It doesn’t matter how perfect your home is—if your listing photos don’t stand out, potential buyers won’t come by to take a look. In our series “Lessons From Listing Photos,” we dissect the smart updates sellers have made to their homes, and how their listing pictures highlight the home’s best assets.
When the previous owners of this three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Houston stumbled upon it, they knew they had found a diamond in the rough. And by rough, we mean rough.
The house, built in 1929, was partly gutted, and what was left was dated and in disrepair. But the house’s run-down state didn’t hinder the previous owners from seeing its potential. Plus, it’s located in a desirable (and seriously cute) neighborhood that’s just outside downtown.
So they took a leap and purchased the home for $89,000 in 2011. Over the next nine years, they really put in the work. When they listed the home in September 2020, it sold for $479,900. Talk about a gain!
So yes, dramatic returns on investment are possible—and the process doesn’t necessarily have to drag on for the better part of a decade. We tapped our team of experts to find out what these owners did that made this transformation such a success, and how you can pull off a similar feat.
The front of this home has gone from dreary to bright, warm, and welcoming.
Natasha Nicolaou, owner of NatNico Designs, a Boston-based interior design and home-staging company, says these images embody everything a home renovation should be.
“If you look closely, you can see there are very few major structural changes. This owners really understood where to spend their money to get the most bang for their buck,” she explains. “The addition of the private front deck, staircase, and matching window boxes makes the home appear larger and more substantial. … The added window in the front bedroom creates a beautiful continuity to the front of the house.”
“The makeover of the front of the house is simple but completely changes the feel of the home,” adds Rachel Street, interior designer, real estate agent, and the host of the DIY Network show “Philly Revival.” “Clean, white siding is complemented with natural wood accents in the fence and window box, and the pop of yellow on the front door creates an inviting and cheery entry.”
“This living room is a great example of how a few simple, yet effective changes can completely alter the look and feel of the living room,” says Nicolaou. “By adding built-in shelves and a barn board wall, the previous owners have taken a forgettable fireplace and two tiny windows and created a beautiful focal point to anchor the room. The new look gives the home a more custom, high-end feel that buyers are attracted to.”
Street says those built-ins serve another smart purpose: adding storage, something that’s very important to buyers looking at smaller homes.
“They also made a smart choice to save money by painting the fireplace a deep charcoal color instead of refacing or entirely replacing the unit,” Nicolaou says. That likely saved the owners big bucks for their renovation budget. Because the goal is to make a good profit, right?
There’s almost nothing left of the original kitchen, and that’s probably a good thing because the complete overhaul paid off.
“Having an attractive kitchen is the key to selling a house, and they did a great job focusing on the details and fully utilizing the space,” says residential real estate investor Bill Samuel. “I especially like the contrasting colors of the upper and lower cabinets.”
Janci Deetz, stager and designer at studio D, loved all the changes in the kitchen.
“Bringing the hardwood in from the living room helps connect the rooms and adds the illusion of more space,” she says. “New appliances and a compact island add functionality and appeal to potential buyers.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home, and always a safe place to invest money if you are trying to see a return on investment,” adds Deetz.
Change is good, especially in this formerly drab bedroom. Street says much of that change comes from the additional (and now blind-less) windows, which help bring the outside in.
But the windows aren’t the only changes Street noticed.
“The sliding barn door adds character and also saves space in the narrow room, increasing its functionality and making it feel more open,” she says.
Nicolaou has nothing but good things to say about the bedroom.
“I’m in love with the designer touches that have completely elevated the look of this room,” she says. “The shiplap wall, sliding barn door, updated ceiling fan, even the added touches to the molding show that the previous owner understands and appreciates a buyer’s eye for detail and style. Even the paint colors, while simple, really add a level of style and sophistication to the new master bedroom.”
Every flipper knows you need to have a spa-quality bathroom, and so did this home’s previous owners.
Deetz confirms that renovated bathrooms are always high on the wish list of potential buyers.
“This bathroom looks much better after the addition of light-reflecting surfaces,” says Street. “Subway tile is not an expensive tile choice, so this is an inexpensive upgrade that provides significant bang for your buck.”
Nicolaou agrees. “Wall-to-wall tile is a smart investment that has totally updated the look of this bathroom,” she says.
She also notes that buyers will fall in love with the designer touches in this bathroom: “The double sinks with varying heights will appeal to families with children, while the updated mirror and lighting will appeal to a buyer looking for a bathroom with a little designer glam.”
Some potential buyers may have spotted that sorry-looking guesthouse out back and immediately started calculating the price of demolition. But Samuel says tearing it down would have been a bad idea unless it was completely beyond repair—and it wasn’t.
“I absolutely agree with keeping the in-law suite on the property as the additional square footage adds a considerable amount of value to the property,” Samuel explains. “Having the extra living space on the property is a great selling point for buyers when they host guests from out of town.”
He also suggests some buyers may view the renovated guesthouse as potential rental space—either through Airbnb or as a long-term rental. Offering a way to offset a mortgage payment is a smart way to entice buyers to pay a higher price for a home.