The Home-Buyer Cheat Sheet: Changes You Can Make Now

It’s house-hunting season again. After a long slump in sales and prices, homeowners are officially back on the move.

In your search, you’re likely to find plenty of things to love and others you’d love to change. The trick when it comes to purchasing a home is figuring out what’s an easy fix versus a major renovation.

We turned to local experts Joan Craig, architect, and Gemma Parker, interior designer, both of Lichten Craig, and Thomas Kearin, COO of Heidbreder Building Group, for advice on what to look for when shopping for the perfect home.

Things you can change by yourself (or with the right handyman):

  • Wall color and wallcoverings: Paint is the easiest change—and not just for the walls. If you love a historical house but are put off by the wood molding, it’s not sacrilege to paint it.
  • Flooring: Carpet can always be ripped up or replaced. If you hate the pattern or scale of the hardwood floors, they can always be stained or painted a dark color to visually disappear.
  • Window coverings: Look past existing drapes and swags to see a window’s real potential.
  • A dated bathroom: Transform it with a new light fixture, medicine cabinet, cabinet hardware or by painting an ugly vanity. To cover unappealing tile, Craig recommends Chilewich floor mats. Ugly or worn faucets can be easily replaced if you stick with the same set-up (i.e., single-hole mounting versus three; wall or deck-mounted). Same goes for the toilet and vanity. And don’t forget you can easily lose or replace a scummy glass shower door.
  • Door hardware: including hinges, and even the front door.
  • Fireplace: Refacing or replacing your fireplace mantle, or adding a ventless fireplace in a room that needs a focal point.
  • Dated or underscaled molding and trim: Adding or deleting trim detail is an easy way to create a fresh look for minimal cost. In the case of damaged woodwork, Craig recommends replacement versus restoration, because it’s more cost-effective.
  • Kitchen: Minor changes, like painting cabinets, adding new hardware, replacing countertops, sinks and faucets and adding lighting, can all be done quickly and relatively inexpensively. Craig will often design and install a new hood to provide a focal point in an otherwise bland room.
  • Repurpose a room: There’s no reason you have to stick to the previous owner’s floor plan. If you don’t use a formal dining room, make it a library or office. An adjoining small dining room and living room can be turned into a single, larger great room by removing French doors and painting the two spaces a consistent color.

Relatively minor renovations:

  • Opening up smaller rooms: When done well, this change can offer a dramatic transformation to the look, feel and functionality of a home.
  • Adding light: Whether it’s replacing smaller windows with bigger ones or adding French doors, the extra light and access to the outdoors can visually expand the feel of a home.
  • Swap out worn or ugly windows: A relatively easy transformation, particularly if you stick with standard sizes and styles.


Check out these other ideas for improving a home’s curb appeal or drab architecture.

Minor changes and alterations are easy enough—but there are concerns buyers should consider before making a deal, such as the home’s location and history. What should you think about? Read more here.


Photo: Home for sale real estate sign by Bigstock