Ask an Expert: Should I renovate to boost my sale price?

It's likely not worth laying out tens of thousands of dollars (and months of reno-related headaches) if your only goal is to raise your apartment's value for an impending sale.
It’s likely not worth laying out tens of thousands of dollars (and months of reno-related headaches) if your only goal is to raise your apartment’s value for an impending sale. Photo Credit: iStock

I’ve owned my small NYC apartment for 20 years, and have recently started to price out the cost of renovations. (I’ve been quoted $30,000 to $40,000 for the kitchen; $25,000 to $30,000 for the bathroom; $20,000 for a floor replacement; and $100,000 to $130,000 for a total gut.) My question is this: How much value can I really expect to get out of this kind of work, if I want to sell? I’ve been told that in this city, renovations are considered outdated after seven years.

While some wisely chosen upgrades will boost your potential sale price, it’s likely not worth laying out tens of thousands of dollars (and months of reno-related headaches) if your only goal is to raise your apartment’s value for an impending sale, say our experts.

“Renovating to sell is a very different proposition than renovating to remain in the home,” explains CORE broker Douglas Heddings. “Renovating to sell is more of a business proposition in that the owner, with advice from a broker and/or designer, needs to choose cost-effective upgrades that maximize profit upon sale.”

If you’re renovating for your own long-term use and quality of life, you can feel freer to choose finishes that fit your specific tastes, and splash out on high-end appliances that you know you’ll use every day. That is, with the knowledge that you’ll most likely recoup your investment on an eventual sale, but won’t do much more than break even.

The prices you’ve been quoted do line up with citywide averages for renovations, says Bolster founder Fraser Patterson, and if you want to price out specific return on investment, it’s worth looking over the most recent edition of the Remodeling Cost vs. Value report, which has estimates of the cost (and estimated resale value) of different renovation projects in the NYC market.

Even so, if you’re doing renovations this large (and costly) just in the hopes of boosting your sales price, the amount of difference it will make depends on the size and price point of your apartment, as well as how dramatic a difference the upgrades will make, says Corcoran’s Deanna Kory.

“For example, if you have a one-bedroom, and the price ranges in the neighborhood are $695,000 to $850,000,” says Kory. “It’s possible that un-renovated you could get around $700,000, and renovated you could achieve around $800,000 to $850,000. So in that case, if your contractor is correct and the amount you’re spending is around $130,000 or $140,000 you would just about break even.”

All of which raises a natural follow-up question: how do you decide what updates are worth spending money on if you’re not doing a full-scale renovation? While there are some classic affordable-but-visually-high-impact updates like new fixtures, countertops, and backsplash, to figure out what works best for your particular apartment you’d do well to bring in some outside expertise.

“Ask a real estate broker with experience in your building to look at your apartment, and get a professional’s take on what improvements would create the most impact and added value,” suggests Gordon Roberts of Sotheby’s International Realty. “They may have seen other apartments in your line, and make worthwhile recommendations based on the work of others, for instance, improving the floorplan in some way. You may even be surprised by what they recommend — it might be changing your window A/C to thru-wall, skim-coating walls, or increasing storage space, as opposed to new floors.” (When it comes to staging for a sale, ‘sleek and universally appealing’ tends to win the day.)

Kory adds that with the right planning (and a savvy team in place), “you can spend less than $30,000 and still achieve $100,000+ increase in value.”

As for the question of your work becoming outdated within seven years, this is a possibility, but the effects can be minimized by using classic materials like whites and neutral colors, and subway tiles if you’re in a pre-war, says Bolster architect David Yum.

“Some renovations are outdated the moment they are completed — highly personalized, idiosyncratic renovations can make a buyer think, ‘I need to rip this out if we move in to this place,'” says Yum. “Still, even a renovation that looks a bit tired will bring value since prospective buyers very often see the difference between seven-year-old work and 27-year-old fixtures.”

In sum, the scope of your work should depend entirely on your goals, your budget, and your patience for living through a renovation.

“If you’re going to live there, I would say go for it because you’ll get your money out,” says Kory. “But if you’re doing it to sell the apartment, it’s a lot of hassle and there’s a risk as well that it may go higher in construction price, and so it’s not usually wise to do a complete renovation in order to sell.”

Virginia K. Smith is the senior editor at BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a NYC apartment and living happily ever after.