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10 tricks to a low-cost upgrade
Improving the value of your property
  1. Begin with the front of the house.
  2. Dress up the porch.
  3. Paint.
  4. Display photos.
  5. Shine a little light on the subject.
  6. Make rooms instantly more spacious.
  7. Give the yard a good clip.
  8. Create areas of interest in your yard.
  9. Trick the eye.
  10. Use everyday objects in new ways
 
1. Begin with the front of the house.
It's the first thing you, and your guests, will see.

"Always repaint the front, the trim and the door," says Robert Irwin, author of "Improve the Value of Your Home Up to $100,000."
 
His trick: Pay special attention to the front door and the door handle. For potential buyers, "that's the first time they touch the house," he says. Twenty-five dollars worth of paint makes a door look new. And another $50 to $75 for a shiny handle on a freshly painted or stained door "makes an enormous difference," Irwin says.
 
2. Dress up the porch.

Place two large planters on either side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out.

"Think of your pots like clothes -- you want something that's going to go with the house," says Rebecca Kolls, master gardener and host of the nationally syndicated television series "Rebecca's Garden."

When you choose the plants, look for foliage colors and blooms that complement each other, just as if you were assembling an outfit. "You wouldn't mix polka dots and plaid," says Kolls. Her rule of thumb: The plants should be twice as tall as the pot. Since you're literally assembling a garden in a pot, look for different textures. Mix perennials and annuals, blooming and nonblooming varieties. Include tall plants, to give the arrangement height and shape; ground covers, to spill out of the pot and down the sides to soften the edges, and an abundance of medium-sized plants to fill in between the two and give a lush look. Squeeze in as many plants as you can manage, says Kolls. "Just pack them in there."

If you want to add another touch later, you can tie it in to the front door with a coordinating wreath, says Kolls.
 
3. Paint.
The biggest change you can make in a room is painting the walls, changing the color," says Linda Holmes, certified remodeler and president of Creative Carpentry Remodelers Inc., in Aurora , Ill. New paint "makes it look clean again."
"And paint the ceiling anything but ceiling white," she says.
 
Some pro paint tips:
 
  • Paint the trim a contrasting color. "It gives a little bit of punch to everything," says New York interior designer Michael Love, president of Interior Options Inc. Or you could stencil a crown molding onto the wall with paint. "It's not so tough," says Love. Just go slow, and be accurate.
  • Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the same color. Measure equal sections and use painter's masking tape to mark off each area, says Judy Pickett, owner of Design Lines Ltd., in Raleigh , N.C. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries, do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on. Want something really different? Go for big squares in various colors.
  • Paint the kitchen cabinets. If you're the handy type, also think about adding a new kitchen counter to give the room a whole new look. "It makes a huge impact," says Deborah Houseworth, president of DLH Design Studio in Chevy Chase , Md.
  • And don't limit the paint to the walls. Inexpensive, unmatched furniture gets a whole new look with a coat of paint -- especially white, says Love, who uses the technique in her own home. The trick also works with lamps, especially if you add a little glaze for an antique look.
4. Display photos.

Have some favorite photos blown up, pick up some inexpensive frames at a discount store, and line a wall, says Pickett, who used this trick in her own office. "Pop them into frames, and it's the cheapest thing you can do," she says. "They really do have an impact."

Her secret: Black and white photos are even more dramatic.
 
5. Shine a little light on the subject.

"Add accent lighting, instead of the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa," says Holmes.

A lot of discount and home stores are stocking inexpensive lighting options that can make a big difference in a room. Spotlights that plug into existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, such as art or plants.

Houseworth lined a room with track lights, forming a perimeter about two feet from the walls, and painted the ceiling within the tracks a different color. "It looked like a gallery," she says.

Cost: about $400 to $500. Pro tip: Look for tiny lights, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, that can add a nice sparkle.

Or you can pick up on another hot trend and get a couple of candlestick lamps, says Holmes.
 
