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Designer Do's From a Non-Expert

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

This blog is written by Jen Josey, Real Estate Investor, and REIGN coach. She is not a professional writer and writes like she talks so put your red pen away.  Jen is extremely opinionated but reserves the right to change her opinion at any time because, well, that's the way she rolls.  She may also use colorful language so don't be offended.  Jen does not claim to be an expert, she is just sharing her personal thoughts and adding a perspective on investor topics that may benefit her readers.  Jen also finds it strange to write in the third person.  Enjoy!

I have been designing rehabs for almost three years which is nothing if you ask the experts. But, since I can’t afford an expert, I’m just going to share some of the techniques I have found to work best. These are simply suggestions sprinkled with my stubborn opinions that sell houses and buyers are always pleased with my thoughtful attention to details.

When redesigning a layout, I always do the “lady with her groceries” route. You want to imagine the lady of the house (or “lady” of the relationship) walking in with bags of groceries. Will she be coming in the front door? Back door? Through the garage? Where is the first place she’s going to toss down her keys / jacket / purse? How many rooms will she need to walk through to get to the kitchen? This is a great way to decide if it’s smart to move the kitchen to the back of the house.

While we’re in the kitchen, let’s go ahead and get it out of the way. This is your money maker so make your choices wisely!

Microwaves, oh microwaves. Who in the hell thought the most used appliance in the kitchen would be best in the island, one foot from the floor? First, my back hurts just thinking about it. Second, little kids will be turning Barbie into silly putty in three unsupervised minutes. Third, it’s just stupid. Stupid, you hear me?

If you are in a low to mid-price point, stay with the over-the-range microwave. If the home is older and there’s just a hood, there are a few different options. In North Carolina, you need 18 inches of clearance from the cooktop to the bottom of the microwave. If the cabinets are individually hung, you can simply raise the cabinet above the stove and have your electrician wire for a microwave. If you have one long unit of cabinets, you can have your carpenter remove the doors and cut out the bottom of the cabinet. The remaining open shelves can become a space for cookbooks.

If you are in a higher price point, spend money on a big beautiful hood for it will be the focal point in the kitchen. So, where does the microwave go now? While it is more expensive, I strongly suggest adding a wall oven / microwave combo. You could also do a microwave built into an upper cabinet without having to worry about the 18-inch clearance. A cook-top by itself is more expensive than a cook-top / oven combo but allows for extra cabinet space. This price point also screams for a pot filler. It’s an inexpensive addition that adds a nice wow factor for the buyer.

Cabinets. If you are in a lower price point, your buyers will be grateful for painted cabinets. It keeps the costs down while still providing an updated and fresh feeling to the kitchen. If you are in a higher price point and budgeted to replace the cabinets, stick to plain, shaker-style cabinets. There is a trend now to do colored cabinets. While some may love dark blue cabinets, most will not. Anytime you go with a trend, you are upping the risk of the property sitting longer and waiting for a buyer that loves the same trends.

Cabinet hardware. I will never use square or bar-shaped pulls and handles. When you are working your chef skills in a frenzy, those little buggers will bruise the heck out of you in one simple bump. They are also notorious for grabbing onto a belt loop and not letting go! Stick to the arched pulls…my fluffy hips will thank you. Color-wise, this is where you can go crazy. Gold is trending right now so go to town on inexpensive items like pulls. A new homeowner can replace the pulls a heck of a lot cheaper than the colored cabinets I advised you against.

Upgrading countertops will increase your return for a minimal investment. Granite is a natural stone so you run the risk of odd patterns created by my girl, Mother Nature. In the higher price point, go for the quartz. Quartz is man-made so the patterns are muted and less risky. Whether you do granite or quartz, go neutral! I cannot stress this enough. Just like the drawer pulls, put your creativity and wild side in the backsplash and leave the countertops as simple as possible. A backsplash can be changed out for a lot less money than a multi-colored, super busy granite.

Here are my last little nuggets before we move out of the kitchen. Never put the side of an oven up against the wall. You need to leave space on either side of the cooktop for the pot handles. Stop with the 50/50 sinks, you cannot get big pans in there, ever. Farm sinks are an expensive trend that does not provide enough return if you ask me. I always do a large, single basin stainless steel under-mount and buyers are always pleased. Lastly…mama loves a wine fridge. If you have the space for it, DO IT!

Let’s move to flooring. If you purchase a low to mid-range price point to rehab and there is a mish-mosh of flooring because the previous homeowner hit every remnant sale out there, pick one and match it. Carpet is the easiest to replace. If there are pet smells, be sure to also replace the carpet pad and Kilz the sub-floor. If the floors are super smooth, I have done rolled vinyl that looks like wood and saved a ton of money for a great-looking product. However, if there are lumps and bumps in that sub-floor, the vinyl will show all imperfections. My favorite to work with is luxury vinyl plank or LVP. It’s cheaper than hardwoods and is waterproof and practically indestructible. LVP goes in all our rentals.

