bedrooms for a simple upgrade.
Finishing the basement. Going from a raw space to a fully finished basement averages $10,000 to $30,000, said DeClerico, but you can install flooring and have the space drywalled for $7,500 or less, depending on how much you want to do yourself.
Adding a deck.“The smartest place to expand your living space is outdoors, and you’re likely to get your money back when you sell,’’ said DeClerico. “A simple deck costs about $5,000.’’
Minor bathroom updates. A full bathroom renovation can cost at least $10,000, said DeClerico, but it’s possible to make smaller changes for less, such as relining your shower stall for about $2,500. Schwertschlag suggests repainting or replacing your vanity, installing a new sink and faucet, and putting in a new toilet, all of which can be inexpensive fixes.
Painting. “Painting inside or outside is the most cost-effective way to improve a home’s appearance and value, whether you do it yourself or hire a pro,’’ Diarbakerly said. Schwertschlag recommends painting every room in the same neutral color and the trim with fresh, white paint.“The trim often looks old and stained in an older home, so this will immediately help it look newer,’’ he said.
Upgrading your exterior. Painting the front door can cost a few hundred dollars and provides a big lift to your curb appeal, said DeClerico. Simply cleaning up the yard, trimming bushes, and adding basic landscaping can also boost your home’s value without requiring a major makeover.
Updating lighting. Replacing the light fixtures throughout the house, including overheads and chandeliers, can instantly make your home look more modern without incurring a lot of expense, Schwertschlag said.
Opening the floor plan. While it’s not always possible, Schwertschlag said that sometimes you can remove the walls between the living and dining area and the kitchen to create an open floor plan. Make sure the walls aren’t load-bearing first. “It takes a day or two, but you can do it on a budget and raise the value of your home,’’ he said.