Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Lance in Wisconsin: Hey Brian, it looks like it will be a long dark winter this year. My wife and I have already canceled the family gathering for Thanksgiving and anticipate the same happening with Christmas. We are planning to put our house on the market this coming spring (hoping for a very robust market). This winter seems like the ideal time to work on a few projects to increase the value of our house in time for a spring sale. We know that costly renovations often don’t recoup the investment and we don’t want to spend a ton of money anyway. But since we aren’t expecting guests for the holidays, we don’t mind tearing apart a room or two. What indoor project ideas do you recommend for the winter?
Answer: Hi, Lance. You didn’t mention much about your house such as the age or the style. But of course, there are always projects that increase the value for a small investment. Here are four good winter projects that will improve the resale value by investing mostly elbow grease rather than a lot of money.
Crown moldings are relatively inexpensive but add a real distinction to any room. This is a great winter project that will make your house stand out from almost all others when the spring sales market comes around. Crown molding can be plain, ornate, or in-between. It’s commonly used as trim between the tops of walls and the ceiling but can also be used for projects like bookshelves and kitchen cabinets as accent features. A good starting point is first considering if a plain or ornate style is most suitable. For contemporary architecture, you’ll want to go with a plain design that doesn’t involve an elaborate pattern (although these aren’t always as plain as the name implies).
A plain crown molding simply has a soft, elegant look with clean lines. The classic ornate styles have names like cartouche, dentil, egg and dart, ovolo, carvetto, rosette, and gulloche. Some people prefer these to give their walls and ceilings an elegant, finished look.
The other thing to consider is that crown moldings come in a variety of widths. Most range in width from about 2 inches to 20 inches or more. The height of the ceiling is usually the determining factor for the appropriate width. For 8-foot ceilings, you don’t want to go wider than 6 inches. Nine-foot ceilings can handle anything up to about 8 inches in width and 10-foot ceilings are good to about 9 or 10 inch wide crown moldings. Anything wider than that is typically used in very high foyers and other exceptionally high ceilings.
Most of today’s crown moldings are made of polyurethane instead of wood. That means you shouldn’t have to do any sanding. But these do mostly come in a plain white color. You’ll need to do some painting but it is minimal and can be done in a garage before installing. Installation can easily be done over a weekend with nothing more than a good miter saw, ladder, and hammer.
Painting the interior of course. You’re going to get out your paint supplies to do the crown molding so you might as well keep going and paint all or most of the interior rooms. Lance, since you don’t mind some inconvenience this winter, do a professional job of the painting. Remove the doors, electrical cover plates, light fixtures, and other hardware. Repair any dings or damage to the walls and of course clean them thoroughly with something like trisodium phosphate (TSP). While you are repairing any damage, be sure to seal any drafty cracks or gaps. You typically find these around the trim on floors. Use a paintable acrylic-latex caulk. Something homeowners often overlook is checking the type of paint that is already on the walls and ceiling. You want to determine if it is latex or oil-based paint. You can’t paint directly over oil-based paint with latex. If you are going to do this, you need to sand the entire wall and apply a bonding primer before you can add the new latex coat. A simple test is soaking a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and rubbing it on the existing paint. If the paint comes off, it’s latex. If it doesn’t, it’s oil-based. If you have to sand oil paint, do it before cleaning all of the surfaces.
Replacing faucets can be an inexpensive way of dressing up bathrooms and kitchens without doing a major remodel. If you have new modern faucets, this won’t help much but even many new houses can benefit from this. Some people shy away from anything involving plumbing but changing faucets isn’t any more difficult than putting together an IKEA bookshelf. The key is matching the new faucet with the same number of mounting holes in your sink. Other than that, all you need to do is turn off the water shutoff valves under the sink and follow the instructions that come with the faucet. One specialty tool that comes in handy is a basin-wrench that makes it easy to get up and behind the sink where the faucet connections are. Since you are replacing the faucets, you might want to also replace the drawer handles to finish the new look.
Deep cleaning after the other projects are done and shortly before putting your house on the market is always the right thing to do. This especially includes parts of the house that are often neglected or only get an occasional courtesy cleaning. Think about areas like bathtub and tile, windows, floors, closets, and oven. When it comes to the bathtub and tiles, it’s a good idea to apply new caulking and sealant. When it’s time to sell in the spring, this shows that you have maintained the house well.
Let’s hear your winter DIY ideas with a thought towards selling in the spring. Please add comments.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].