6. Make rooms instantly more spacious.
Go through your rooms and get rid of one-third of your furniture and junk, says Irwin. Whether you need a little breathing room or you're getting ready to sell and move, this will give you more free space. And it makes it that much easier for potential buyers to picture their own furnishings in the home, says Irwin.
 
7. Give the yard a good clip.
Trim back the trees and shrubs that block the street view of the house and especially the windows. A well-groomed yard that lets light into the home "looks a lot less sinister," says Irwin.
 
8. Create areas of interest in your yard.
Start with one small section and create a focal point. "Small spaces can become terrific spaces and look much grander than they are," says Kolls, who advises picturing the yard as a series of "little rooms." Just do a piece at a time. Install a birdbath, bird feeder, arbor or bench with copious amounts of flowers and plants around it to create a small sanctuary. "You've got this great look for an inexpensive price," she says.
 
9. Trick the eye.
To make an area of the yard look larger, use curving pathways and sidewalks instead of straight ones. Curves fool the eye and "make an area look bigger," says Kolls.
 
10. Use everyday objects in new ways.

Sometimes the secret to less-expensive decorating is to look at things differently. Love had been searching for a set of long, silver-colored pull handles for a large cabinet, but everything she found was at least four figures. Then she spotted exactly what she wanted in a package labeled "towel bars." Cost: $69.

 
 
10 cheap fixes to boost the value of your home
 
Looking for a cart to serve as a bar in a study or dining area? Check out an office-supply retailer or the office-furniture area of your favorite home store, says Love. Chances are, the wheeled cart being sold for a fax machine or computer would also make a stylish minibar.
 
The actual cost and payback for each project can vary, depending on both your home's condition and overall real estate market values in your region of the country.
 
Boost your home's value
These simple upgrades can easily add thousands of dollars to your home's value.
 
  1. Make your kitchen really cook.
  2. Give appliances a facelift.
  3. Buff up the bath.
  4. Step up your storage.
  5. Add a room in a week or less.
  6. Mind the mechanics.
  7. Look underfoot.
  8. Let there be light.
  9. Reframe your entry.
  10. Consider curb appeal.
 
1. Make your kitchen really cook.

The kitchen is still considered the heart of the home. Potential home buyers make a beeline for this room when they first view a home for sale, so make sure your kitchen looks clean and reasonably updated.

For a few hundred dollars, you can replace the kitchen faucet set, add new cabinet door handles and update old lighting fixtures with brighter, more energy-efficient ones.

If you've got a slightly larger budget, you can give the cabinets themselves a makeover. "Rather than spring for a whole new cabinet system, which can be expensive, look into hiring a refacing company," says serial remodeler Gwen Moran, co-author of "Build Your Own Home on a Shoestring."

"Many companies can remove cabinet doors and drawers, refinish the cabinet boxes, then add brand-new doors and drawers. With a fresh coat of paint over the whole set, your cabinets will look like new."

If you're handy, you can order your own replacement cabinet doors and door fronts from retailers like Lowe's Home Improvement or The Home Depot and install them yourself.
 
2. Give appliances a facelift.

If your kitchen appliances don't match, order new doors or face panels for them. When Nicole Persley, a Realtor with Real Estate of Florida, in Boca Raton , was sprucing up her own home to sell, her mix-and-match kitchen bothered her. The room had a white dishwasher, microwave and wall oven mixed with other pieces that were stainless steel with black trim.

When Persley called the dishwasher manufacturer to see about ordering a new, black face panel, the customer service representative clued her in on a big secret: Many dishwasher panels are white on one side and black on the other.

"All I had to do was unscrew two screws, slide out the panel and flip it around. Sure enough -- it was black on the other side!"

Persley, who has remodeled numerous homes for resale, says that a more cohesive-looking kitchen makes a big difference in the buyer's mind -- and in the home's resale price.
 
3. Buff up the bath.

Next to the kitchen, bathrooms are often the most important rooms to update. They, too, can be improved without a lot of cash. "Even simple things like a new toilet seat and a pedestal sink are pretty easy for homeowners to install, and they make a big difference in the look of the bath," says Moran.

