5 easy home upgrades that will make your house sell faster — and get you a higher sale price

Source: Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock.com

If you're trying to sell your house this summer, here's some good news: It's finally a seller's market, thanks to an improving economy that has helped drive demand for homes and a relatively low supply of real estate that gives sellers an extra edge. But if you want to get top dollar and sell quickly, you'll still need to be smart about attracting qualified buyers.

"Buyers' expectations are high right now," Julie Jones and Kathryn Krayer Zimring, professional real estate consultants known as JJ and the Z said in a phone interview. "The prevalence of HGTV and how they portray what needs to be done to get a home ready for sale has changed what buyers expect when they look at homes."

That's why you should "spend a little on small upgrades," Jones and Krayer recommended. "This doesn't mean going off the deep end with major improvements but you want to create a crisp, fresh appeal to the home."

Here are five tested and proven changes and simple upgrades to brighten up your home and make it feel inviting.

1. Painting it blue — or just the right grey

You may have painted your rooms to match your personal style, but if those colors aren't in demand, your choice could cost you thousands of dollars in lost profit on your home sale. Seriously.

Homes with walls that are painted light blue or a pale blue-gray color could bring in as much as $5,440 more than if the home had white walls, according to Zillow's Paint Color Analysis of more than 32,000 photos of homes sold nationwide. Light blue bathrooms can add that $5,000-plus premium, while navy blue front doors could add $1,514 to the price of a home; a slate blue or pale grey dining room could boost a sale price by $1,926; and a "greige" (mix of light grey and beige) exterior could be worth a $3,496 bump.

Buyers love pale blue walls.
Source: Artazum/Shutterstock.com

Jones and Krayer also attest to the power of color in attracting buyers. "Neutrals are very popular right now," they said. "We had a $900,000 listing and the whole kitchen and family room were a dark grey poupon yellow color. That color is not very popular right now, and we recommended they repaint in a light beige or grey. They did, and when we went to get pictures, 'Wow!' It brightened up the whole space!"

Flatter (and thus less popular) colors to avoid include off-white and eggshell. And be careful with your greys: Homes with slate grey dining room walls lost about $1,110 of their value, according to Elle Decor, while those with living rooms painted dove grey or light grey sold for about $1,100 more.

Estimated cost: A typical 10 by 12 room costs between $380 and $790 to paint, Home Advisor estimates, making paint jobs one of the best bangs for your buck, especially if you just freshen up a couple rooms, like the kitchen and living room.

2. Swapping little knobs for a big difference

Want a super easy upgrade? Replace cabinet hardware like knobs and pulls in both kitchens and bathrooms. "We're seeing a lot of bronze and brass, while brushed nickel or stainless-look cabinet knobs are more popular," Jones and Krayer said. "Changing out the knobs is an inexpensive way to make a kitchen or bath look updated."

Update your knobs
Source: zhu difeng/Shutterstock.com

Another big-impact fix on a budget: refresh towels and shower curtains so they don't look lived in. "You can get a fresh set inexpensively and remove wear-and-tear so a home feels move-in ready."

If you've got a bit more cash to spare, consider re-carpeting one or more rooms to coordinate with the wall colors.

Estimated cost: Knobs are a steal for as little as $19 for a 10 pack, decorative bath towels sell for as little as around $5 each, and you can get a pretty shower curtain for less than $10. "The average cost of an entire carpet installation project is $1,584, with most homeowners paying between $740 and $2,428 but with some paying as little as $200 or as much as $4,000," Home Advisor notes.

3. Knowing what to hide away

Buyers need to be able to picture themselves in a home, so Jones and Krayer suggest sellers need to declutter including putting away all knick knacks and family photos. "Get moving boxes and pack things as if you're ready to move," they advised. "This may mean getting a storage unit."

Stage the home so buyers can easily envision themselves living there. Giving each room a distinct purpose will help, so if you have an office/guest room, pick one or the other and re-decorate accordingly.

One way to get inspiration for staging: Visit model homes. "Builders are experts on preparing their product for prospective buyers," Jennifer Radice, of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Boca Raton, Florida, told Bankrate.

Estimated cost: Expect to pay around $127 monthly for a 10-by-10 storage space without climate control, or $159 monthly for a unit with heating and cooling included, according to USA Today. Moving boxes could cost around $0.73 per box or more, but you'd need to buy these when you move anyway.

4. Lightening and brightening — inside and out

As many as 90% of home-buyers have indicated that exterior lighting was on their list of top desired features, according to Kiplinger. Adding exterior lights both adds curb appeal and enhances safety.

If you're not up for installing a bunch of lights or if you're selling an apartment or condo where there are no exterior lights, this doesn't mean lighting doesn't matter. "We notice the when we go into a lot of listings, a chandelier might have one bulb burned out or recessed lights are burned out," Jones and Krayer said.

Front porch lighting can make your house pop.
Source: Artazum/Shutterstock.com

"Replace all burned out bulbs to brighten up the room, and use the highest wattage light bulb," they suggested. This can give your home the bright and airy look buyers desire.

Estimated cost: Exterior lights such as walkway lights, spotlights or pendants can cost between $63 and $135 per fixture, according to Kiplinger. Replacing burned out interior bulbs should be less than $1 per bulb, and there's no need for fancy LEDs when simple, bright bulbs will work fine.

5. Investing in good photos

The internet is the first place that 52% of home buyers turn to for information, and a full 90% of home buyers search online, according to a joint study conducted by the National Association of Realtors and Google. And standing out on the internet is all about great pictures.

"We don't care if we're selling a $60,000 home or a $3 million home; we use the same photographer," Jones and Krayer said. "She brings in lighting and uses a wide-angle lens to make the room look good-sized."

They indicated the vast majority around 98% of their buyers find the home they ultimately purchased by searching online. "The first thing buyers look at is pictures. If the first three pictures don't look good, they'll move on to the next house."

You don't want your potential buyers to click away because of low-quality pics you took with your phone. Make sure you, or your realtor, gets high quality pictures and posts the most inviting ones first — so you can maximize the chances of getting a fast sale at a great price.

Estimated cost: "A basic real estate photography shoot from a professional photography generally costs anywhere between $110 and $300 per shoot for photos only," Improve Photography noted. Want to DIY great photos? Read up on advice — you might be surprised by tips like getting on your knees for the perfect angle or taking closeups of cool features like your pretty stone fireplace. Here's Mic's guide to taking beautiful closeups with an iPhone.

Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s credit, savings, career, investing and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.