To make more money, homeowners have to spend money.
In some parts of the country, handyman services made up nearly half of all home-improvement projects undertaken in the six-month period before a home sold, according to real-estate website Porch.
Real-estate agents and sellers prioritize repairs and aesthetic improvements that prospective buyers are likely to notice, such as upgrades to flooring, cabinets, fences and doors, says Matt Ehrlichman, chief executive of Porch, which tracks home-improvement projects.
For the analysis, details of 675,000 home-improvement projects that had been submitted to Porch by homeowners, architects, builders, real-estate agents and others were compared with home listings and sales data from Realtor.com, which partners with Porch. The findings: Home sellers in the Northeast and Midwest were most likely to hire a handyman for minor repairs in the six-month period before the home sale. Homeowners in the West were most likely to hire a general contractor for larger improvements. In the South, home sellers were most likely to pay for electrical upgrades and repairs.
“Just doing these minor things will help your house sell quicker and typically for more money,” says Brad Carlson, a real-estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene in the Woodlands, Texas.
Mr. Carlson once had the listing for a three-bedroom home with dated brass fixtures throughout. The house sat on the market for over two months with no offers until the seller finally agreed to swap the fixtures for more modern ones. Two days and $800 in new fixtures later, the home sold close to its listing price at $214,900.
The Porch analysis also tracked home improvements made six months after the homes sold. Over this period, the new homeowners took on meatier projects, such as water-heater replacements, plumping updates and sewer repairs, according to the data.
These projects don’t appeal to potential buyers the same way that features like granite countertops do, says TJ Paradise, a real-estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in West Hollywood, Calif. Mr. Paradise estimates that sellers in his market spend $3,000 to $4,000 before selling their home, and new buyers invest roughly $20,000 after the purchase.
In rare instances, home sellers make hefty investments in improvements. Dan Dolan, a Chicago-area architect, is designing and will oversee construction of a roughly $150,000 addition to a home in New Jersey. The luxury home has a poor layout—the kitchen, dining room and living room are all on different levels—and has been on the market for over a year. The home seller, who Mr. Dolan declined to name, is listing his home for $1.5 million.
Still, Mr. Dolan says homeowners seldom ask for full-scale renovations or additions right before listing their homes. “Brighten, update and repair,” he says. “It’s all the little things that are actually going to sell your house.”