Skip to main content

Cabarrus Magazine

Blood, Sweat Equity and Tears

Apr 01, 2016 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle

Blood, Sweat Equity and Tears

Whether you’re wanting to make improvements to your home in advance of putting it on the market or it simply needs some updating, there is a right way to renovate.

Sweat equity can be defined as contributing one’s time and effort into improving a home and/or property. This labor is meant to increase the value of the residence.

These do-it-yourself (DIY) projects can be anything from demolition, to landscaping, to painting. They can entail working in conjunction with a general contractor to offset the cost of a renovation, or those who are handier than most might delve into tiling, installing flooring or replacing outdated bathroom fixtures.

Bryan Kalentek is owner of Concord’s Bryan Kalentek Real Estate and has been in real estate for nearly 14 years. He has been the recipient of Charlotte Magazine’s Best in Client Satisfaction Award seven times as well as appeared on an episode of HGTV’s My First Sale.

He’s also seen both the good and the bad in homes…what improvements help in a sale and what add little value. And once a house is empty, poor DIY work sticks out like a sore thumb. So while he errs on the side of caution with regard to what homeowners should contribute to their own renovations, we’ll also include information about projects that more experienced homeowners might tackle.

“Painting and basic maintenance can be done by the homeowner; buyers will notice,” Kalentek says. On the other hand, “Even if a door handle doesn’t work right, the buyer will notice and wonder what else doesn’t work.”

So he offers some advice on what upgrades provide the biggest return. “Crumple up a $100 bill and it’s still worth $100. You want your home to look like a crisp $100 bill. I say that because the market is mostly about price per square foot,” he shares.

Today, Kalentek sees homebuilders putting a lot of money into kitchens and bathrooms, so logic dictates that remodels would see a good return on investment. “Across the country, that’s where you get the most bang for your buck,” he says. “But don’t go overboard. You will spend a lot of money but you might not get it back.”

He refers to the average homeowner needing to be aware of what his home would be worth if he sunk money into it. How big is his home, how old and where is it located? What are other houses in the area selling for?

“If you don’t have a realtor friend, look at your competition online to see what you need to do,” Kalentek says. is a good source.

So let’s start outside and walk up to a house potentially on the market. “Landscaping is the first impression, but I’ve had buyers with big, expensive trees and shrubs and they will do no good in the sale,” Kalentek explains. You don’t need to spend money on landscaping, just clean up what you have. Also, have a good front door, either painted well or replace it. It’s the first thing the buyer is going to see.” agrees. “Few replacement projects have as much upside as a new steel entry door. Not only will you recover about 75 percent of the cost of having an entry door professionally installed, but you’ll spruce up your curb appeal big-time. Of course, you’ll save even more if you tackle this project yourself. Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You’ll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.”

Before we go inside, Kalentek recommends staging a home if the owners have already moved out. “You go into a new home community, into a model home, and it’s all decked out with furniture. If you go into the same house empty, it looks like a totally different house. There’s something to be said for the lived-in feel,” he says. “Most people don’t have the imagination to visualize.”

Once inside, he advises, “Remove personal photos, hide your personal taste, de-clutter and keep up basic cleaning. If you have pets, you’re probably immune to the smell; be aware of that. You want buyers to imagine themselves in the home so get yourself out of it. The easiest thing to do is paint. If you can go with a little darker shade of (neutral) beige, it will make the white moldings pop.”

According to the, “As a DIY project, painting the interior of a 1,500-square-foot home costs about $200 to $600. This includes the cost for materials, including paint, primer, brushes, rollers, drop cloths and tape.”

“Flooring is always important,” Kalentek adds. “There is a perception that wood floors are better, but it’s also relative. Cheap carpet is better than dirty carpet.” says, “For the DIYer, installing hardwood flooring is a bit labor intensive, but the techniques are

fairly easy to master. Once you get the hang of it, installing prefinished hard-wood flooring should go smoothly.”

If you prefer vinyl flooring for this space, $200 to $500 will cover a 10-foot by 10-foot space, including the necessary materials. Having it professionally installed adds $300 to $400 to that.

Moving into the kitchen, Kalentek recommends leaving the appliances. “When you buy them, plan on leaving them there. They’ve almost become like a fixture in the home, especially the refrigerator,” he says. And in the kitchen and bathroom, “The simplest thing to do is updating the cabinet knobs. The biggest one out there is gold; it’s a turn-off. In the bathroom, change a toilet seat, caulk and remove rust stains.” adds that about two-thirds of the cost of a bathroom renovation is labor. A licensed plumber must be brought in to move pipes, but the homeowner can contribute with demolition, cabinet installation, tiling and painting.

“Generally, the larger the room and the more intricate the design, the more likely it becomes that you will need a professional to install ceramic tile. Very small rooms can be tiled DIY, but larger rooms bring a larger potential for complications. The average cost for tiling a 10-foot by 12-foot room is $1,174, with intricate designs costing considerably more. A professional installer can accommodate for problems such as uneven subfloors, inconvenient corners, tricky room transitions and design issues.”

 Moving outside, “Buyers are looking for decks, but that’s all relative, too,” Kalentek says. calculates that the materials needed for a 10-foot by 12-foot deck would run between $500 and $1,000. Hiring a professional to install it would add $1,500 to $1,900 to that cost.

“Garages are usually secondary,” Kalentek adds. “If you have a sunroom and it’s insulated, be sure it’s staged so they know it’s added square feet. Just keep in mind when staging your home, wasted space is a turn-off. My motto is, ‘Do the best with what you have.’ “

Realizing what projects you are truly capable of tackling yourself is key. Being comfortable and confident (not overconfident) that you can complete quality work – no matter what it is – will go a long way in enhancing the look of your home as well as increasing its value. And if you decide to go with a contractor on some projects, be sure to get more than one estimate.

Article by: Kim Cassell

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cabarrus Magazine's free newsletter to catch every headline