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Make your house shine with a bit of cost-effective polish.

Home Renovations

Thinking of selling your home? Then you’re probably wondering what might attract house hunters’ attention in a competitive buyer’s and renter’s market. Knowing which upgrades are worth the money, dust and hammering is the key to getting a better return on your investment.

“A common misconception among homeowners when it comes to renovation and remodeling is that cost equals value,” notes Richard Powers, past president of the Appraisal Institute, which helps consumers find local appraisers and provides ongoing professional education. “However, not every renovation or remodel will pay off at closing.

Kitchen Confidential
If you’re mentally and financially prepared for a major construction project, start with the kitchen. That’s the recommendation from Judy Levin, a realtor in Sutton’s Bay, Michigan.

She suggests that first- or second-time homeowners select a mid-range kitchen upgrade to see the best payoff when the house sells. “Go for stainless-steel appliances, but not the higher-end brands like Viking,” she says. A home improvement loan can financially prepare you for a kitchen upgrade. Two sinks, and flooring made of renewable resources like bamboo or cork, are also on the list.

Levin finds that Corian and granite counters are appealing to buyers, who also favor solid wood cabinetry—in hickory or maple, for example—in lighter shades. “I recently saw someone turn down a great house because the buyer didn’t like the gorgeous dark kitchen cabinets,” she says.

At a Minimum
If you’re not ready to embark on major house surgery, Powers and other experts recommend making a few simple upgrades that you can complete yourself.

Freshen up the interior walls with a new coat of paint in a neutral color. Outside, if your siding is in good shape, give it a good power-wash.

To give your house a finished look, put up crown molding and wider baseboards. Add a tile backsplash, upgrade countertops, install new bathroom fixtures and change hardware on the doors. Consider increasing storage space or adding closet built-ins that provide a “wow” factor and help sell the house, Levin says.

Finally, the best relatively quick investment, according to Levin, is curb appeal. Think of your house as a person. Would it turn your head on the street? “The exterior of the house must look inviting to people driving or walking by, which translates to a neat, clean appearance that’s well-landscaped,” Levin explains.

Julie Eakin recently relocated from Michigan to Los Angeles, so she knows about moving. She also knows about renovation. Eakin has an architecture degree and has written about the subject for The New York Times, House & Garden and I.D., among other publications.

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