In the higher price point, hardwoods are practically expected these days. Hardwood floors are easier to match than people think and advertising, “original hardwood floors” in your listing is very appealing to buyers. Sometimes, all you need to do is stain and refinish them. If all the rooms in the house have hardwoods except the kitchen, you should pay the extra money to have them all match. The new buyers will love it!

Wall color. Stick with the super neutral on most walls and pick an accent wall for some variety. The trend now is starting to pull away from the grays, but many buyers still love them. My go-to wall color is Sherwin Williams, Alpaca. It can go either grey or beige depending on what they’re near. And yes, I know wallpaper is having a comeback but please stay back. Wallpaper is SO personal so let the new homeowners pick it out themselves.

White trim will update a 1980’s home faster than Michael J Fox can get to the clock tower. The annoying part about brown trim is sometimes it has an oil-based finish, requiring a primer first. The only time I would NOT paint dark wood trim work is if the home is from the 1920s or earlier and it’s the original chunky wood banisters or expensive wood paneling. Just my preference. Always lean toward the authenticity of the home.

Wallplates are cheap and easy to replace. There is no need to keep those dingy switch plates. Pick one size and keep them uniform throughout the house.

Ceilings. Congratulations if you have a reno with flat ceilings…they’re hard to find! If you are doomed like me and find popcorn ceilings everywhere, check the comps to see if it’s necessary to remove it. If you remove it, it’ll add a thick layer of dust everywhere and nobody’s got time for that!

Light fixtures. Here’s another area where you can go crazy with trendy items. You can also spend a ton of unnecessary money so shop around! A light feature can become a focal feature in a room so don’t hold back. Spend an hour or so on Pinterest and research the latest trends, but be careful, that hour can turn into seven hours…

If you are renovating a property and there is a different themed ceiling fan in every bedroom, I replace them all with titty lights…pretty sure that is the official term for those flush mounts. It’s a cheap fix to make everything uniform and the homeowner can upgrade later.

If you’re designing a higher-end home, LED can lights on dimmers are a great way to save money. Put your lighting budget towards a nice dining room chandelier and pendant lights over the island in the kitchen. I still use titty lights in the bedrooms but have my electrician install light boxes so the homeowner can upgrade to a ceiling fan easily. And don’t forget the exterior! I always think of the family dog so add a couple of spotlights near the roofline to light up the back yard at night for dear old poochie poo.

I will wrap things up in the other moneymaker, bathrooms. If you are in that lower price point and want to keep the selling price affordable, see if you can get away with just a good cleaning. Bar Keepers Friend is the absolute greatest miracle worker for bringing a gross bathtub back to its glory. Elbow grease is cheaper than a whole new bath and shower surround. I would spend your money on new countertops (match the kitchen) and new bathroom fixtures. If the cabinets are rough, an updated vanity from Lowes or Home Depot is also an easy fix, just be aware of the flooring underneath.

If you are in a mid to upper price point, I will typically update the tile. The current trends are big and bold patterns. While it looks super fun to put them everywhere, keep the floor and walls neutral and put that bold tile in the shower niche. It provides a custom design feature while staying safe and appealing to the masses. And that niche…PLEASE stop doing the tiny 12x12 squares! This girl loves her fun-smelling shower gels which leaves no place left for my Pantene bottles, much less my husband’s teenage-inspired, Axe. I always go for the 24x12 niche if not bigger. Your carpenter can re-frame a custom niche between three studs. And forget the bull-nose tile for edges, Schluter is the way to go and provides a very clean edge.

I know a few people really love those rain shower heads that come down from the ceiling. While very cool looking, they do not work for ladies that wash their hair every three days. If you are working with a shower stall, please consider a bench if you have space. Ladies need a place to rest their foot while shaving their legs (or males too, if that's your thang).

If you are designing a hall bath for the children of the house, please consider adding a door to separate the sinks from the tub and toilet. This will allow one child to brush their teeth while the other is showering. Teenage girls are especially appreciative of this...

If you are designing a master bath, you can never go wrong with a stand-alone tub. This was actually the deciding factor on a home we sold. A couple was walking through the house, liking this and that, but once they set eyes on that big soaking tub, they were sold. Paint the picture for your buyers by helping them envision the tub as a relaxing sanctuary in their home.

When picking out the tub, try to get one that has the drain on one side. I'm not sure who designed the ones with the drain in the center, but it hurts my rump thinking about it. (Afterthought, maybe it's designed for two people?) The stand-alone faucets that are floor mounted...boy are those expensive! See if your plumber can run a water line through a wall, you will save hundreds of dollars for that fixture. Lastly, position the water faucet to one end. This allows the person to get in while it's filling and not have the warmest water hit them on the stomach as they are trying to relax.

These are just some highlights that have helped us sell houses quicker. As you can tell, I have my strong opinions and you are welcome to have your own. I just want to shed some light on a perspective you may have never considered. If you have some additional nuggets to share, please leave them in the comments below*. Thanks and make it a great day! Whoop whoop!

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