In the days of an uncertain stock market and job insecurity, there's no place like home sweet home. Even though the housing bubble burst over the course of 2007 and 2008, according to MSN Money, homeowners in many areas of the United States can still recoup 80 to 90 percent of the money spent on home improvements. The key is to know where to spend. Just because you put $20,000 into renovations, it won't necessarily add that much value. If your house needs a new roof, you won't see a return on it for a while because people expect the roof in a house they're buying to be in good shape. The same can be said for your plumbing and electrical systems. Bad plumbing will detract from the value, but new plumbing won't necessarily drive up the price tag. The key to adding value is to focus on the things that are important to buyers, and to not over-improve. You don't want to have the most expensive house on the block. So if the houses in your neighborhood have concrete driveways, investing in expensive brick pavers may not be in your best interest financially.
Here, in no particular order, are some tips for how to get the best bang for your buck on your home renovations, even in a tight real estate market.
In real estate, dark and cramped are no good, so a little light goes a long way. If your house has small rooms that block the flow of natural light, you may want to consider knocking down some walls and opening up your floor plan. Open floor plans usually involve combining your kitchen, dining and living areas into one big space that suits a casual lifestyle. This makes a small house feel light and airy, giving the illusion of a larger living area. Open rooms create an inviting atmosphere for entertaining, because kitchen duties can be performed while hanging out with guests. It's also great for young families because it allows parents to work on dinner while keeping an eye on the youngsters. If you're not up for taking down walls, even widening doorways 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30.5 centimeters) will make a noticeable difference. Adding rooms is also a big value booster. Great rooms can add square footage, and vaulted ceilings will make it feel like there's even more space. If you live in an older house that has small bedrooms, master bedrooms and bathrooms are also good additions that will increase the value of your home.
Green is in, so many companies are looking for ways to reduce costs and minimize their carbon footprint. One way is to offer telecommuting options for employees. Millions of Americans work from home, and that number grows every year. This has made a home office more of a necessity than a luxury. Creating a dedicated work space not only adds value to your house, but it also makes your telecommute tax deductible. Converting an unused den, sunroom or extra bedroom is a great way to take care of business from the comfort of your home. You'll want to make sure that you have plenty of space to spread out your work load and ample cabinets for storing supplies and archival paperwork. You also need an ergonomic workstation. The rule of thumb is a 26-inch (66-centimeter) high desk and a computer keyboard situated 23 to 28 inches (58 to 71 centimeters) from your body. Your chair height should be 15 to 21 inches (38 to 53 centimeters) from the floor. If you live in an old house, make sure the electrical outlets have been updated with grounded outlets to accommodate three-pronged plugs. Phone lines and data ports are also a big plus.
If your house doesn't look appealing from the outside, chances are a potential buyer will never make it inside. According to Bankrate.com, a good first impression can add five to 10 percent to the value of your home. If the exterior color of your house is dated or fading, painting is a good place to start your improvements. Choose colors and exterior details that match the period of your house. Shutters add charm and depth, but not if they're hanging crooked or flaking paint. Paving a driveway or walkway that is in disrepair is a must, because this is what leads people to your home -- you want it to be welcoming. Attractive, manicured front-yard landscaping will also add value to your home. Drought-tolerant plants and easy-to-care-for perennials are a good option if you don't have a green thumb. And don't forget about your backyard either. Outdoor living is very popular as more people wish to commune with nature in the comfort of their own home. Sprucing up a deck or patio with attractive furniture, raised garden beds and maybe even a water feature will give you years of enjoyment and appeal to future buyers.
Sunrooms are a bridge between your home and the outdoors, and are part of today's popular "outdoor living" trend that includes outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and upscale patios. Sunrooms are either unheated (three-season) or heated (four-season) and often include features like cathedral ceilings, skylights and tile flooring. Adding a sunroom is an affordable way to increase your home's square footage. In fact, it's typically less than half the cost of adding a standard room to your home. Even better, sunrooms are very attractive to homebuyers, especially those in colder climates; in the United States, sunrooms are most popular in the Northeast and Midwest. When adding a sunroom to your home, select a spot that's near a gathering area -- the kitchen, family room, living room or dining room -- as sunrooms typically become preferred eating spots and overflow areas when entertaining guests.
