Figuring out what the market wants before you renovate can mean the difference between a mediocre sale and making a motza

You’re selling your home and you have an idea of what needs to be done to bring your property up to scratch. But how do you know what local buyers want? And how can you avoid the big O: overcapitalising? Our experts share their thoughts to help you get the best return.

The research stage

Knowing your market is key before you renovate to sell – and your first step, says Matt Bolin from Ray White Turramurra/Wahroonga, should be to seek advice from trusted local agents to find out what they’d do, or what buyers are looking for. “That’s good feedback. A stylist or interior designer can also tell you what’ll work best in your local area,” he says. “In terms of your location, what’s the maximum similar homes have sold for? Would spending $100k on an attic bedroom give you a return if buyers are mainly young families who’d appreciate the extra space? Doing this research will help you avoid overcapitalising.”

As a rule of thumb, aim to make $3 back for every dollar you spend on a reno, says Matt. “That said, spending $50k on a kitchen won’t necessarily net you an extra $150k on the sale price – but it might get you another $100k, which is a pretty good return. And if you go to market with a better bathroom and kitchen, more people will look at it and fall in love with it, which drives up the price.”

Ultimately, you want to make it easy for a buyer who would otherwise walk through, notice that the paint’s peeling and the carpet’s seen better days, and mentally calculate a $15-20k fix-it bill. “It might actually only cost $5k, but buyers typically overestimate their costs and factor that into their offer or how high they’ll go on auction day,” says Matt. “If your renovations leave a buyer thinking, ‘I don’t have to spend a cent, I can just move in’, you’ll have better luck extracting more dollars out of their budget on the sale.”

The planning stage

What to tackle when renovating to sell really depends on the areas letting the home down, says Lana Taylor from Three Birds Renovations. “It might be a dated kitchen or bathroom, or the exterior of the house, which can be transformed with paint and a spray gun,” she says. “If you can only do one or two things, your agent would probably say to paint the whole house inside and out – old timber frames and kitchen cupboards can be updated with paint.”

Our experts collectively agree that spending money on a functional floorplan is usually worth it. “Older homes have lots of rooms but not many open-plan spaces for modern family living – so if you remove walls to make the spaces more connected, it’s a great idea,” says Lana. “If you have a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, it’s probably more beneficial to add a bedroom. If you have a four-bedroom, one-bathroom house, you might be better off adding an ensuite.”

What shouldn’t you do? “We don’t think it’s worth rendering a whole brick home – you’ll probably get a better return if you spray-paint the bricks,” says Taylor. “Similarly, you don’t want to be seen using cheap materials – it’s about balance. Potential buyers will appreciate a quality benchtop or appliances, but might not care that the cupboard doors are more budget-friendly.”

The decorating stage

Choosing a colour palette can be tricky if you’re doing it for a buyer, but Inside Out’s resident stylist Lisa Koehler suggests starting with the floor. “What mood do you want to create? Dark and modern, or light and beachy? If you have a style in mind, establish your palette from the floor up, which is often the biggest expense. Then picking the wall colour and the window treatments is a natural progression. It can help to have all the samples together so you can see them working as a whole.”

While it’s tempting to shoehorn your own taste into the decorating, Lisa says neutral tones are best. “That way, the buyer can add their own personal style through furniture and homewares. Forget feature walls – they can make spaces feel smaller, and set a palette the buyer might not want. The same goes for high-contrast colour palettes and busy patterns with tiles. Classic never dates.”

Another strategy for staying dispassionate about the decorating process is to embrace your home’s architectural style, says Lisa. “It’s when you fight the bones of the house and try to make a Victorian terrace or a modern beach house something it’s not that renovations go pear-shaped. Also, consider the home’s aspect. You might love dark chocolate-brown floorboards, but if the home is south-facing, paler floorboards will make the home feel lighter and that will appeal more to a buyer.”