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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tips for the Frugal Home Seller: Thrifty Bathroom Makeover

In previous posts on the topic of getting your home ready to sell, we looked at essential, basic steps to take, like thorough cleaning, decluttering, refreshing the front door, and minor repairs. We also looked beyond the basics at updating the powder room, removing wall paper and replacing out-dated fixtures.

This time, we'll take the getting-ready to sell process to the next level with a room make-over. The general real estate wisdom tell us that the kitchen, master bath and master bedroom are the most important rooms in the house, in terms of resale. Some might argue that the family room might be more important than the master bedroom. Your own real estate agent should be able to tell you what's more important in your market and for the target audience for your home.

Today we'll start with a master bath make-over.

So, let's assume that you've done the big clean, and you've decluttered your bathroom. You have even gone the extra mile and removed that metallic wallpaper that you thought was so snazzy when you bought the house. Now step back and look at it with a critical eye. Are the fixtures the original taupe or raspberry that were so popular in 1987?  And how about the shower curtain? Does it match the equally-hideous curtains?  Are the towels mismatched relics from your wedding shower 19 years ago? Is the floor covered with carpet? If you've answered yes to even one of these questions, it's time for a bathroom make-over.

If your budget is really tiny, you can do a basic, mini make-over that will minimize the bathroom's flaws by creating a harmonious over-all impression with a few pops of color or pattern to distract the prospective buyer.

The first task is to pick a color scheme.

Let's say the fixtures are taupe and the floor is a nice, but dated beige marble. You might want to pick a slightly darker shade of taupe or beige for the walls, with white trim.  If the tile is burgundy and gray, darker gray walls might work well. And when in doubt, white works well with everything.
If interior decor isn't your strong suit, look through some up-to-date design magazines (you may find some at the library), visit up-scale model homes at new construction sites. Some home improvement stores have consultants on staff who know a thing or two about color. You'll want to make sure that the color you choose will work with whatever you aren't replacing in the bath, like fixtures, tile and flooring. Cost of painting: $100 (could be more if it's a very large room or you are covering up particularly dark colors).

Once you've painted the walls and trim, pick out a new shower curtain that has some pizazz to it. A shower curtain is a big piece of fabric that can make a great statement, even becoming the focal point in the room, taking the load off dated aspects. You'll probably also want to replace the shower curtain rings with a new set that enhances the look of the shower curtain. Cost:  $50 - $100.

Next, select a new set of towels that work with the shower curtain. Get at least two sets of matching bath and hand towels (you won't need the washcloths). Fold them just so and place them on the towel rack...where they will remain throughout the time the house is on the market. These are just for show, so make sure family members know that! Use your old towels, and stash them in the washing machine, hamper or in a basket in a closet when the house is being shown.  Add a simple, unobtrusive window blind if needed.
Cost: $40 - $75 (more if you have several towel rods and more than one window).

Finally, pick out two or three decorative items  - candles, baskets, apothocary jars - to place artfully on the vanity, tub surround or window sill. Cost: $0 if you select from items you already own.

Unless the bathroom is very large or the floor is particularly unsightly, eliminate rugs and bathmats. You'll also want to get rid of the toilet seat cover, a toilet paper cozy, magazine rack, silk or plastic flowers and any decorative items that don't fit in with your color scheme. In addition, whenever showings are scheduled, put away all personal grooming and hygiene products and tools, and hide the toilet cleaning brush.

Total cost of mini bathroom make-over: $200 - $300

If you have a little bit more to spend you might:
  1. replace faucets and tub/shower hardware
  2. replace toilet
  3. update the towel rods
  4. replace drawer and cupboard hardware
  5. add a new light fixture
  6. remove the old medicine cabinet and replace it with a good-looking framed mirror
  7. replace the old vanity top with a new version in marble, granite or other up-scale material
  8. add an under-mount sink
  9. replace the vanity itself
  10. install new flooring
  11. retile around the tub/shower
  12. add a separate shower stall
To keep costs down, look for floor models, overstocks, returns and even slightly imperfect merchandise at  places like Home Depot, Lowe's and other home improvement centers. You may find great decorative pieces at highly discounted prices at places like Marshall's, T.J.Maxx and HomeGoods.  Look for items at garage sales and flea markets, and on Craig's List, Ebay and Freecycle. Do the work yourself or request help from skilled friends.

In the past, as much as 90% of the cost of bathroom remodelling could be recouped at sale. According to Remodeling Magazine, the figures for 2009 show that home sellers recouped 71% of the cost of a bathroom remodel. But that was assuming a full renovation with an average cost of  about $16,000. Smaller projects, if done well, could recoup a higher percentage. In the challenging 2010 real estate market, home sellers may not recoup all their costs, but it could be just the thing that puts that home ahead of the competition and results in a faster sale.


  1. Great article Dee. Also Ikea is a wonderful place for facelifts and makeovers. My girlfriend did an IKEA kitchen for 1/4 the cost of a normal remodel.

  2. Thanks Nadine. Ikea is a great source for inexpensive bath & kitchen make-overs. The big issue is that none of these big retailers is particularly green...and Ikea has big environmental issues. But they do have great style options..