With real estate prices not what they once were, to put it mildly, it's only natural for homeowners preparing to sell to be thinking of ways to up their home's value. But it simply doesn't make sense to throw money into a big remodeling project that won't end up netting a higher sale price in the end. What's a homeowner to do?
Learn what buyers want, then start early (so you can enjoy your hard work before you sell) and small (to avoid excessive spending) for the best possible results. These 10 home improvement projects make smart use of your time and resources.
1. Hire a pro. Consider hiring a pro to take a look at your home and offer advice. One morning spent with a home inspector, a real estate agent or a local designer can give you insight into what potential buyers will see when they look at your home — and can save you money in the long run.
2. Invest early in landscaping. A beautifully landscaped yard with gorgeous, mature shade trees can be a big selling point, but you'll need to allow for at least several years of growth to make the most of your investment. Make planting a priority early on, and be sure to seek out expert advice on the proper placement and care of your trees and yard.
3. Power wash paths and siding. Giving your home's exterior and paved areas a power wash can be nearly as dramatic as repainting, for a much lower cost. Rent a machine from your local hardware store if you don't have one.
4. Maintain green lawns. Sad, neglected lawns are a major turnoff to potential buyers. Maintaining a healthy lawn from the beginning with regular care is the least expensive route, though laying new sod can be worth the dramatic improvement in curb appeal if you don't have time to start from seed.
5. Upgrade exterior doors. Curb appeal will help sell your house; it's as simple as that. And the way your home looks from the outside depends a lot on the condition of your front door (and the garage door, if it's visible from the street).
6. Remove eyesores. Outdated wallpaper, tacky light fixtures, stained carpets and popcorn ceilings are all good candidates for updating. The replacements need not be high-end; just think clean, simple and contemporary.
7. Minor kitchen renovations bank the biggest return. If your kitchen is fairly current, you may want to leave it alone — remodeling a kitchen comes with a hefty cost, and you may only be able to recoup around 65 percent of your investment. Smaller updates such as painting or refinishing cabinets that are still in good shape, or upgrading to Energy Star appliances, can refresh your kitchen's look at a fraction of the cost.
8. French doors add more than light. If you are looking for a special feature to add to your home, consider replacing a door or several windows with French doors. Not only will they let in more light, but the open feel they provide makes the whole space feel larger. Plus, they make for a romantic addition to your home's sale ad. "French doors leading to the garden" — now that has a nice ring to it!
9. Choose current paint colors. A fresh, crisp paint job in modern neutrals like gray and putty shows off your home to best advantage. Don't feel you have to avoid all color; just be aware that the bolder your choice, the more likely it is that it won't agree with someone. An overly bright or badly chipped exterior paint color may need refreshing too, so don't stop with the indoors.
10. Build in extra storage. Another great investment is to add built-in shelving or cabinets in halls, garages or anywhere you have the space. Buyers love seeing great storage, so this can add a lot of appeal — and if you are able to do some of the work yourself, you can keep costs reasonable.