You landed a new job and find yourself planning a cross-country move in three months. Or, maybe you finally have the time to spend on home improvement now that the kids are out of the house. Here are some great approaches to home improvements geared toward a wide variety of budgets. We interviewed a number of experts to ask for tips, and all agreed with New York City-based designer Courtney Cachet who said, “For anything past the very basic DIY projects, I strongly recommend a licensed and insured professional.”
Ready to channel your inner Bob Vila? Click on your budget, then jump to ideas for how to increase your home’s value on your budget.
1. If You Have $100
Beverly Hills home designer Brian DeVille recommends starting with your outdoor lighting. He explains, “I find that curb appeal is key. If you’ve done work inside, they’re not going to see what’s inside. If you drive around an expensive neighborhood, you’ll see the homes have exterior lighting. Lighting can make a home appear taller and add symmetry to the structure and the yard.” More ideas to consider:
Small landscaping projects. From a bed of flowers to mulching around trees and other plantings—nothing beautifies a home more than an eye-appealing landscape. “I always recommend yellow, because yellow is the first color the brain processes,” says Courtney Cachet. “It attracts the eye and looks cheerful. A mix with some pinks, greens, and potted plants, and you’re done!”
Add fresh accessories. “Just as in fashion, accessories are important. That includes new house numbers, a new front door, mailbox, and planters,” says Cachet. “The entryway is key—have a nice solid door,” explains Deville. “If it has wobbly hardware people are going to assume the whole home isn’t well-maintained.”
Refinish floors or cabinets. “If you have hardwood floors, even if you can’t afford to refinish, pull up any wall-to-wall carpet,” says Nyack, New York-based home stager, Darrow Samberg. If your kitchen cabinets are looking outdated, Darrow recommends not spending money on new ones but instead sanding and painting the ones you have.
2. If You Have $500
Pay to get your home inspection before listing it. “It’s much wiser to start out knowing which projects are crucial to repairing before potential buyers walk through the door—you may decide to do an essential roof repair rather than a cosmetic bathroom remodel,” says DeVille. You’re also less likely to recoup your investment in a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance such as new siding. Other $500 projects to consider:
Paint your home’s exterior, shutters, and trim.
Erect a simple fence around your backyard for privacy and safety for kids and pets.
Do a basic “man-cave” or garage spiff-up: Coat the floors in glossy, durable paint, and install inexpensive-but-sturdy shelving and peg board.
Hire a pro to power wash your outside patios, decks, and walkways.
3. If You Have $1000
Build a surround for your TV. “Let’s face it, there’s nothing inspiring about a flat-screen TV just floating on a bare wall,” says Stamford, Connecticut based interior designer Kay Story. “But there are some simple ways to make it look like part of your design scheme without breaking the bank. One option is to build a framed wall out around your set, creating a window for the TV to sit within. The walls will also appear more interesting because there are multiple dimensions on an otherwise flat wall. Be sure to bury all cords in the wall. Add some floating wood or stainless steel shelves below for decor and you have a super chic TV room.” Other $1,000 projects to consider:
Give your home’s interior a paint job, just keep in mind that bold colors aren’t to most buyers’ taste. Go for neutral shades for the widest appeal. Howard Wiggins shares this tip: “Paint stores have color specialists that will help you find the perfect shade—they also know what’s in style right now.” Pros say that neutral paint tones can help make a home’s interior look larger.
Toss outdated or broken furniture, rugs, and artwork. Invest in key items that add pops of color and modernity throughout your home.
Purchase and install a “smart” thermostat. This can save you about $200 in energy costs. Even cooler? Systems like those made by Nest can be controlled remotely with your smartphone or tablet.
Invest in a new front porch. This adds visual interest and a welcoming entryway, especially if your home’s architecture is flat, like a ranch home. If your porch has started to look dated or has structural issues, rebuild it. As DeVille says, “If all your improvements are made on your home’s interior, you’ll never have a chance to show potential buyers the inside.”
4. If You Have $2000
Amp up your home’s interior lighting. “I’m working on a house from the 1920s now. People lived in a very different way back then—more low-lit wall sconces. I added four recessed lighting elements per room—one room for $400 or so. It really gives you a bright, happy room. Pay attention to lighting color—choose a daylight bulb,” says Howard Wiggins, interior designer and author based in Nashville. “Lighting is the best way to not only illuminate a room in a property, but also an excellent method of creating individual ambiances in any room,” adds Wiggins. Other value-enhancing projects in this price range:
Change up your countertops. With a modicum of construction skills, this can be a DIY project that improves the whole look of your kitchen. Keep this improvement under budget by using materials such as stainless steel, polished concrete, stone, wood, laminate, or ceramic tile.
Open up space by taking down a wall. Potential buyers love big, open spaces. (You can even remove a load-bearing wall, though most people don’t know it; our home will remain structurally sound if you leave a beam at the ceiling.)
Update your crown molding. Do away with cracked or chipped trim that can add years to the appearance of a home. Pay particular attention to making your living room or entryway look cohesive and finished.
5. If You Have $5000
“Update your half-bath to make it wow,” suggests Houston-based interior designer Rainey Richardson. “Sand the walls and add wallpaper with bold print and pops of color to add some pizzazz. Update the lighting and faucet to compliment the great paper. Don’t be afraid to choose metals that are less common like chrome and brushed gold to add interest. Choose a quiet countertop, like a solid quartz, to finish the space.” Other $5,000 projects to consider:
Make your half-bath spectacular. Unique spaces will make your home memorable and could increase your value by $7,500 or more.
Transform unused space. The addition of attic bedrooms and basement family rooms can return anywhere from 70 to more than 80% of the money spent.
Add a deck. When selling, a well-maintained backyard deck can hold 65 to 90% of your investment.
Spring for a new heat pump. A basic model can lower your heating and cooling expenses significantly.
6. If You Have $10,000
Remodeling the kitchen, considered by all real-estate pros as the most important room in the house, tops the list. “Replace cabinet door and door fronts with a style that makes sense with your architecture,” says Rainey Richardson, a Houston-based interior designer. Paint or stain the kitchen cabinetry to compliment the space and adjacent areas. Select a new countertop that has some veining and movement to add interest. Finally, choose a backsplash with a decorative tile to finish the look. Keep the backsplash simple and remember that white is the most popular kitchen color with buyers. This update could increase the value of your home by $20,000 or more. Other $10,000 projects to consider—all courtesy of Rainey Richardson:
Replace the flooring in your home’s common areas. Bamboo is a beautiful and not-too-expensive choice.
Add interior shutters to the windows. This gives a more finished and custom look to your home.
Replace windows with new, energy-efficient ones. Collect at least a couple of bids to ensure you get the best rate.
Update kitchen appliances. This improvement is one you can enjoy well before you ever list your home.Laura Vogel is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who swears that her neighborhood is the last cheap place to rent in New York City. She has written for Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, and Real Simple, among many fine publications.