When it's time to sell a home, the owners are often confronted with decisions about repairs or improvements that could help their chances for a quick sale at the best price.

For some, preparing for a sale could mean fixing things that are clearly broken, and maybe some fresh paint. Others might think they need to upgrade their kitchen or bathroom.

Just how far should a homeowner go, and at what cost?

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Replacing the carpet is one project Joe Porter, with Lighthouse Real Estate, will tackle while preparing a home for sale on Johns Island Monday, March 4, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

“It’s a slippery slope," said Claire Porter, vice president of Lighthouse Real Estate. "So many people are like, 'Why am I going to spend money on something I am going to sell.'"

“We tell them to focus on the things that are going to matter the most to buyers, and help (the buyers) picture themselves in the space," she said. “A lot of that is paint, minor wood repair, landscaping and decluttering."

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Replanting the window boxes is one small project Claire Porter with Lighthouse Real Estate will complete to prepare a home for sale on Johns Island Monday, March 4, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Expensive renovations might give a home more appeal and even lead to a quicker sale, but most pre-sale renovations are money-losers.

“Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to do home improvements. I never really suggest upgrading anything in a house," said Brian Beatty, a top-ranked Charleston Realtor who runs the weekly Brian Beatty Real Estate Show on WTMA-AM. 

If a home needs updating, Beatty said, a better strategy is to offer buyers an allowance to make improvements they desire. 

“You see a lack of granite countertops, but they might not care about that, and want hardwood flooring," he said. “Improvements are so individual-specific."

What is important, real estate agents seem to agree, is removing clutter and making a home look inviting. Putting some furniture and even clothing in storage makes rooms and closets more inviting, landscaping can boost curb appeal, and relatively inexpensive upgrades — a new front door handle, a new faucet set in the kitchen or bathroom — can help.

Lighthouse Real Estate works with sellers to determine what repairs are needed, does the work or arranges for it to be done, and defers up to $5,000 of the cost until the property is sold. Porter said it's a niche the company embraced because of the experience her partner and husband, who has a contractor's license, has had renovating dozens of rental properties.

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Joe Porter begins projects to help sell a home on Johns Island Monday, March 4, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

“A lot of this stuff is honey-do stuff that they’ve been putting off," she said.

Large repairs and renovations can be fraught with risk for a home-seller.

“You’re not going to make your money back when you do large or medium improvement project in order to sell your house," Beatty said.

Potential buyers might not like the look of a bathroom or kitchen that a seller spent considerable sums of money renovating, and most major renovations add less to the selling price of a home than they cost, multiple studies have found.

Zillow.com said the same, and Judy Dutton, writing for Realtor.com, gave similar advice in a January article. Both cited an annual survey by Remodeling Magazine.

"If you're going to shell out money, do it where everyone will notice: on the front of your house," Dutton wrote, as an example of a general guideline. 

Remodel a bathroom, and you might recoup 70 percent of the cost, according to a chart Dutton included in her article. Install a backyard patio, and you won't get even half your money back.

“One of the only things you can do that will pay will itself, and more, is change your garage door," Porter said.

And that could be more about curb appeal than the garage door itself.

Home sellers might need to do more, in a slow housing market, but by most statistics the Charleston area housing market still favors sellers.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com