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Update, upgrade or merely maintenance? And what is the difference?

Litchfield County Real Estate Talk, is that an update, an upgrade, or was that merely maintenance?

Litchfield County CT real estateI hear it all the time, I put a new roof on, new siding, new furnace, the dreaded new septic, so THAT will certainly add value to my property, right? I mean, after all, I upgraded.... right?

Are these updates or maintenance?

You won't get your money back for putting on a new roof, or replacing a failing septic or a furnace that blew... nope, sad to say but you won't. Not in the way that you think.

You and your neighbors home started life as identical dwellings. Over the years your neighbor has done nothing, the house has the original roof, original septic, original heating system, on and on. The house shows wear and tear. But you put a new roof on, you replaced the failing septic and heating system. (But otherwise the homes are still the same) I will give it a bit more value for condition, you will be more marketable, more sale-able. But dollar for dollar, you won't get it back. That is routine maintenance that should have been done. The good news? Your neighbors house, with all the deferred maintenance, is worth less than yours!

When an agent tries to sell me on the fact that the house had upgrades, a new roof, a new furnace, a new septic, I tell them that is maintenance, routine maintenance. It may make the sale easier, but a new septic doesn't warrant a $25,000 price increase over an identical home with the original septic!

It does work in reverse however. I will say, if the septic is shot and the price to replace it is $25,000, I can pretty much guarantee that the sales price will reflect that $25,000, even if the asking price or the offered price didn't reflect it in the first place.

Upgrading, updating, that would be a bit of a different story. A home that has a new kitchen, complete with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances is certainly more valuable than the house next door with the original kitchen from the 70's. Bingo, you are at the head of the class! Now you are worth more!

That was my long answer, now here is my short answer. There is only so much value we can give your house, no matter what you did to it. Style, size, location, market conditions, these all come into play. I cannot use a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath colonial built in 2005 as a comp against a ranch built in 1970, no matter how many updates and upgrades were done. After all, a t-bone steak is worth more than a rib eye steak! But the good news is, there are many people that will be happy with rib eye at the end of the day!

Yes, make sure you maintain your house, that deferred maintenance may cost you a bundle when you go to sell. And when you have upgraded, you will see an increase in price, but not dollar for dollar!

Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County Real Estate

2017 President, Greater New Milford Board of Realtors

2017 Connecticut Magazine 5 Star Realtor


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Litchfield County Regional Office,375 Danbury Rd, New Milford, CT 06776


© Andrea Swiedler 2009 - 2017

 Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

Comment balloon 29 commentsAndrea Swiedler • May 01 2012 07:03PM


Andrea, interesting questions.  If you are trying to sell a home with a lot of deferred maintenance, I think the buyers will subtract a lot more than what it would cost to fix the defect from what they are willing to pay.  So in a way, that new roof could cost you $8,000, but if you don't do it, it could cost even more. 

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, this is very well put! Replacing the roof or air conditioner is, as you point out, routine maintenance for a home. This type of upkeep is just one less thing that will be cited on the inspection report, and one less repair that will have to be negotiated in the long run.

Posted by Rose King, Friendswood / Pearland / Houston Bay Area (David Tracy Real Estate) almost 7 years ago

Andrea! This is such a great post! Now you have scripted how to explain this to my more challenged customers.

PS: I really love your hair cut, been meaning to tell you that.

Posted by Sussie Sutton, UTR TEXAS Realtors - Rep for buyers and sellers. (UTR Texas Realtors) almost 7 years ago


This is excellent ... so well stated and right on point.

Featured in the Group "Whacked!!!"

Posted by Richard Weisser, Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional (Richard Weisser Realty) almost 7 years ago

Andrea - I learned something from your blog. We deal mostly with condos, and this is more subtle in condos, as you do not deal with septic, or roof. But it does not matter why I did not know that, and I am glad I learned something today

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) almost 7 years ago

Thanks for explaining the return on investment, and the terms used Andrea. A 100% return on investment doesn't happen too often does it?

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage Mobile - 916-765-5366) almost 7 years ago

Something I've been trying to explain to my family for almost two years...............excellent job Andrea.

Posted by Roger D. Mucci, Lets shake things up at your home today! (Shaken...with a Twist 216.633.2092) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, But what will I get if I put the new roof on,  update the systems, clean and paint? You just might get your house SOLD!


Posted by Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland, Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome ( HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400) almost 7 years ago

good advice, Andrea.  I was about to suggest, but I can see I'm too late.  A good rule of thumb may be to look at the tax implications.  Kitchen upgrades are capital improvements - taxed at a lower rater (and I believe counts in reducing your capital gains).  Taking this to floors, as an example, hardwood and tile are capital improvements while carpet is not.  Replacing carpet is maintenance and taxed at the full rate.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 7 years ago

Andrea- very feature worthy! I see this when I'm giving a staging consultation.  All of the items will help to get your house sold but you can't view it as a dollar for dollar increase in your asking price!  If you upgrade your kitchen...granite, new appliances, etc.... your home could shoot to the top of the list but if homes in the area are listing for a certain price then that's what the market is going to look at. 

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, good points.  I don't think a lot of folks would even think that a new roof or HVAC system isn't an upgrade, but you've got a good point.  Congrats on the feature too.

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) almost 7 years ago

Pat, when buyers can see deferred maintenance, they always wonder what they can't see. And that changes their idea of value for sure, and not in a good way.

Rose, it is hard for people to get that, but it is routine maintenance. And yes, it won't be a downward negotiation at the end of the day.

Sussie, thank you for the complements! And I hope it helps you out.

Richard, why thank you!

Jon, I am always honored when someone learns something from my writings, so thank you!

