The MapleMoney Show » How to Spend Money Wisely » Renovations

Renovating Your Home for Resale, with Jennifer Hooper

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

When it comes to home renovations, you want to know that your money will lead to a return on your investment down the road. But not all home renos are worth the money when it comes to boosting resale value. How do you know what updates are worth the cost and which ones to avoid?

Jennifer Hooper is a Calgary-based real estate agent with more than ten years of industry experience. She joins me this week to talk about the types of renovations that increase a home’s resale value and the ones that don’t.

I’ve bought and sold a few houses in my day, so as I spoke with Jennifer, I found myself thinking of my own renovation experiences. According to Jennifer, when you’re renovating your home for the purpose of resale, some updates are worthwhile than others. Would you believe that a fresh coat of paint is often the highest value reno? And one of the least expensive, too.

On the flipside, that expensive new kitchen or master suite will look spectacular, but you might not make your money back when it’s time to sell. A backyard pool? You’ll need to listen to my interview with Jennifer to find out about backyard pools.

Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor Wealthsimple will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with Socially Responsible Investing, head over to Wealthsimple today!

Episode Summary

  • How different renovations impact your home’s resale value
  • The danger of investing too much money into your kitchen
  • Don’t over renovate for the neighbourhood you live in
  • Call the realtor before you do the renos.
  • For resale, painting your house will get the best ROI
  • Homebuyers will subtract the anticipated cost of home repairs from their offer amount
  • One of the worst home reno ROIs is a pool in the backyard

Read transcript

When it comes to home renovations, you want to know that the money you spend will lead to a return on your investment down the road, but not all home renos are worth the money when it comes to boosting resale value. How do you know what updates are worth the cost and which ones to avoid? Jennifer Hooper is a Calgary based real estate agent with more than 10 years of industry experience. She joins me this week to talk about the types of renovations that increase the home’s resale value and the ones that don’t. 


Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor, Wealthsimple, will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, clean tech, human rights and the environment. To get started with socially responsible investing, head over to today. Now, let’s chat with Jennifer… 


Tom: Hi, Jennifer. Welcome to the Maple Money Show. 


Jennifer: Hi, thank you for having me. 


Tom: You’re a realtor in Calgary, in an area like where I am in Airdrie, just outside. One of the things I’ve seen people ask is what can they do to their house to improve it so they can sell it for more or maybe just sell it at all, depending on the market. I don’t think this is something people should necessarily do because they’re about to sell their house. I’ve made this mistake before. It’s something where if people kind of keep this in the back of their head, they could make these renovations and enjoy them throughout the years they own a house and not just do it because they feel like they have to at the end. One of the things I think happens a lot is people don’t know what renovations to do, what’s actually sort of worth the money. Can we just run through some of these things? First of all, what’s the point of all this? Why should someone make renovations, especially when it comes to selling their house?


Jennifer: Well, there’s lots and lots of information there. I’m really excited to get into this, for sure. Obviously, people live in their houses and you have all these intentions where you buy the house in 2011 and the basement bathroom is almost half completed. Then you go to sell it in 2022 and it’s still not done. Then people think, “Should I add in the bathroom at the end before I sell it?” That’s where people don’t know. They think you put in the money and get 100 percent of that money back. It just doesn’t work like that. There are different numbers in appraisal and in real estate. It’s very similar to your property taxes, the city assessment versus the appraisal assessment versus what market value actually is. There are some funny things that realtors put value on that have been changed since 1972. Like a garage. If everything else is the same and the house has a garage or the house doesn’t have a garage, it’s just $25,000. That’s straight up. But it costs significantly more to build a garage. The cost to build a garage right now (with the cost of lumber and labor) would probably cost about $35,000. Well, that’s the question, right? If you were going to sell your house thinking you’re going to get more money because you have a garage, you’re not going to. But if you’re going to live in your house for another 10 years and it’s going to cost you $30,000 to do the garage, you’ll get to enjoy it for $10,000. It will cost you $10,000 to enjoy your garage for 10 years. You and I have had a conversation before about a kitchen, for example. People think they’re going to upgrade the kitchen and get back 100 percent. But the house had a kitchen. There is what I call, intrinsic value because there already was a kitchen. There’s a value there because the house obviously has a kitchen. If you spend $80,000 on the kitchen, it doesn’t make your house worth $80,000 more because it already had a kitchen. It’s little things like that. 


