Top 10 Renovation Musts for Sellers in Ottawa

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Any home renovation can be quite costly – are you spending your money where it counts? There are a number of sites that talk about potential renovation return on investment but the reality is that the desirability of certain renovations varies depending on the market location and common buyer priorities. We have worked with many buyers and we decided to come up with this list as an ‘inside view’ for Ottawa homeowners. These renovations are guaranteed to create interest.
1- Gas Fireplace

Convert your wood fireplace to a modern gas direct vent setup with a contemporary surround. This one can be a bit controversial because there are those out there that feel like a classic wood-burning fireplace is the more, let’s say, ‘romanitic’ option. The reality is that most wood burning fireplaces are outdated and they will cause you problems after an inspection if they are not code compliant. Most sellers don’t actually use them because from a practical standpoint they are dirty – so why would a buyer be interested? Wood stoves are great for heat but most fireplaces actually suck more hot air out of the house than anything. A gas fireplace will be used, they act as a great focal point in the living room, and as Canadians we will always notice the fireplace even if we are shopping in July.


2- Kitchen

You’ll find a kitchen update on every one of these lists. Here are a few guidelines – Kitchens and bathrooms require professional workmanship or you risk turning very expensive materials into a visually undesirable space. Find someone with a kitchen you like and have them refer you to who did it. You can save by acting as your own general contractor and organizing the necessary trades yourself. Cabinets are always the most expensive item but buyers will have a hard time distinguishing a mid-range modern cabinet from something high-end. Maple over oak but if the material looks good and it doesn’t look like you can start peeling laminate strips off of the cabinets then you are probably good to go. I believe that a natural stone such as granite for the countertops will always be in style – quartz and synthetic options may lose their high-end appeal if people start thinking of them as artificial. Definitely just an opinion on my part, I just feel like the synthetics are very expensive in relation to the natural beauty of granite. Undermount sink, a large square-ish single basin. Top-mount double basin sinks are great if you wash your dishes by hand, so not so great for advertising a fantasy life to buyers. If you are deciding what to prioritize in terms of spending with buyers in mind: Countertops, then Appliances, then Flooring, then Cabinets, then Fixtures and make sure you have a nice backsplash and cabinet hardware.  

3- Cosmetic Electrical Updates

Your electrical system should be copper and the wiring should be grounded – but having a sound electrical system won’t wow buyers during the first visit. Some might call this a bit deceptive but I believe that many buyers assume that the lighting fixtures, wall switches and outlets tell 95% of the electrical story. I always check the breaker box for my clients but it is funny how modern lights with a nickel finish and Decora switches/outlets lead many buyers to say ‘well looks like the electrical was updated.’ Meanwhile I’m checking the box downstairs and finding fuses and ungrounded circuits. Always make a point of keeping wiring updated to code – you can’t hide it or gloss over it, it will come back to haunt you after the inspection guaranteed – but it is ‘shocking how cheap DIY updating of the lights/switches/outlets can immediately raise buyer confidence. Heyohh, thanks everyone I’ll be here till Tuesday, have a safe drive home!

Electrical outlet with power cord and plug against wood paneling

*Disclaimer: Never DIY electrical work without experience.
4- Update your Ensuite Bathroom

If you don’t have an ensuite then God help you – just kidding, but not every older home can accommodate one so I wouldn’t just say ‘lose your 3rd bedroom’ or ‘put one in with a shower too small to fit into.’ Adding an ensuite is case by case. However, if you have outdated bathrooms and are wondering which one to update – if you could only pick one – go with a new ensuite. Buyers see an ensuite as a sanctuary, the main bathroom is where you wash the dog and the kids accidentally poop in the tub. Don’t feel like bathrooms have to have matching finishing costs – there is nothing wrong with having your granite, pot lights, tiled shower and soaker tub in the master and then standard finishes in the main bath and powder room. If you have an ensuite but it just has a toilet and sink in it I have no advice, only sympathy.

5- Don’t Forget the Accessories

Refinishing the hardwood and painting a room? Sounds like a great time to update the baseboards – simple, modern, pine, 5” tall. Painting the walls and refinishing the hardwood is an update, the baseboards are a style item. Same goes for gold/brass door knobs, lights, hardware – they go in the garbage can. I tell sellers that the cheapest fix you can do is to go in the kitchen and replace the cabinet pulls with brushed nickel. Take $400 and replace the gold in your home, all of it, and that is about the best renovation investment you can make. Popular contemporary style is very simple right now so it is a great time to think about these updates – no expensive or ornate add-ons required, no messing around with crown moulding, wainscoting and ugh chair rails.

