Even with today's real estate worries, our homes remain the single largest investments most of us make. And, regardless of the market in your area, it's always a good idea make improvements that keep your home updated and refreshed. Some home improvements can take years to return the investment, while others are simple, calling for more elbow grease than money.
WHEN TO GO PRO
When it comes to making improvements that add instant value, such as curb appeal, it helps to bring in a professional. If a designer or architect is out of your budget, look for one on Craigslist.com or through a local university who will work on an hourly basis. Landscape designers can help you create a cohesive landscape plan -- something that helps maximize your budget and prevents costly errors. Some nurseries will provide a landscape plan, or one at reduced cost, if you purchase the plants through them.
Another great investment is a professional home inspector, who can advise you on problems with your house, helping you prioritize improvements.
WORK FROM THE OUTSIDE IN
To launch your home makeover, start at the front door; repaint in a color that contrasts with the trim. Give the front of your home a good cleaning and replace any dated house numbers, light fixtures and handle sets. Stain or paint porches or steps to make the house appear more polished.
Remove any trees or shrubs that are in line with the front door to boost curb appeal. If your home lacks trees or shade, invest in the largest tree possible and have it professionally installed. Other easy improvements are sod and hardscaping. If the yard is full of weeds, re-sodding is easy and makes a bit impact. Adding simple gravel or mulched walkways in the garden or from porches to the driveway instantly gives a neat look. This is especially true of homes that lack walkways to the front door or that have trails in the backyard from pets and people.
UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE
If your home has dated elements like popcorn ceilings, bright gold bathroom fittings, and old wallpaper or fixtures, tackle these next. Lighting fixtures can be changed easily and inexpensively, often without the need for a professional electrician. Strip off wallpaper in favor a neutral coat of paint. Replace dated tile with a new wood floor. Many wood floors can be laid right on top of tile.
If there's money left in the budget, go for energy savings with updated appliances that are energy efficient, and don't forget to replace your water heater; give some thought to a tankless model that only heats water when you need it. It can account for a giant cost savings over a traditional model that keeps water hot all the time.
(For more information, contact Kathryn Weber through her Web site, www.redlotusletter.com.)