Tom: With the kitchen one. I wanted to ask about that because I always hear about the kitchen. Maybe it comes down to sort of salability instead of ROI (return on investment)? Is it an emotional thing? Because people walk in saying, “Ooh, this has a really nice kitchen. I love this house.” Yeah, maybe it’s not the dollar value, but depending on the market, maybe it’s something that just helps sell it, even though it’s kind of an expensive way to do that? 


Jennifer: Right. A nice kitchen is going to sell a house, for sure. But people have different likes and dislikes. I personally, would never buy a house that didn’t have a white kitchen. If I walked into a house that has a brand new brown kitchen, I’m not buying that house. It has no value to me. I basically look at that and think I need to rip this out. For me, there’s no value at all to a brown kitchen. The next person that walks in may love a brown kitchen, but the kitchen is the number one thing. If you walk in and love it, great. But if you walk in and you hate it, it will actually be a negative. If you go too fancy—I’ve seen a lot of like blue kitchens. And in IKEA right now, you can buy a green kitchen. Who likes a green kitchen? That is just for yourself. If you’re going to do a reno for the purposes of selling, you need to keep it kind of neutral. Keep up with the trends though. There’s this color you can paint your house with called, Revere Pewter, by Benjamin Moore. If you’re going to paint, paint your house, Revere Pewter. Don’t have every room in your house a different color. It’s just like that in kitchens. Do the neutral colors that everyone will kind of like versus doing what you like—a green kitchen  with gold handles. That’s very specific. 


Tom: When I sold a past house when I was back in Edmonton, I had my realtor tell me that I should change the kitchen counter. We ended up not doing it. But she just thought it would help sell it because the old plain kitchen counters were kind of like a sea-foam green. It wasn’t great—


Jennifer: They were awful.


Tom: Yeah. Talk about turning some people off. But at the same time, it just didn’t make sense. I can’t remember the price of the counter, but it was going to be quite a bit. I didn’t know a lot about this ROI when it came to selling a house, but it didn’t feel like we were going to sell it for that much more just because of a countertop—one single piece of granite I think it was. When you get suggestions from realtors, should you take it with a grain of salt? Maybe she was right? I’m not saying she’s wrong. It just didn’t feel right, at least on my side. I feel like sometimes getting the information from a realtor might actually sound like it’s making their job easier, right? If they can sell it easier, then it’s good for them too, right? 


Jennifer: Right. One of the things I would say about renovations is that you never want to over-renovate for the neighborhood you’re living in. I’m not going to name any specific communities but if you’re living in a community that you know is very middle-of-the-road below the median price, don’t put in countertops that cost $7,000. That doesn’t make any sense, right? Spend your money in the places that actually matter. One of the things I have on my list here of highest ROI is actually updating decor, such as lighting fixtures, countertops, replacing flooring, that kind of thing. The reason I say that is because those are the first things that people see. If they come in and see that the flooring needs to be replaced, then they start doing the calculations. Even though most times a realtor like myself would price the house accordingly—that the carpet needs to be replaced, the fixtures are older, boob lights with gold wrap around, and the entire house is oak, that’s dated. When you price the property, you’re going to price it with those things in place. However, there is one thing I do tell my clients. Where you’ve got the person that will only buy a white kitchen or has an allergy to carpet, if you go to sell your house on a Wednesday and decide you’re going to redo all the carpet, then they walk in and want to have all the carpet ripped out, they’re thinking of what that is going to cost them. So, my recommendation is that you get a quote. Get high end, middle end and low end of three different kinds of carpet and what that would cost. Have the quote there so people know what it’s going to cost. You can then say, “We’ve already priced the property according to the fact that the carpet needs to be replaced, and this is what the carpet is going to cost, so don’t come to us with a $10,000 deduction.” Say the house is already listed at $439,000, we know the carpet needs to be replaced. If we replace the carpet, the house is going to $449,000, that kind of a thing. That’s one of the things realtors do because you’re not going to necessarily get the money back, but you may start losing money. You don’t want to give the buyer a reason to walk away, right? Say new countertops cost $5,000. You may put in $5,000 for them. You may not get back $5,000 specifically, but you may lose $9,000 because you didn’t do the countertops. It’s kind of “half a dozen and one and two dozen of another.” People always overvalue. They think, if they have to put in new carpet it’s going to be $358,000 and I tell them the carpet is cheap and will be more like $8,000, maybe. 


