Your house is outdated, but where do you begin making changes? It might still have its original cabinets from 1978 or it’s been years since you changed the cosmetic details. Whatever end of the decor spectrum you’re on, a few modern tweaks can take your space from past to present.

For sellers, making a few small tweaks can help set your house apart from the competition, says Jason Saft, a real estate agent at Compass in New York. Some sellers choose to hire professional stagers to increase the look and appeal of their home. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, staging can have an impact on selling a house.

  • 40% of buyers’ agents reported that home staging had an effect on how most buyers viewed the home.
  • 83% of buyers’ agents said staging a home helped buyers picture the house as their future home.
  • 25% of buyers’ agents said that staging increased the dollar value offered between 1% and 5%, compared to similar homes without staging.

Like staging, investing in the right updates can increase your return on investment. Experts agree that in a competitive market, the right changes can make all the difference. The onward and upward attitude toward housing has shifted amid rising home prices and squeezed inventory. And as more people age in place and make their starter homes their forever homes, the remodeling industry has exploded.

Now a $400 billion business, the residential remodeling market has seen a surge in activity, growing over 50% since 2010. In 2017, 29% of homeowners completed at least one remodeling project, according to the latest “Improving America’s Housing” report published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Some reasons for the uptick in home improvement projects are lagging construction and aging homes; some 40% of American homes are at least 50 years old, according to the report.

Americans are now more likely to stay in the same home than they were 35 years ago, according to NAR.

Many folks are skipping starter homes and going straight to affordable single-family homes in the suburbs, says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at NAR. This has led to record levels of equity, as home values continue to climb.


From smart-home systems to outdoor living rooms, experts weigh in on the year’s most popular design features that will help give your house a fresh look that both sellers and homeowners can benefit from.

Smart-home systems

For the uninitiated, integrated smart-home systems are basically a variety of devices that are linked to a single hub, which coordinates everything. They range from six-figure customized systems to out-of-the-box gizmos you can install yourself for a couple hundred dollars.

Smart-home technology can be grouped into two basic categories: convenience and security. Convenience tech includes things like automated thermostats and Bluetooth audio (yes, you can have your very own theme song play when you enter your home). The security category includes cameras and alarm systems.

“Buyers want cameras and app-based home automation systems,” says Smitha R. Ramchandani, a broker associate at Sotheby’s International Realty in Summit, New Jersey. “They want to remotely control their lighting systems and blinds. If they’re away, they want to be able to turn off the thermostat.”

Outdoor living rooms

Think of your outdoor space as another room, Saft says. Younger buyers often want to see social trends reflected in their living space and — as rooftop bars and other outdoor gathering areas gain popularity — this is appealing in a home, too.

“Outdoor living rooms are much more popular. Buyers are not looking at just a backyard; it’s another room,” Saft says.

Creating a backyard living room might be as easy as rearranging patio furniture and adding some lights and Bluetooth speakers. Homeowners starting from scratch should begin with an even foundation, which might mean putting in a concrete slab or wooden deck. Use pillows and blankets to add texture and warmth. Lighting plays an important part in creating an inviting ambiance. An easy way to add lights is to use simple string lighting, lanterns and LED candles.

Farmhouse modern look

From home makeover shows to big-box retailers, the trend best known as “farmhouse modern” is a favorite across the country, Saft says.

This is a look that’s easy to replicate in almost any style of home. The modern farmhouse look takes natural elements (reclaimed wood, rattan, wicker) and gives them a sleek, architectural look. Nowadays, these trends are accessible to anyone thanks to stores like Target partnering with high-end brands such as Hearth & Hand with Magnolia, owned by former HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, Saft says.

“People are really getting into an eco-conscious lifestyle,” Ramchandani says. “Things that appeal to today’s homeowners are natural finishes and fabrics, like cotton, that have a more organic appeal. They want a rustic, homey feel.”

Bold accents

Playful and expressive might be two words to describe home trends in 2019. Buyers are responding to wow-factor elements in homes, whether it’s a unique, colorful kitchen back splash or a single statement wall in the living room.

Colorful kitchen cabinets are replacing the all-white look, too, Saft says. So homeowners who want to update their kitchen without dumping a ton of money into it can simply repaint their cabinets. Cobalt blue and greens are popular color choices. Pair colorful cabinets with mixed metals, like pewter and brass, and your kitchen has suddenly entered 2019.

“I’m noticing and people are really gravitating toward bold designs — people want boldness in color. Like a tertiary color scheme, the white-on-white kitchens and the white-on-white walls are fading away,” Ramchandani says.

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is an inexpensive, easy-to-install product for creating a dramatic wall, without the time and labor that traditional wallpaper requires. From wild prints to simple patterns, there’s a wide variety of paper to choose from.


For sellers, talk to your real estate agent about which updates are worth making for your particular property and buying demographic. Saft points out that what an in-city buyer might expect is different than what someone in the suburbs is looking for. Your real estate agent should know your market well and be able to give you strategic advice.

For homeowners who don’t want to move but want to use the equity in their homes for renovations, they might consider looking at home equity loans (HELs) or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). In both cases, the lender uses your home as collateral, so if you can’t make the monthly payments, you could end up losing your home.

The advantage of home equity loans for some buyers is that they’re tax deductible if you use them for home renovations. They also have fairly low interest rates, which are usually less than what personal loans and credit cards offer.

Another option for homeowners who want to lock in a lower interest rate while tapping their equity is a cash-out refinance. This will replace your current mortgage with a new home loan for a larger amount than your existing loan balance, and you’ll be able to withdraw the difference between the two mortgages in cash if you have enough equity.

Refinancing typically makes the most sense when you can lower your interest rate and/or monthly payment — and stay in your home long enough to recoup the costs of refinancing (known as the break-even point).

Also, if you do a cash-out refinance, using the equity on things that won’t have a return later might end up costing you. Home renovation projects might be worth it if it’s going to increase your quality of life while also adding value to your property. A kitchen remodel or new roof, for example, might be good investments; whereas a Jacuzzi or high-end fixtures generally won’t offer enough ROI to make the expenditure worthwhile.

Before you use your home equity to finance a home remodel, be sure to talk with your financial adviser to make sure it’s in line with your goals and budget.