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6 home renovations with major payoffs

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And here's an advantage over both wood and vinyl siding: "If you do it right, it really holds paint well," Carter says. "The paint job can last 20 years."

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2. Build a deck
Realtors in the Cost vs. Value survey estimated the average homeowner would recover 85.4 percent of the cost of a new wood deck from resale, giving this project the second highest value in the report. A composite deck addition -- a costlier initial investment -- was estimated to bring a 77.6 percent return.

Adding a deck is a relatively inexpensive way to gain more living space. "You can probably build a deck for $20 a square foot, labor and material," Carter says. "If you were going to put a room on your house, you're probably looking at $150 a square foot."

3. Spice up the kitchen
A minor kitchen renovation ranked fourth in the survey, but in the eyes of Grand Rapids, Mich., Realtor, and immediate past president of the National Association of Realtors, Pat V. Combs, this is the project that "brings the best value for the buck."

Rolling on a new paint color, installing new countertops and putting on new cabinet and drawer handles are three ideas that only take a little out of your pocket but make a big impact, she says.

But if you have your heart set on a total kitchen overhaul at some point, remodeler Hydeck warns it's probably not wise to sink too much money into piecemeal fix-ups in the meantime.

4. Install energy-efficient windows
Combs is not surprised that wood and vinyl window replacements were each given about an 80 percent recoupment value in the Remodeling survey.

"People are very energy-conscious right now," she says. "The cost of heating and cooling a home is important. It's not just the purchase price (that homebuyers consider), it's the cost per month to live in the home."

For energy efficiency, the National Fenestration Rating Council's voluntary certification and ratings system is the gold standard. To qualify for the federal government's Energy Star label, a window must first have the NFRC's stamp of approval on its energy efficiency.

Don't expect a quick return on your investment if you buy replacement windows, which can run upward of $10,000 for the whole house. If lowering your utility bills is your goal, it's important to understand that it can take years for the savings to cover the cost of the windows.

5. Give the bathroom a facelift
Fixing up the bathroom, whether it's an upgrade or simply for maintenance, is another reliable investment. "People like to pamper themselves, and they just don't want to be in a grungy bathroom," Carter says.

A midrange bathroom remodel has an estimated 78 percent resale value, according to the Cost vs. Value report.

6. Crown your walls
Crown molding is near the top of Carter's personal list of easy, inexpensive upgrades with big impacts.

"It just really dresses up a room," says Carter, who estimates that a do-it-yourselfer could outfit a room for less than $100.

"The best analogy I can give is that it's like putting a tie on. When you wear a tie, it's just a simple linear thing that dangles from your neck, but it's very distinctive. Crown molding does the same thing to a room."

Location, location, location
The value of any renovation project you choose depends a great deal on where you live and whether your home is in an entry-level or upscale market.

"Just like all real estate is local, all of these various upgrade projects are localized," Combs says.'s corrections policy -- Posted: March 27, 2008
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