Now that it's spring, have you been thinking about undertaking a home improvement project? If you're concerned with making upgrades that will pay off when it's time to sell, consider these tips. (For more advice, check out 4 Types Of Home Renovation: Which Ones Boost Value?)

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

Cover the Basics First
One thing potential buyers don't want to face is expensive repairs. If your home's basic structures and systems aren't in good condition, the property will be considered a fixer-upper and its market price will be discounted accordingly.

Systems
The roof, furnace, air conditioning, plumbing, water heater, electrical system and windows are all basic elements of your home that must be in good working order for your home to be attractive to buyers and command top dollar. If any of these components are broken or malfunctioning, make sure to fix them. If any of them are nearing the ends of their useful lives and you can afford to replace them, do so before your home goes on the market.

Exterior
After that, you can address the next level of basics. Make sure your property has curb appeal by:

  • Power washing the home's exterior, driveway and sidewalks
  • Cleaning the windows
  • Mowing and edging the lawn
  • Pulling weeds
  • Pruning hedges and other decorative plants
  • Adding some new plants, even in pots, to make your property look vibrant and inviting

(For more actions you can do to increase your home value, see Do-It-Yourself Projects To Boost Home Value.)

Entry
Now that you've drawn prospective purchasers out of their cars, make sure your home's entryway is appealing both outside and inside. If your front door is ugly or damaged, replace it. At a minimum, you should clean and/or paint your existing door. Also tend to all the details surrounding the door.

  • Sweep the porch
  • Get rid of the cobwebs
  • Replace the entry mat
  • Clean or replace the doorbell and light fixtures
  • Add potted plants and flowers

Match the inviting exterior entryway with an inviting interior entryway. There should be absolutely no clutter when potential buyers step into the home, and the entryway should be defined as a distinct space. If you don't have a formal entryway, you can create a defined space with the right furnishings, like a rug, a framed mirror and a console table.

Clutter and Cleanliness
Speaking of clutter, one of the best "improvements" you can make to improve the resale value of your home is to put away your stuff. If you have lots of stuff, you may need to put some of it in storage. Buyers should get the impression that your home is spacious and will easily hold all of their furniture and other belongings. You also don't want your junk to distract from your home's unique features and selling points, nor do you want to have personal items around that make it more difficult for buyers to picture their new lives in your old space.

Don't hide everything in the closets, either - buyers will be investigating those areas, so they should also look spacious and organized. A good scrubbing can really improve your home's overall appearance as well. Before you replace anything, see if you can revive what you already have. (For more ideas, check out Top Tips For Successfully Renting Out Your Home.)

Little Upgrades with A Big Impact
Some minor replacements will produce big results for minimal cost. You know that no matter how clean your 30-year-old bathroom faucet is, it's still not going to be attractive. Replacing and coordinating hardware and fixtures won't cost much, but it will make a big difference. So will getting rid of any obviously dated finishes, like old wallpaper and brass light fixtures. If your furniture is ugly, old or worn out, consider buying inexpensive new furniture or renting furniture to make your home more appealing. These and other staging techniques can give your home that wow factor for relatively little expense and effort.

Substance Trumps Style
Remember when you first bought your house and you wanted to impress all your friends and family when they came to see it for the first time? That's the look you should be going for when improving your home and preparing it for showings.

It's okay if you can't afford glamorous improvements like a remodeled bathroom or kitchen. These projects are expensive and difficult, and there's no guarantee that they will pay off - especially in a down market. New buyers will be more inclined to spend money to renovate the inside of your home and personalize it to their tastes than to buy a new roof. If your home is fundamentally sound and immaculately presented, it can be seen as a solid purchase with potential.

Bottom Line
When you don't know when or even if you will be able to sell your home, choosing your home improvement projects carefully becomes extra important. Unless you live in an upscale neighborhood and your home is already immaculate, skip the fancy projects and focus on the fundamentals. (To learn more, read 6 Tips To Sell Your Home Faster)

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