Tom, it is very, very rare indeed.

Roger, my wish for you and your family is that they will understand that they should listen to you as you know what you are talking about.

Margaret, that is so true. And if you don't.... you will help to sell the house down the street.

Debbie, great point! And I didn't realize about carpeting, interesting indeed.

Kathy, there are so many facets to pricing a home, I know sometimes sellers are very upset because we don't see the value as they do.

Mike, thank you. People do get upset when I tell them it was all routine maintenance. I can understand the feeling and try my best to get them to understand. What I don't understand is when agents believe that maintenance is updating or upgrading.

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) almost 7 years ago

I did a post on this last year with the same questions. Home Depot & the like make it a great sales pitch that your home will be worth more but in fact - you are just keeping it in good condition & 'marketable'.  You have to have a new roof, etc in order to keep your home from decreasing in value.  All homes need a certain amount of maintenance & that is that. So does your car!  Tires, oil, gas & we don't keep adding that to the base price of the car. 

There is also the ridiculous fact that every year there is some study that tells homeowners how much more they will get by putting in a new front door. What? You have to have a front door & I've never given anyone any more $$ because they have a new one!  Looks better, makes the buyer feel better but no price increase there for the seller.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg IL Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) almost 7 years ago

This is such a hard concept for most sellers to grasp.  The issue is there are a lot of contractors who try to convince folks that they will get the money back when they go to sell.

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach ( (757) 560-0881) almost 7 years ago

What a great explanation of home value and maintenance. I just inspected a house with a serious water infiltration problem. The drainage system in place is inadequate with many issues. The listing agent presented a quote from a basement water control company. He stated the price of the house would have been more if they had installed the system. I didn't see it then, and I certainly don't see it now after reading your post. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, this is a very good point. Maintaining a property will make a home more salable and put it at the top of the comparable sales.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 7 years ago

You make solid points and I have often told people that while they spent money to take care of their property, it may only mean that it will sell quicker than the one who did not...but then, you never know in Real Estate..All deals are different...good post here Andrea...


Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) almost 7 years ago

Hi Andrea, so true. And so many times people wait until they are going to sell to do many of the things you describe. Since they are not going to get dollar for dollar back, do it for yourself to enjoy before you are even thinking of selling.

Posted by Sandy Acevedo, RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale (951-290-8588) almost 7 years ago

It seems we wrestle with this issue more than we should. Although, new windows are a bonus to the buyer, sellers won't see the ROI they would on other improvements.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) almost 7 years ago

It's not just a matter of the dollar amount, but whether a potential buyer will even offer on a property with deferred maintenance.  Sometimes a buyer only has enough for the down payment, closing costs and maybe new cosmetics for the home. But if they know that it needs a new roof or other major component within a couple years, they may not even be willing to offer.  Sometimes it's the things you don't hear about, like the offers not submitted that really tell the story.

Posted by Adam Tarr, PC -GRI, ABR, CDPE, RSPS, ePro - Designated Broker (MavRealty) almost 7 years ago


Lots of good lessons here. I suspect most sellers are confounded by all this and don't look at it the way they should. And doing the right things, whether it yields much more in price does help to get the home sold as compared to those showing lots of deferred maintenance. Little issue with septics in my general area but roofing is always a hot issue.


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) almost 7 years ago

Great post!  You have a good way of discussing the "upgrades" as routine maintenance.  Oftentimes, sellers think they will get more for their home for doing routine maintenance.  I'll use your approach the next time this comes up. Thanks!

Posted by Jan Green, HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN (Value Added Service, 602-620-2699) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, a truly great article on a topic that needed to be addressed.  Wonderfully written and explained.

Posted by 1 ~Judi & Don Barrett & Chassy Eastep - Integrity, BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK (Integrity Real Estate Services 118 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745) almost 7 years ago
Great post. And of course there is the fact that some upgrades are for personal enjoyment and that shouldn't be discounted.
Posted by Debbie Reynolds, Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent (Platinum Properties) almost 7 years ago

I think you have raised some interesting points.  However, I think from the point of view of the buyer, a new kitchen may only cost about $10-15K whereas a new septic will cost $25K....

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) almost 7 years ago

Very intelligently and clearly stated.  It really isn't rocket science, is it?  Your seller clients are in very good hands!

Posted by Janna Scharf, Coeur d'Alene Idaho Real Estate Expert (Keller Williams Realty Coeur d'Alene) almost 7 years ago

Andrea, what a comprehensive description of how to discern the difference between update, upgrade and routine maintenance - a very valuable resource for sellers (and buyers!).  I think it's the 'sticker shock' that many folks have with the typical routine maintenance (ie septic, roofing, painting) that makes them think it equates to upgrades (ie higher ROI)...your post really clarified the distinctions!

Posted by Karen Hawkins, MBA - Langley & Surrey, BC (Royal Pro Real Estate Network) almost 7 years ago

The problem with the general population is they think every dollar they spend on their home should come back to them. Many of the improvements may help salibility but not change the bottom line by much.

Posted by Bill Gassett, Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate (RE/MAX Executive Realty) almost 7 years ago

Andrea I agree intirely.  Saleability is the key and buyer confidence.  Most buyers want to upcharge for a new roof when writing an offer.  It still is hard to sell to the seller that putting a new roof will help more than hinder the sale of their home.  They don't get the concept that there may be underlying issues below roof level that will get found by quality inspectors.

Posted by BRAD NEWTON-Pittsford NY- CBR®-SFR®-SRES®-Lic. R.E. Salesperson, Helping Rochester Families Make the Right Move ! (RE/MAX Realty Group) over 6 years ago