Tom: As a buyer, I’ve always liked the ability to change that stuff myself too. Yes, they could have updated the carpet ahead of time and it’s already built into the price. But if it sea-foam green or really ugly, brown or something that someone doesn’t want—Or not a white kitchen, you’re not really doing yourself much of a service, right? I guess it depends on the buyer whether they like the color or if they would rather have done it themselves. 


Jennifer: And that’s something to consider. One of the things I mentioned before was that a lot of people do the reno and then call the realtor. My recommendation is to call the realtor and then do the renos because we can tell you if you’re not going to get the money back. You’re not going to get the money back here but this is where you are going to get the money back. The number, 100 percent, get the money back is, paint. So, if it costs you $3,000 to paint the property, you’re going to get 160 percent back because that’s something people really make a big thing about. They think it’s a lot more expensive to paint than it actually is. If you’re thinking about selling your house and change up the flooring, change out the kitchen, change out the bathrooms or whatever, and then call the realtor, don’t do that because you’ll be exceptionally disappointed. Then there is “staying” it. If you’re going to stay in the house and actually live in the property, things that are for the highest enjoyment, I would recommend doing. In the long-term they will make your house more valuable, especially in a world where we live in where there are seven different types of houses in each community. You have to do something to set yourself apart. Having a finished basement that really meets what your needs are with a theater or something like that is going to be a long-term enjoyment. Or a sunroom, deck or landscaping. Those are things that you can do the renos on. You may get a reasonable rate of return, but you’ll also get to enjoy it. But, if you were going to sell your house, I wouldn’t recommend landscaping the whole thing. You watch those flip or flop shows and they always seem to spend a lot of money on landscaping. But we’re not in California. It’s cold here nine months of the year. It’s snowing in April. I think the entire thing is that you want to keep it kind of neutral. Don’t do anything exceptionally over-the-top or you’ll never see the return on investment, ever. 


Tom: When it comes to landscaping, if I were to see a big, (granted) nice looking flower bed, as a buyer I would see it as a lot of work. I’m going to have to actually do gardening. When you mentioned paint, is it about just making the whole house look fresh or is it about getting rid of certain colors too? Like, if you do have some wild colors or some outdated colors, is it all sort of about getting back to the builder’s beige or a nice gray maybe—or a bit of both, freshness and neutral? 


Jennifer: Absolutely. Anybody that has kids always has this three-foot line of muck on each room. So yeah, it does bring up that freshness, for sure. I think we’re in a market right now where people just want to bring their suitcase in and put it down. I meet a buyer every day and it seems like every single time I take down their information and ask, “Do you want to do renos?” And they say, “No.” Then I ask, “What about paint?” And they say, “Well, maybe.” But the majority of people do not want to come in and have to rip out stuff and do a whole bunch of work. And paint seems like a big job to people. Like I keep saying, they don’t realize what it actually costs. Somebody will come into a property that needs to be painted and take $10,000 off the price. But it doesn’t cost that much to paint a property and you can do it in two or three days (if you want to do it yourself) and get an even higher ROI. Of course, you can pay somebody to do it which is my recommendation. And doing it yourself—if the painting is a bad job, it’s not going to get you that ROI either. They’ll just have to redo it again anyway. 


Tom: I know my skill set and it’s not painting or renovations or anything like that. It’s something I see value in paying for it because if I’m going to do a terrible job and there’s marks all over the wall and everything, it’s just not going to have the desired effect anyways. One thing I had noticed when I sold my last house, I was able to have someone come in do some touch ups because the paint across the whole house wasn’t so bad. The basement was pretty new. He came in and did some touch ups, and I think it was like less than $600. And he did quite a bit. When I say touch ups, I think he often would do the whole wall depending on how well it matched just to get to the corners and not show a mark. I realized this is ongoing maintenance I could probably have him do. Granted, my kids aren’t as young now. They’re not little toddlers banging toys into the walls anymore. But if they were making marks, it’s something probably worthwhile doing once in a while anyways—at least these touch ups. Then it’s ready when you want to sell it. I’m really kind of stuck on this idea of doing these kind of renovations throughout the time you live there. Like the kitchen counter. If I was going to pay for a kitchen counter, I would rather have done it halfway during the time I was living in that house and not the week I’m trying to move. 


