12 Money-Saving Ways To Upgrade Your Home So It Looks Like a Million Bucks, According to a Luxury Real Estate Agent

Sara Gore, the host of NBC’s Open House, spilled all her industry knowledge with us.

<p>Charlee Moss</p>

Charlee Moss

After working with real estate company SERHANT to find the amazing penthouse for our 2023 Real Simple Home, we had a million questions about the kinds of luxury properties they handle, but the one we needed to ask was, how can someone get that luxe look on a budget if they’re thinking of upgrading or refreshing their home? Is it even possible?

Yep, it is totally possible, according to licensed real estate salesperson for SERHANT, Sara Gore, who you may recognize as the Emmy award-winning host of NBC’s Open House. (Open House actually stopped by the Real Simple Home for a tour earlier this year!) Thanks to her cool gig, she’s seen countless homes that are peak opulence, and because of that, Sara’s learned a lot about which extravagant features can easily be duped.

We chatted with the residential matchmaker about how we can get the look (and feel) for way less, and she offered a broad range of suggestions—from swapping out materials to picking the right scent. Read on for Sara’s suggestions. 

Related: Tour the Real Simple Home on Open House!

Add a Wine Fridge

This one’s an easy one to work into your home, assuming you have an extra foot or two to spare in your kitchen. Sara says, “I see a wine fridge in every luxe home and every luxe apartment. They can be really affordable now!” She’s not wrong—we’ve tested wine fridges (what a life!) and one of our top performers is about $150. In wealthier homes, the fridges are usually built-in but Sara says you can ask a carpenter to “fake” the built-in look retroactively, where they add paneling to the appliance.

Mount a Pot Filler

If you’re considering a renovation, you should definitely add this to your wishlist, Sara recommends. It’s a small detail that’s not too expensive but can really make your kitchen look like a chef’s workshop. She says, “If you're going to redo anything in your kitchen, and maybe you're putting up a new backsplash, just build that pot filler in while you’re in there so you don't have to break anything up after the fact.” Basically, do it when you have the chance!

Set Up Light Dimmers

Being able to control your lighting levels with extreme precision is one of those subtle details you’ll find in many high-end homes. Dimmers are essentially a staple for them. “I love Lutron dimmers on all switches, because I feel like no matter the room, you should be able to dim your lights. Different times of the day call for different levels of brightness, especially at night. Plus, everything looks better when it’s dimmer!” she advises. There are also affordable smart bulbs too, which you can control from your phone.

Install Heated Bathroom Floors

Again, if you’re in the middle of a renovation, this isn’t a feature you should skip—and in the grand scheme of a bathroom remodel, this isn’t a huge added expense. According to Angi, this heating bathroom tiles cost between $20 and $40 per square foot, and thankfully, most bathrooms are not that big. Sara also says if you’re really on a tight budget, you can even “fake” heated floors by installing heated baseboards. Smart!

Pick Out Nice Hardware

This one is a simple DIY you can knock out in an afternoon—swap out the hardware on your cabinets if you want a quick refresh that’s super affordable. It can also help things feel a little more custom. Sara says, “If you have something that’s a bit cookie cutter, replace the hardware with something new and your furniture or cabinets look one-of-a-kind.” If you’re wondering what finish to look for, she votes for polished nickel. “It’s really classic, really chic, and will never go out of style,” she adds.

Go for the Marble—But Use Less of it

You might be confused by this one but hear us out: Sara strongly believes you should invest in this material, and here’s why: Some of the less expensive countertop materials don’t hold up over time, and they look terrible. She says she has quartzite counters in her own home that look awful, despite having a reputation for durability and affordability. “I already want to replace it! I say go for the marble off the bat, because even weathered marble feels wonderfully used. It has a history. Not like how my quartzite scratches look.” To keep yourself in budget, she suggests doing a section of marble and then supplementing with butcher block or stainless steel countertops in other areas.

Arrange Tiles Creatively

Backsplashes can get pricey quickly, but Sara says you can fake a luxury kitchen by choosing a less expensive tile and just stacking them in a more interesting pattern. Her preference is a herringbone pattern, and loves how an elongated subway tile looks in this arrangement.

Hang Sconces in the Bedroom

This is a designer trick you’ll see in the many designer bedrooms: Flank your bed with sconces, Sara suggests. And of course, set them with dimmers! She says, “It really makes a pop and  makes your bedroom feel a little more luxurious.” Just note, Sara says that the sconces are not for reading as much as they are for ambiance and to create those elegant layers of light.

Layer Your Bedding

Speaking of layering, apply the strategy to your bedding, if you really want a room that looks rich and cozy. “A few layers of throw blankets in different textures at the end of your bed will help it feel really inviting,” Sara recommends. Her other tip? “Get down inserts. They're not as expensive anymore, and you can get lightweight ones for summer and winter. The synthetic ones just don’t feel as good and don’t lay the same way.”

Get Motorized Shades

A core principle of every luxury home is convenience—making sure everything is accessible at the touch of a button is pretty much the standard. This goes for lighting, sound systems, temperature settings, and even window treatments. To really boost the swank factor of your home, install motorized shades, especially the kind that have blackout features.

Pick Neutral Colors in a Matte Finish

Something that’s consistent in many affluent homes is that they feature mostly neutral palettes—lots of creams and grays. “Neutral feels very fresh. You don't get tired of it,” Sara says. And interestingly, she says more matte finishes are popular in these houses. Our theory: It has a velvety appearance to it that looks so sophisticated. (Sara does note though that sometimes there’s a small office or powder room that’s a pop of color.)

Opt for Layered, Floral Scents

Because we love a nice-smelling home, we just had to ask her: What fragrances do luxury houses usually lean toward? How do we get the scent? She confirms more floral, musky notes are in vogue. Anything one-note and citrusy is not super popular at the moment. Popular candle brands she’s seen displayed are Glasshouse and Harlem Candle Company, plus Aesop hand soaps—”Aesop soap is in every single Open House or every single listing of mine. It's always there!” she humorously adds. So if you’re not in the middle of a big renovation, you can at least treat yourself and pick up a nice hand soap or candle!

Related: How to Get the 'Quiet Luxury' Look at Home

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