Updates and Features Buyers Actually Want

It's a never-ending dilemma for homeowners: What home improvement upgrades actually pay off? And how do you balance potential return on investment (ROI) with what you really want?

The National Association of Realtors publishes a list of renovations and their average ROI on a regular basic (you can see the most recent version here: https://www.nar.realtor/remodeling) and I definitely agree with most of what's on the list. However, in an area like ours - where first- and second-time buyers tend to be older, more educated and more affluent than in many other parts of the country - buyers tend to expect more in and from their homes.

Here are a few things that buyers in our area request on a regular basis - beyond hardwood floors and the basic "updated kitchen" - that can deliver solid ROI for homeowners.

Guest-ready space: Many of the people who live in Madison, Chatham, Florham Park and Morristown aren't from the area, so extra square footage for guests is highly desirable and delivers a premium. This might come in the form of an extra bedroom upstairs, or a home office that can fit a sofa bed suitable for parents visiting from out of state. Those who are especially lucky have a dedicated ground-level suite with an adjacent bathroom. Some homeowners also have luck finishing out a basement space - but it's important to make sure the area is clean and dry, and gets some natural light.

High-level finishes: Whether it's Quartz counter tops, real hardwood floors, designer bathroom fixtures or gourmet stainless steel appliances, buyers tend to expect and appreciate high-end items. This is true even for first-time home buyers, where an entry level home can cost half a million dollars or more.

Fresh paint and nice moldings: I can't tell you how many times I've heard a client say: "Wow, this is so nice. I won't even have to paint before I move in!" Buyers in this area are busy, and it's hard to connect with good, reliable contractors. A clean paint job attracts interest because it takes a pesky task off someone's to-do list. Nice moldings that are appropriate for the space also tend to pay off - they make even the most modest Cape Cod or ranch-style homes feel warmer and more sophisticated.

Entertaining-ready outdoor space: Even though it's cold for five months of the year and super buggy for four months, there are usually 60-90 days in New Jersey that are absolutely fantastic. A hardscaped area in a private area of your rear or side yard is especially attractive to buyers; though they also appreciate well-maintained decks.

Realtors and homeowners - weigh in: What updates have you made that have paid off? Which ones haven't? We'd love to hear your perspective.

Meg Mullin is a Madison mom, realtor and writer. Feel free to reach out to her for information about buying or selling – she has tons of experience helping clients with both. You can reach her at megmullinrealestate@gmail.com or 973-845-8375.