Jennifer: Well, that’s the thing, right? Everybody thinks their house looks amazing a couple of weeks leading up to them putting it on the market. I offer staging in my real estate business. Sometimes you don’t even bring extra stuff in, you just move around the stuff the people already have. And they say, “Gosh, I wish I would have just paid for this beforehand because now I like love living here.” I’ve never had anyone change their mind about selling, but they’ve certainly come very, very close. They’ll say, “Oh yeah, this is actually very nice. I wish that I would have done these things where I didn’t have to live with that broken patio door or the broken downspout…” whatever the case is. One of the things I did want to say was about maintaining your investment and the value. One of the best things is roofing. Don’t leave your roofing until the last day before you’re going to sell. Again, it’s like paint. People will walk in and see the roof needs to be replaced and they’re going to just knock a ridiculous amount of money off the property. Even if it’s already been accounted for. Sometimes, in that case, it is better to do the roof than have the buyer decide what the value of a roof is. Another thing is heating and cooling. People will walk into the property and see a house built in 1981. I’ll make a joke saying I think the furnace is older than I am. They built them different in 1981. They worked forever but they will eventually die and it is always on Christmas Eve. Spend that money and have a new a new furnace put in. People don’t realize the value of that. And it’s another thing that people will walk through your house and say, “Oh, it needs a new furnace—that’s $20,000” It isn’t $20,000 for a furnace. So again, if the furnace needs to be replaced, have a quote sitting there so people can see that you’ve priced the property accordingly. Those are all like maintenance things—your roof, heating and cooling. Everybody’s looking for these vinyl windows. Nobody wants these windows are made of wood where you have to scrape them all the time and paint them. Windows are very expensive. If you have windows that need to be scraped and painted (and that kind of thing), make sure you do that before you list your house. Because in a two story house, windows could cost $40,000 and people will take that number and remove from the price. All of a sudden, if you need a roof, a furnace and windows, your $300,000 house is now $12,950. Somebody may even have brough the value down to $11. That’s like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Another thing is the doors. Whether it’s like exterior doors, interior doors, garage door—all of those doors are very important. Those are things that will come up in the inspection. When you’re getting an inspection, the buyer is doing the inspection so that’s up to their comfort level, right? If the inspector tells them the door between the garage and the house is not a fire rated door, that can scare buyers. That’s something you want to get taken care of. It may cost you something like $1,700 but as soon as a buyer hears that if there is a fire in the garage, the fire is just going to come right through the house, they say, “Nope, not buying this house!” Those are like major things that you can do that won’t cost you a lot of money but will not bite you in the butt when you go to do the inspection. Another thing is to get an inspection prior to listing your house so you’re not surprised when they come back and say the door isn’t fire rated, the garage door doesn’t open or there’s not enough insulation in the attic—those kind of things. Because then the buyers aren’t at the 12th hour fighting you and saying they’re taking this, and this, and this, off the price because your back is up against the wall. Now, in this market when you have 37 backup offers standing behind you, it’s probably not as necessary. However, having an inspection in a market when a lot of people aren’t doing an inspection, shows the buyer a little bit more confidence and may get you more money for your house. You can say “I’ve just had an inspection done last week and nothing alarming came up,” and whatever did come up has already been repaired. 


Tom: You’re getting ahead of it. Now, someone may not fully trust that just because it’s not them getting their own inspector. I would think too, before you sell the house, you have to first buy it. What I’ve done, especially the last couple of times, is really take that inspection report, even if it’s something you’re not trying to use for negotiating the price, is to use it as a to-do list. I’ve still got a lot of things I want to do in this house and it’s based on that inspection report. You could do this or you could do that. They were small things that weren’t worth getting into in the price, but things like the ceiling around the garage door. It was something to do, but it wasn’t really worth getting into. 


Jennifer: It wasn’t a deal breaker, for sure. 


Tom: So if someone wants their house to be well-maintained, they can use those inspection reports to treat it like a to-do list and just start with that. Is there anything else we haven’t covered that’s either really good or really terrible to spend their money on? 


