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Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value

By Peter Andrew

Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value

Regular readers may be shocked by my grubby little secret: I can waste hours online reading about, looking at floor plans and pictures of, and fantasizing over other people's very expensive homes.

What do I get out of this? Some of my motivations may be shameful, and driven by insecurities about my own modest accomplishments. It's fun to see how the ultra-rich can expend vast sums of money on spectacularly garish -- almost Trump-esque -- monuments to vulgarity, ostentation and bad taste. Though one has to admire the equal-opportunities ethos of those who employ interior decorators who must surely be legally blind.

But the main pleasure I get is imagining what I'd do to the homes were I to be able to afford to buy them and then remodel with money-no-object budgets. Short of a lottery win or the discovery of a previously unknown and recently deceased billionaire relation, these fantasies are unlikely to come true, but I enjoy them. Still, it's embarrassing, so I'd be grateful if you keep my little secret strictly between the two of us.

The value of home improvements

The upside of this is that my partner and I shamelessly steal the good ideas we see in tasteful homes. And, as a result, have a so-far unbroken record of selling our past homes for considerably more than our neighbors. Even when we bought a brand-new apartment in a block that contained numerous identical ones, we sold it two years later for thousands more than anyone else in the building could get.

What are the secrets that have worked for us? There are a few:

  1. Obsessive cleanliness and tidiness, at least when selling.
  2. Not acquiring too much personal clutter. Minimalism can look sterile, but too many ornaments, knickknacks and objet d'arts can make a room look small and busy. If we'd overdone our buying of these, we'd pack most of them away and put them in storage before marketing the home.
  3. Keeping decor low-key and neutral. Everyone says color's good. And I agree. But neutral carpets (or wooden floors) and walls relieved by lots of bright pictures, and splashes of color from rugs, furniture and drapes can look even better -- and there's less risk of a prospective buyer hating your taste in dark purples or day-glo oranges.
  4. Making sure the home looks good from the outside. Curb appeal is essential if you don't want buyers driving on by.

Valueless home improvements

The website Remodeling recently published its 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, and it revealed that very few home improvements yield a quick return. Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do them if you plan to stay in your home for long enough to enjoy them. But they're generally a bad idea if you're selling, and hoping they'll add more to your home's value than they cost.

Based on national averages for midrange homes, the report suggests that only one improvement adds more to the sale price than it costs: A steel entry door replacement with a $1,230 total price tag could add value of $1,252. Work that offers the least return on your investment includes a home office remodeling, which might cost $29,066 but add value of just $14,155, and a sunroom addition ($75,726 cost against $36,704 value).

Losses on upscale homes can be even greater. A garage addition that cost $85,592 could add just $46,791 to your sale price, while a major kitchen remodel that came in at $113,097 might bump it up by as little as $66,747.

When you're selling

So, if you're looking to optimize your home's value for sale, you should probably stick to stuff you can do yourself cheaply:

  1. Get your yards -- especially the front one -- and driveway into great shape, assuming you have a house. Think about hanging baskets and tubs around the entry door.
  2. Get handy with your paintbrushes or pressure hose wherever things are looking shabby. Lose colors that anyone might think are too bold.
  3. Get you home spotlessly clean, tidy and de-cluttered, and keep it that way until a sale agreement's been signed.

A few hundred bucks from your savings account, plus a couple of weekends' effort, might give you a handsome return.

When you're staying put

Investing that time and money might also be worthwhile if you're refinancing your mortgage to take advantage of today's ultra-low rates. The person who appraises your home might be almost as swayed by your work as a potential purchaser. And, to add a cherry on the cake, you could fall in love with your home all over again.

More from MoneyBlueBook.com:

Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He regularly covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com and other personal finance publications including Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money. He also writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans. Peter has spent extended periods living overseas, in the UK, France and Africa. He lives with his partner of 20+ years, and wastes too much of his time on cryptic crosswords.

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