Moran also suggests replacing an old, discolored bathroom floor with easy-to-apply vinyl tiles or a small piece of sheet vinyl. "You may not even need to take up the old floor. You can install the new floor right over the old one," she says.

If your tub and shower are looking dingy, consider re-grouting the tile and replacing any chipped tiles. A more complete cover-up is a prefabricated tub and shower surround. These one-piece units may require professional installation but can still be cheaper than paying to re-tile walls and refinish a worn tub.
 
4. Step up your storage.

Old houses, particularly, are notorious for their lack of closet space. If you have cramped storage areas, Realtor Moe Viessi of Miami suggests adding do-it-yourself wire and laminate closet systems to bedrooms, pantries and entry closets.

Firms like ClosetMaid allow you to measure and redesign your closets online. You can also get design details and parts for these systems at many large home-improvement stores. Most closets can be updated in a weekend or less.

In the end, your closets will be more functional while you're living in the house and will make your home look more customized to potential buyers when you're ready to sell.
 
5. Add a room in a week or less.

"If you have a three-bedroom house with a den, the only reason the den can't be considered a bedroom may be because it doesn't have a closet," says Persley. "If you add a closet to that room, you've now got a four-bedroom house. That adds a lot of value."

Persley says it's usually possible to add a custom closet system and drywall it in for less than $1,500.
 
6. Mind the mechanics.
Finley Perry of F.H. Perry Builder in Hopkinton , Mass. , advocates spending a few bucks on nitty-gritty stuff. "It's often very worthwhile to hire an electrician and plumber for a couple of hours to look over your electrical services, wrap or fix loose wires, fix any faulty outlets, and check for and fix any water leaks," Perry says. "Those details tell a buyer that someone has really taken care of the home and can really influence its price."
 
7. Look underfoot.

Carpeting is another detail that can quickly update a home and make it look cleaner. A professional carpet cleaning is an inexpensive investment, especially if your rugs are in good shape and are neutral colors.

If your carpet is showing serious wear, cover it with inexpensive, strategically placed area rugs. Unless it is truly hideous, most real estate agents don't suggest replacing wall-to-wall carpeting right before you sell your house. The new homeowners may want to choose their own carpeting after they move in.
 
8. Let there be light.
If you have boring recessed lights in your dining and living rooms, consider replacing one of the room's lights with an eye-catching chandelier. Home stores offer a wide range of inexpensive, but nice-looking, ceiling fixtures these days. If you have a ceiling fan and light, you can also buy replacement fan blades (leaving the fan body in place) to update the fixture's look.
 
9. Reframe your entry.

Do you have a flimsy little knob on your main entry door? If so, spring for a substantial-looking handle-and-lock set. "A nice, big piece of hardware on the front door signals to newcomers that this is a solid home," says Viessi.

Also, if you're stuck with a basic steel front door, Persley suggests painting or faux-finishing it for more eye appeal. "It's becoming a trend in Florida to add wood-grain doors to a home's entry or garage. The good news, though, is that you can easily paint existing metal doors with stain and paint," she says.

After using a good metal primer, Persley gives the door a base coat of paint (again, be sure to use one approved for use over metal). For a cherry wood look, Persley uses a burgundy base paint. After it dries, she brushes over the base coat with a cherry wood stain. "It really looks amazing, and it only takes a few hours," she says.
 
10. Consider curb appeal.

Although it sounds obvious, a nicely mowed lawn, a few well-placed shrubs and a swept walkway makes a great first impression. "What buyers see when they first drive by your home is tremendously important," says Viessi.

If you don't have a green thumb, consider hiring a landscaper to install some new sod, plant a few evergreen shrubs and give your front yard a good cleanup. "These kinds of changes can instantly change people's perception of your home and, therefore, increase its value," says Viessi. And hey, your neigh bors will love you for it, too.
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