Painting, re-grouting tile and power-washing the outside of your home won't cost a lot of money but these tasks can add real value to your home. With some sweat equity, a DIY attitude and a few dollars, you can list your home for more money if you're ready to sell. If you're not quite ready to sell, simply enjoy having a nicer place to live. (To read more about home improvements, see Fix It And Flip It: The Value of Remodeling.)
Freshen Up the Walls
If your walls have scratches and dirty paint, an outdated color or tacky wallpaper, a little elbow grease and a few cans of paint can make a dramatic difference. To maximize the value of your home for a sale, choose a neutral color scheme that unifies the entire house, makes the space look bigger and appeals to a wide variety of potential buyers.
Install Crown Molding
Crown molding is a surprising easy task that adds a lot of character to your rooms. Buy the molding from a home improvement store, cut to the size that fits your room (or have the store cut it for you) and attach it to the top of the wall with a nail gun. These decorative strips may even come already painted. Installing crown molding does involves a bit of woodworking skill as well as the right tools, but is very inexpensive to do yourself.
Switch plates, outlet covers, curtain rods, light fixtures and doorknobs are often boring or overlooked, but you can add major pizzazz for just a few dollars. Attractive metal switch plates and outlet covers can cost as little as $5 each but look much more expensive. Light fixtures and decorative curtain rods can be a little pricier, but sometimes you can make an inexpensive piece look elegant with a can of spray paint. Again, if you plan to sell, make sure to choose items in colors and finishes that will appeal to a wide audience.
Install Ceiling Fans
Everyone likes to save money on electricity bills, making ceiling fans an appealing addition to any home. Ceiling fans definitely cut down on air conditioning costs and they can also reduce heating costs by circulating warm air away from the ceiling. A basic fan costs about $50, and you can get a nice one for no more than a couple hundred dollars. If you don't already have wiring from overhead lighting, you may need to hire a professional, which can significantly escalate the cost of this project.
Improve Window Treatments
The cheap vertical plastic blinds, paper shades or horizontal aluminum blinds that may have come with your house definitely don't add any value to your home. Consider replacing them with plantation shutters, wooden blinds or drapes. Again, if you are selling, choose neutral options that can help you get a better price for your home.
Reveal and Restore Hardwood Floors
Older homes in particular are likely to have hardwood floors lurking beneath carpet. Squeaky floors are a sign that you may have wood floors. If you're not sure, pull up your carpet in an unnoticeable corner and check. If you do have wood floors, there's a good chance you'll have to refinish them to restore them to their original splendor, but it will be much less expensive than installing new flooring from scratch.
Redo the Bathroom Floor
DIY installation can save your a lot of cash. If you don't know how to install flooring, look for a class at your local home improvement store. Saving money on labor will allow you to choose nicer flooring than you could not otherwise afford. Opt for a neutral-colored tile to add the most value.
If you have generic, cheap or outdated fixtures, replacing them with newer, more customized versions can make your bathroom sparkle and look more high-end. For about $40 to $100, you can replace a shabby bathroom vanity or ceiling light fixture with something elegant. A similar cash outlay will get you a new sink faucet. A spa-style chrome shower head adds a touch of luxury for about $80. Towel bars are the easiest and cheapest fix at about $20 to $30. Sometimes the upgrade can even be more energy efficient, increasing not only the aesthetics of your home but "greening" it up as well. (For more on saving energy, read Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money.)
Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets
You could buy all new cabinets and save money by purchasing prefabricated (rather than custom) cabinets and installing them yourself, but that's more work and money than painting or staining your existing cabinets. White cabinets will brighten the room, don't usually go out of style and are easy for future owners to repaint if they want something different. You'll need to remove all the hardware from your cabinets, including removing the doors. You'll also need to clean the cabinets first so that residue like grease won't ruin your work. Consider sprucing up your bathroom cabinets as well.
Upgrade Cabinet Knobs and Drawer Handles
It's surprising how a seemly innocuous element like a cabinet door knob can make your kitchen look cheap or dated. Updating this hardware can give your kitchen a face lift whether you redo your cabinets or not.
Clean Fireplace Brick
If you have a brick fireplace and you burn wood in it, chances are some of the brick is stained with soot and creosote. Because a nice fireplace can be a major selling point in a home, make yours look as nice as possible. Use a damp rag to wipe away some of the soot, then follow with a fireplace cleaner designed to remove creosote. It will take some scrubbing with a stiff brush and possibly several applications, but you'll have that brick looking spiffy when you're finished.
It may be easy for you to ignore your home's exterior when you spend most of your time inside, but it's the first and sometimes only impression that others get of your house. Here are a few simple ways to make it look its best.
Install a New Front Door
A very basic steel front door costs about $100, but for just another $100 to $200, you can get a door with a lot more character that will improve your home's curb appeal. If you can't afford a new door, a fresh coat of paint in an inviting color may be all you need.
Replace the Front Door Mat
When you've had the same doormat for years, it can be easy to overlook how worn out or dirty it's become, but it's one of the first impressions people get of your home. This is one area where $20 can make a big difference.
Clean the Gutters
This is more an issue of maintaining your home's value than increasing it, but it's extremely important. Without properly functioning gutters, which are designed to carry water away from your home, rain may seep into your home or pool around it, causing problems like mold and mildew and eventually compromising the house's structural integrity, leading to very expensive repair bills.
Power Wash the Exterior of Your Home
For less time and money, a good washing can make your home's exterior look almost as good as a fresh coat of paint.
Repaint the Exterior
If washing the exterior of your home didn't brighten it up as much as you'd hoped, consider a new paint job. With the ladders and heights involved, this may not be a DIY task for everyone, but even if you have to hire others to do this job, it's still pretty inexpensive as far as home improvements go and can make your house look almost new from the outside.
Power Wash the Driveway, Walkways and Patio
As long as you're renting the power washer, you might as well clean your driveway, patio and any walkways. You may be surprised by how new they'll look afterward.
Upgrade Landscaping or Clean Up Existing Landscaping
Flowers and other plants are a great way to brighten your home's exterior. Use greenery in front of your house and/or along walkways to draw attention to your house. To get the most for your dollars, choose perennial plants, or ones that will come back year after year, rather than annuals, which will die in a year or less and not return. Patch any bald spots in the yard with fresh sod and trim existing trees and bushes to complete the yard's new look.
Upgrading your home doesn't have to be expensive or difficult and it doesn't have to involve contractors. There are a variety of projects for all price ranges and all levels of skill and enthusiasm that can improve your home's value, whether to future buyers or, perhaps more importantly, to you. Putting a few of these home-improvement ideas into action will help you get the most value out of one of your biggest assets whether you're staying in it or selling.
For insight on real estate flipping, read Flipping Houses: Is It Better Than Buy and Hold?