6- Hardwood Floors

Wood railings and stairs can be very expensive but there is no reason why you shouldn’t have hardwood throughout the rest of the home. Some people remember, and have nightmares about, the price tags that builders attach to hardwood upgrades – but hardwood refinishing and renovations are cheaper than you might think and they are winners with buyers. Yes, the second floor too. Even in a home that isn’t open concept you can still get that ‘flow’ by having the same hardwood running through all of the rooms, including the kitchen. Engineered hardwood is for condos, go with the real stuff – it is easy to tell what has been nailed down. Laminate can be good for dry basements but you should not find any on your main or second floor. Many laminate floating floors can be just as expensive (material-wise) as hardwood, but don’t confuse the expense with quality.

7- Finished Basement

Continuing with the ‘Canadian mentality’ theme, most buyers in Ottawa are always aware of the reality that there are several months that we won’t get to hang out in the yard. That is why I would always choose a finished basement over and expensive landscaping job. The basement must be dry and the ceiling height should be comfortable. Vinyl click tiles are a great alternative to carpet and laminate – just drop a rug where you want things to be cozy. Airflow in the basement could be an issue even if things are pretty dry so you want materials that won’t hold a dank or stale basement smell.


8- Insulation

We live in Ottawa – it can be a bit cold. Buyers here think about insulation. If you have an older home you might be surprised with how cost effective it is to top-up your attic insulation. Then your agent gets to advertise that it’s been updated to r-50. Some older homes may benefit from dense-pack cellulose in the walls – this requires holes between the studs inside the home so it is a great option to explore before a big paint job. If your home was built before 1985 most buyers will ask about insulation – often it is a simple answer for us but it’s great when we can advertise an update.

9- Paint

Another no-brainer that you’ll see on every list. Stick with neutral tones and throw in an accent wall in a couple of rooms. This really helps update strong paint choices that are hanging around from the 70s and 80s – forest green, purple, deep blue – paint it. Careful with wallpaper – it can seem fun and there are some contemporary designs that are popular now but it is hard to know if the finished product will make the room look updated, it sometimes just doesn’t seem to work. Do you have any classic wood mouldings in the home? Oak baseboards, door frames and that sort of thing? Do you want to paint them all white to ‘clean them up’? Well don’t, you don’t paint wood because it just isn’t right. Sorry that last tip is just for my wife. Imagine being with the person in the 1960s who had a beautiful exposed brick wall and said ‘yeah I guess I’ll just plaster over it’ —— NOOOOOOO!!!

Anyone can paint…


10- Big Ticket Items

Windows, Air Conditioning, Furnace, Roof – these are the four ‘systems’ that buyers tend to ask us about. Windows are the most expensive – to be honest I don’t see people spending $15000 on doors and windows and then getting that money back. However, in many cases upgrading to vinyl windows when you buy your home (if it has older metal or single pane windows) is a good idea. Judgment call here but I would just clean up an repaint/restain wood casement windows – if they function well and seal up tight then it might not be seen as a big negative. If you are deciding between the rest try to get a deal on an new furnace and AC instead of getting the new roof (unless your roof is leaking of course). The furnace and AC in most cases will be the cheaper option and you will be competing with many homes that have newer HVAC systems – there seems to have been a big push and a lot of sales of high efficiency gas furnaces in the past 10 years. Buyers looking in a neighbourhood that has been around for 20+ years will see and old roof, then a new, then one that looks like it have 5 years left etc. etc. – over time the state of the roof becomes less of a dealbreaker for buyers when in reality it can be pricey.

Bonus Tip

Good advice is only just a quick call away. Not every renovation will appeal to all buyers. The age of your home is a big factor in what should be prioritized. We have seen it all – renos that will get your money back and more, DIY projects that fail almost all the time, contractors that will get you results, and simple fixes that make a huge difference. Feel free to tell us about it in our ‘What is My Home Worth’ form – or even better just send us a quick email or text us a picture of what you are planning to change.