Budget Home Updates

Need to spruce up your house before you sell? These low-cost upgrades will boost your market value without breaking the bank.
Bathroom Vanity With Grab-and-Go Shelf

Bathroom Vanity With Grab-and-Go Shelf

The vanity's open, slatted shelf keeps bathroom essentials within reach.

Photo by: Lincoln Barbour

Lincoln Barbour

By: Kara Wahlgren
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Most homeowners have a room or two they'd like to overhaul, and when you're looking to sell, those must-do projects seem even more important. But while a major renovation might boost your home's value, does anyone really have the bottomless bank account to fund those big projects? The average staging budget is only 1 percent to 3 percent of your home's value -- hardly enough to finance those handmade hickory cabinets for your kitchen or marble mantle for your fireplace.

"If you're getting ready to sell in the next few months, major renovations are probably not going to pay off," says staging expert Lori Matzke, owner of CenterStageHome.com. According to a report from Remodelingmagazine, even a swanky $50,000 kitchen remodel will only earn back about 80 percent of its cost when you sell. A smarter bet? Stick to inexpensive upgrades that can make a huge difference in your home's saleability. These simple projects will get you the most bang for your buck.

Fix What's Broken

Got a broken heater? A cracked ceiling? A torn screen door? Put your money into these overdue repairs before you start worrying about cosmetic improvements. "A rule of thumb is, if it's there and in disrepair, you need to fix it," Matzke says. "Buyers are looking for a house that's in working condition." If they see a leaky faucet, they'll wonder what else needs to be fixed. A few minor repairs can eliminate those red flags.

Create Curb Appeal

First impressions are critical, especially in a competitive market. If half the homes in your neighborhood are boasting for-sale signs, curb appeal can give your property the edge -- so put a fresh coat of paint on your siding, re-stain your deck or power-wash your patio, and trim back any overgrown shrubs. And don't overlook your front door, which can be a make-or-break detail for would-be buyers. "It's the first thing people see when they pull up, so do they want to come in or not?" Matzke says. If your entryway is lackluster, consider investing in a mahogany door or a decorative-glass style.

Lighten Up

It only takes a few dollars to make your home feel infinitely more warm and welcoming. If you've got clutter, box it up and put it in storage. Replace your mood lighting with the max allowable wattage for your fixtures. Tear down faded or dated wallpaper, and grab a few gallons of paint to cover up blemishes or soften a bold color palette. (So long, mauve living room!) "Neutral, neutral, neutral," Matzke advises. "It sounds really boring, but most people are looking for a house they can move into right now."

Modernize for Less

Kitchens and baths are big-ticket items, but there's no need to plunk down thousands of dollars on a total overhaul. In these rooms, even minor upgrades -- such as new faucets or fresh lighting fixtures -- can reap major rewards, and a little elbow grease can go a long way. "Ripping out and replacing kitchen cabinets is great, but unless they're really horrid, it's probably better just to enamel them," Matzke says. You can also find bargains on newer appliances and plumbing hardware at sites like eBay or Craigslist. In the bathroom, replacing a tired vanity with a pedestal sink can instantly renew the decor and create more space, and outdated vinyl flooring can be replaced with inexpensive ceramic tile. Many big-box home stores offer options for around a dollar per square foot, so tiling a small room won't strain your wallet.

Finish It Off

A basement remodel can rack up hefty labor costs, but if you're handy, it can be a profitable DIY project. Installing carpet and sheet rock in an unfinished basement instantly adds a few hundred square feet of living space; it's like putting an addition on your home for a fraction of the cost. "A basement finish, if it's done properly, is one of the best investments," says Leslie Sellers, president-elect of the Appraisal Institute. "The most expensive items -- the foundation and walls -- are already taken care of."

Go Green

Eco-friendly extras might seem like frivolous expenses, but according to the National Association of Realtors, nearly half of all homebuyers said energy efficiency was "very important" when considering a purchase. Don't worry, that doesn't mean you need to retrofit your home with solar panels or install bamboo floors in every room -- but you may want to fix that drafty window or replace your stone-age dishwasher with an EnergyStar model. "These items will cut your energy bills down, make the house more comfortable while you're living there, and add to the marketability of the home when you sell it," Sellers says.

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