old bathroom with pink tile around tub and old toilet

Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

Bathroom Updates Before Selling

Last year I sold my house and even though the property was relatively up to date, I had to decide what improvements to make, if any, before selling. As a licensed general contractor, a real estate agent, and someone who has personally been in this predicament before, I try to analyze this question from all sides. You always hear people say that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses. So as you can imagine, I eventually reached the point where I had to ask myself, “Should I update my bathroom before selling?”

The short answer is Yes.  You should make the changes that you determine will make your property competitive with the homes on the market or in the area. Unless you have a specific reason for not doing so. For example, if you are asking less money for your home than comparable properties or, you don’t have the resources to take on any updating, or you simply don’t have time. It goes without saying that we want to maximize our return. Keep reading as we discuss some bathroom updates that you can make to increase the appeal of your bathroom without breaking the bank.


The following improvements are general in nature. Each situation is different and should be evaluated accordingly based on the circumstances surrounding each specific transaction. If you have a house that is 5 years old, you may not need to do much, if anything, depending on the condition of the home. But if your home is 60 years-old you may want to consider some updates.  There is no hard and fast rule. When in doubt always consult a real estate professional. I’ve written an article where I identify and outline the most difficult aspects of completing a bathroom remodel. 


Painting a Bathroom

When you start thinking about updating a bathroom, painting your bathroom’s ceilings and walls is probably the first thing that comes to mind. And it should be. A fresh coat of paint can really do a lot to improve the overall look and feel of any bathroom.

Over time paint ages and colors tend to fade.  Paint colors can also go out of style. And don’t forget about the general wear and tear from use.  If you choose to paint your bathroom ceilings and walls make sure to pick a neutral color. a neutral color is the safest way to appeal to the largest audience of potential buyers.

The goal is not necessarily to “wow” potential buyers, but rather create a blank slate, where they can easily envision their own colors and designs. On the other hand, a bathroom that has not been freshly painted may give buyers negative thoughts about the space like:


“Who picked this color?”

“Look how dirty the walls are.”

“Look at what poor shape the ceiling and walls are in.”


Bathroom Faucet Replacement 

Replacing the faucet at the bathroom sink is also a relatively easy upgrade that can make a big impact. This is particularly true if the faucet that you currently have is worn.  If your faucet is experiencing any of the following conditions you may want to consider replacing it:

The finish is wearing off (like on the handles)

The faucet leaks at the base of the handles

The style of the faucet is way outdated

Be aware before you take on this task that there will be some plumbing work involved. Additionally, you may have to replace the faucet shut off valves underneath the sink in order to complete this project.


1950s pink tile bathtub surround

Replacing a Bathroom Countertop

Replacing your bathroom countertop can also give your bathroom a much-needed facelift. This is particularly true if your countertops are extremely outdated or if they are in really poor condition.  If your countertops are yellow or pink or green it’s probably a safe bet to just go ahead and replace them. Many of the big box home improvement stores sell countertops and sink bowls together as one unit or separately. And remember that you don’t have to select super high-end finishes. Laminate (or formica) countertops and cultured marble are two less-expensive options.


Replacing a Bathroom Vanity

Replacing a bathroom vanity can be a little bit more involved depending on the way that your bathroom is currently designed. If your bathroom vanity is falling apart, has significant water damage or is extremely outdated, you may want to consider replacing it.  Most big box stores currently have options for buying a vanity and countertop together which may save you a few dollars.


Replacing a Shower Fixture

The shower fixture is the focal point of the tub or shower. Replacing or updating this unit can make a big difference in how the tub shower space looks and functions.  In some bathrooms, the tub shower valve may not be easily accessible.

In much older homes it’s common to find an access panel to the valve in an adjacent closet. Many newer style homes, do not have plumbing access panels for the tub and shower fixtures.  In these situations, you would have to cut into the wall on the rear side of the tub shower in order to access the rough plumbing in order to replace the valve.

If this is too involved for you, you may want to at least consider changing out the handles on the shower valve; this is a much less involved process and all you should need is a screwdriver and a set of new handles. Another easy way to improve the overall look and feel of the shower is to change out the shower head.

Shower heads come in all different shapes sizes and price points. If the one that you currently have is visibly dated you can pick something that is an improvement on what you have without breaking the bank.