If you think adding a sunroom is a cost-effective way to increase your home's value, nailing on a deck is truly a bargain. According to Remodeling Magazine's "Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report for 2007," more than 85 percent of your wooden deck's cost can be recouped if you sell your home, compared with 78 percent of a bathroom remodel and 68 percent of a family room addition. Ten or 20 years ago, tacking on a simple wooden structure was fine. But today's homeowners crave outdoor living space, and are looking for something a little more special than yesterday's plain planks. So if you're going to add a deck, take some time to come up with an interesting shape, and consider adding enhancements such as a built-in fire pit, benches or raised garden beds. Using higher-grade materials for the flooring and railings not only further enhances this addition, but can make it easier to maintain, too.
Painting is one of the least expensive ways to freshen and improve your home's look, and consequently its value. And we're talking everywhere -- your home's interior walls, of course, but also the exterior: the siding, trim and associated elements like decks and sheds. Don't forget to consider interior features as well. A coat of paint can do wonders to brighten up dingy cupboards, for example, or old paneling. In the past, neutral colors were seen as the best way to create a fresh, bright, versatile look. But today, people crave color, so don't be afraid to consider a wide range of hues. Just stay away from super-bright colors, such as hot pink or neon yellow. Don't really have an eye for color? Not a neat painter? Then hire a professional. Painting is such an affordable home enhancement that you can probably manage to spend a little on an interior designer who can help select colors, and a professional painter to do the dirty work.
Many homeowners don't give much thought to their landscaping, but a good design can add significantly to your home's value -- sometimes as much as a new kitchen or bath. Have a landscape architect out to your house to assess what you've got and offer suggestions. Perhaps creating a more formal look will better match your home's style (think geometrical shapes and straight lines), or, if your lot backs up to lots of trees, a woodland look full of natural paths, native plants and lots of groundcover. There's often no fee for an architect's design if you buy at least a few items, which is well worth it. Keep in mind, too, that landscaping is more than greenery -- it includes lighting, fences, rock features, paths, ponds and more. So even if your current trees and plants are attractively laid out, they may still be greatly enhanced by, say, a curving pathway, bench and a few well-placed lights. Landscaping is especially important (and more valuable to your bottom line) in temperate climates, where your plantings are visible year-round and you're able to be outside enjoying features like ponds all 12 months of the year.
Why add a room to your home if you've already got an empty basement downstairs? Basements can easily be transformed into recreation rooms, bar rooms, media rooms or "man caves," not to mention extra bedrooms or rental units, if there's a separate entrance -- and they bring in more money when you eventually sell. But don't just rush downstairs and start hammering away. It's important to make sure your lower-level remodel includes a bathroom, as the presence of a bathroom can dramatically increase its value. Also, try to avoid adding a lot of walls or hallways, which will make the area feel smaller and darker -- basements already tend to feel that way. Installing a gas fireplace is another way to make the area feel brighter and cozier. And don't forget to add storage space. You can never have too much of that!
If you've ever lived in a house that doesn't have enough bathrooms, then you know firsthand how valuable these rooms are to potential buyers. Updating or adding bathrooms, especially master baths, will add considerable value to your house. A master suite with his and her sinks, spacious showers and plenty of square footage are what buyers are looking for. Added amenities such as heated floors, steam showers and whirlpool tubs will serve you well, and ample storage is a must. Traditional ceramic tile floors are preferred over wood flooring or linoleum because they handle water better. Half-baths can be created out of small closets or under eaves. If you want to go green, low-flow toilets and skylights are good choices. Keep your design in the same period as the rest of your house. You can still have modern amenities while retaining a classic look. Bungalows command subway tile and pedestal sinks, while a modern bathroom may contain more wood and neutral-colored tile. Don't be shy when it comes to spending -- the average bathroom remodel can get you back the majority of your investment.
Have you ever noticed everyone gravitates toward the kitchen during a dinner party? It's known as the heart of the house for a good reason. The draw of your kitchen to party-goers has the same value to potential buyers, so a kitchen remodel is one of the best ways to add value to your house. An updated kitchen appeals to a buyer's emotions and a homeowner's wallet because, if done correctly, it can give you close to a 100 percent return on your investment. Plenty of counter and cabinet space is a must, and granite countertops are popular with buyers. Stainless-steel appliances are also a hot ticket, but the most important thing is to make sure your appliances all coordinate. A window over the kitchen sink is a great place to daydream away your dishpan hands. Island counters are wonderful additions if your kitchen has the space. They not only provide additional counter space, but can also be used for homework, grabbing a quick bite or a place for guests to hang out while you cook. You can even add features like a prep sink or extra burners that will make your kitchen a chef's dream.
Read Shared Walls: Why Fixing Cracks Should Be at the Top of Your DIY List. Keep reading to learn why fixing cracks should be at the top of your list.
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