Jennifer: Kitchens and bathrooms. That’s kind of the mid-reno. Those are the highest ROI’s but it’s mid-range. If you start going crazy in a house, in a specific community that isn’t going to bring that price back, that doesn’t make sense. I had an example here of a master suite addition. That might cost you $110,000 and you’re only going to get back $60,000. That’s a big, big difference. Whereas, if you were to do something like an entry door replacement, it’s going to cost you $1,000 and it’s going to get you $1,000. Don’t go to the extreme. One of the absolute worst ROI is the pool in the backyard. That is such a small niche market. Like you said about the flower bed, that it seemed like a lot of work… a pool in Alberta? That is just, full stop. No! Some people say, “ I’m going to put this pool in my backyard. It cost me $120,000, and I want my house to be worth $120,000 more than the house next door that doesn’t have a pool.”  In reality, the house is actually minus probably $20,000 because it has a pool. It’s almost to the extreme in the other direction. One of the things I say when I walk into a house with a client is, “You can change things paint and that kind of stuff, but you can never change location.” So when you walk into a house and you see that it is backing onto a busy road or it doesn’t have an ensuite, that will be a problem. The next time somebody walks into the house, it’s still going to be a problem. They’re still going to see it backs onto a busy road or is on a busy road. When you think of that, think about the people around you that would be the ideal people to buy your property. Think about what they would want. The majority of people are not going to want the time and energy that it’s going to take to have a pool, for example. Don’t go to that extreme level in your area. Just don’t do it because you’ll never get that back. What I’m talking about, and I think what we’re talking about here today, is about the house you live in. These numbers aren’t the same if you’re thinking of flipping a property where w you’re going in and doing a total gut. Because you’re taking away that kitchen and putting in a new kitchen. But even then, you could put in a kitchen and it costs you $50,000.  You might not automatically get the entire $50,000 back. These are more for your regular Mr. and Mrs. buyer that have lived in the house and are thinking of selling it. These numbers I’m giving aren’t for flipping or anything like that. 


Tom: Considering the ROI on so many of these things is less than 100 percent, which is fine if you’re doing it earlier and enjoying it and not just doing it the week before you want to move, as a buyer, would it be better to be more picky about what you’re looking at? If a certain house has what you want, you’re kind of getting it at a discount. If, to the seller, the ROI was 80 per cent on the kitchen or whatever, if it really makes you happy as a buyer that this house is perfect, it seems like you’re getting a discount over another house where you want to change this or that. They’re going to have to pay 100 percent. They’re going to get it exactly the way they want. And yes, in a market like right now, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do that.  


Jennifer: I made a joke that, if your house has a driveway and a roof, you’re good to go. I just sold a house recently and my client said to me like, “Make sure you put in that it has a new roof.” And I said, “Does it have a roof?” He said, “Yes.”  And I said, “Perfect! We’ll get 110 of asking.” It literally doesn’t matter in this market. But we’re not necessarily just talking about this market. We’re talking about four years down the road and what you’re thinking about doing right now. If the house you’re living in currently is not your forever house, what can you do to increase the value versus not doing it? If you don’t do the kitchen and it needs to be done, you’re taking money away at that point from your current value. 


Tom: That’s how I felt every time I’ve sold. I was advised to replace this or that and I thought, “Why didn’t I just do this when I lived in it?” Because then I’d enjoy it instead of instead of it feeling like an expense you’re just losing out on. 


Jennifer: Right. 


Tom: Thanks for walking people through this. I think it’ll give them some good ideas, especially around this idea of not doing all these renovations at the last minute. Do them throughout, keep your home maintained and sell it for more in the future. Can you let people know where they can find you online? 


Jennifer: Yes. You can find me online at And you can also find me on Instagram @jenniferhooperyyc—that’s on Instagram. I’m also on Facebook as well under jennifer hooper yyc calgary. That is how you can find me. 


Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show. 


Jennifer: Thanks. 


Thank you, Jennifer, for the great tips on renos to undertake or avoid after selling your home. You can find the show notes for this episode at As usual, if you have a moment, head over to our YouTube channel and subscribe there! We’ll be getting back to releasing never-before-seen content, soon. You can search for Maple Money or go to and subscribe today. As always, thank you so much for listening. I look forward to seeing you back here next week.

People think, ‘I’m going to upgrade the kitchen and get back 100%. The house already had a kitchen…if you spend $80,000 on the kitchen it doesn’t make your house worth $80,000 more, it had a kitchen. - Jennifer Hooper Click to Tweet