If your shower faucet is leaking and you just want to repair the fixture without replacing the entire valve, check out my article on how to repair a leaky tub or shower faucet.

Replacing Bathroom Flooring

Now you may be thinking that flooring has to be extremely expensive but it does not, particularly if the existing floor is structurally sound.  In this example, we will assume that your floor system is not caving in. If you have old flooring that is clearly out of date you have lots of options to choose from. Two of the least expensive options will be sheet vinyl and vinyl plank flooring. Both of these options come at different price points.

One of the main advantages of using these types of products is that typically they can be installed directly on top of the existing floor with limited if any demolition of the existing flooring. In many instances, you can leave your baseboard intact and simply replace or install shoe mould or quarter round once you’ve installed your new floor.


Replacing or Repairing a Toilet

Toilets are always a beneficial update. You can go about this two different ways. One way is to simply upgrade the working parts of the toilet.  All big box home improvement stores carry toilet repair kits that include all of the functioning parts of the toilet. This is a relatively inexpensive option and can greatly improve the functionality of the toilet.

Now if your toilet is beyond repair then you may want to consider replacing the entire unit completely.  There is a huge range in the price of toilets. the least expensive toilets start around $100 and go up quickly in price from there. If you are selling a much older home that has an original toilet you may notice that the existing toilet is quite small by today’s standards.  If you think this will be a detractor from potential buyers you may want to consider replacing it.


Replacing a Bathroom Exhaust Fan and/or  Cover

Ceiling vent fans are something that we rarely give thought to. but when you are making updates to a bathroom it typically will eventually come to mind.  Ceiling vent fan covers tend to fade and turn from white to yellow over time. A dingy faded fan vent cover will become very obvious and stick out like a sore thumb if you paint your bathroom ceiling and walls. This is a really easy update and it doesn’t take much effort to do.


Now if your bathroom vent fan does not work at all you may want to consider replacing it altogether. most homes that have bathroom vent fans have the most basic version. it’s a square that’s approximately 6 in by 6 in. they still sell this exact same type in the store today.

As a matter of fact, they sell the fan motor and the fan cover together and it actually doesn’t cost much more than buying the fan cover by itself. Changing out the fan motor is slightly more involved than replacing just the fan cover but it’s still a relatively easy update that will not take much time to complete.

Bath fans are actually a very helpful bathroom feature that can help extend the useful life of your bathroom by removing moisture and humidity. Check out my blog post where I discuss the benefits of adding a bathroom exhaust fan in a bathroom that does not have one.

Replacing a Heating and Air Register

Heating and air registers can also fade over time. if the register and your bathroom have been painted over multiple times now may be a good time to consider replacing it. If the vent cover is in good shape and just needs a good cleaning, consider wiping it down thoroughly to remove any dust bunnies and surface dirt.  Now in some instances, vent registers can rust due to excessive moisture. This is extremely common if the vent is located anywhere near the “direct line of fire.”

If the vent is Rusted or is covered in paint it’s probably going to take you less time to replace it rather than painting it. Additionally, your finished result will also likely look better because the vent will be brand new.


Replacing Electric Outlet and Switch Covers

Replacing electrical switchplate covers and outlet covers is another easy way to improve the feel of your bathroom. Switchplates and outlet covers go unnoticed most of the time. But once you paint a room, switches and outlet begin to stick out if they are dingy, faded or damaged. Changing the plates out is a super easy update. Now some sellers may find that they actually need to replace the outlets and switches. Damaged electrical outlet

All of the updates that we just discussed are potential options if you were looking to make some cost-friendly updates to your bathroom without getting into heavy construction. The overall goal of these updates is to refresh the overall look and feel of your bathroom. Remember the goal is not usually to make the bathroom perfect for EVERYONE.

Rather, the goal at a minimum is to make thoughtful improvements to make the bathroom liveable and acceptable to most buyers. We don’t want potential buyers walking into the bathroom and immediately have their heads filled with negative thoughts.

We want to minimize the number of outstanding issues to keep potential buyers from walking in and immediately thinking “this is a total renovation project that must be done immediately.” Upgrade what makes sense. And always talk to your real estate agent and contractor before getting started to make sure that you are moving in the right direction.