Of all the high-traffic rooms in a house, the bathroom is one of the most popular targets for homeowners hoping to make renovations that they will enjoy and that will impress potential buyers.
A recent study from HomeAdvisor showed that Americans spent an average of $13,138 on home improvements in 2020, up 45% year over year. About one-third of those renovations went into bathroom revamps, making them the second most popular upgrade. (Painting interior walls came out on top.)
Whether you’re putting your house on the market or planning to stay put, making your bathroom more user-friendly and stylish should be at the top of your to-do list.
Luckily, updating your loo doesn’t mean you have to spend a small fortune or undertake a multiweek renovation. You can make an impact in just five minutes!
We spoke with design and home-selling experts to assess which bathroom tweaks you should tackle, based on how much time you have to dedicate to the project. Here are some of their suggestions.
If you have 5 minutes
With just a few minutes, homeowners can transform their bathroom’s aesthetic.
Replacing ratty or plain towels with nice hand towels is fast and easy, and adds a touch of luxury for buyers, says Sydney Brisco, a home improvement specialist and founder of Just a Homeowner in Springfield, OR.
Older shower-heads can also quickly be replaced with something sleek and modern, she adds.
Cost: Each fix is $15 and up.
One of the biggest issues in this high-traffic zone is odor. Nip that issue in the bud—and improve the look of the space—with fresh flowers, says Marina Vaamonde, a commercial real estate investor and founder of PropertyCashin in Bellaire, TX.
“Fresh, aromatic flowers add a natural floral scent and provide an elegant visual welcome,” she says. “I tell clients to arrange jasmine, lavender, or ylang-ylang in a classic vase that complements the bathroom’s colors and overall design.”
Cost: $4 and up
If you have 30 minutes
Spending just a half-hour on a few tweaks will seriously rev up your bathroom’s cachet.
Simple framed photos or a few classic art prints can instantly add sophistication and appeal, says Kelly Marohl of Baltimore, a home design expert at The Greenspring Home blog.
Order high-resolution prints of your photos or works of art from CVS, Walmart, Shutterfly, or other online sources. Purchase matching frames, assemble your new artwork, and hang it in the bathroom.
Cost: Prints start at around 20 cents per print. Simple picture frames start at around $10.
If you have 1 hour
Most homes come with generic hardware that tends to age quickly. If you have an hour, it’s feasible to replace cabinet knobs, drawer pulls, or a sink faucet, even for the DIY-challenged.
It will take about an hour for non-pros to do, says Jenna Shaughnessy, an interior designer at Jenna Kate at Home in Boston.
“Get rid of the old satin nickel, and upgrade to matte black, polished chrome, or satin brass,” she recommends.
Cost: $40 and up
This one isn’t fun, but it can make a world of difference. It’s human nature to notice other people’s messes more than our own, so put yourself in the place of a potential home buyer, and prepare to do a deep and thorough cleaning of your bathroom.
“Use a mixture of equal parts hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and blue toilet cleaner on bathroom tile grout,” says Sarah Renard, a real estate broker with Windermere Realty Trust in Portland, OR. “Just mix it up, let it sit for 10 minutes, and scrub out the gunk with a toothbrush. It can also be used on problem stains in the tub and toilet.”
Cost: About $10
If you have 3 hours
An afternoon’s worth of time will deliver a serious bathroom upgrade.
Shaughnessy recommends starting with the walls and adding texture by applying wainscoting panels.
“Wainscoting is a beautiful choice for any style of bathroom, and will instantly add elegance and brightness to a space,” she says.
It’s prefabricated, easy to mount, and disguises signs of wear and tear.
Cost: Wainscoting ranges from $1 to $40 per square foot, depending on the material (whether medium-density fiberboard, plywood, or luxury solid wood).
If you’re looking to go all out with a new wall treatment, try some chic peel-and-stick wallpaper.
“It can really add a punch, and the paper isn’t permanent like traditional wallpaper, making it an easy tweak,” says Renard.
Cost: More expensive peel-and-stick wallpaper goes for $175-plus per roll. Less expensive options cost around $10 to $30.
If you have a weekend
When was your bathroom last updated? If the answer is 10 years ago or more, it probably looks outdated compared with other homes on the market.
“Often, homeowners don’t want to do a lot of work before they put their home on the market. But if you have an outdated bathroom, replacing the vanity and flooring will be the best thing you can do to sell your home,” says Jennifer Petreccia, an associate at Re/Max Advantage Group in Warwick, RI.
New flooring can also do wonders to modernize your bathroom, so look into installing new waterproof-vinyl plank flooring (to provide the appearance of hardwood) or tile.
Cost: $500 and up for a new vanity and flooring (based on the size of your bathroom and the materials you choose). Unless you are handy and can do it yourself, you’ll also have to factor in the cost of labor.
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