2010 Real Estate Guide
A brown house with white trim and the sky
real estate
Home improvement: 10 cheap upgrades

5. Step up your storage

Old houses, particularly, are notorious for their lack of closet space. If you have cramped storage areas, add do-it-yourself wire and laminate closet systems to bedrooms, pantries and entry closets. Firms such as ClosetMaid allow you to measure and redesign your closets online. You can also get design details and parts for these systems at many large home-improvement stores. Most closets can be updated in a weekend or less. In the end, your closets will be more functional while you're living in the house and will make your home look more customized to potential buyers when you're ready to sell.

6. Mind the mechanics

Finley Perry of F.H. Perry Builder in Hopkinton, Mass., advocates spending a few bucks on nitty-gritty stuff. "It's often very worthwhile to hire an electrician and plumber for a couple of hours to look over your electrical services, wrap or fix loose wires, fix any faulty outlets, and check for and fix any water leaks," Perry says. "Those details tell a buyer that someone has really taken care of the home and can really influence its price."

7. Look underfoot

Carpeting is another detail that can quickly update a home and make it look cleaner. A professional carpet cleaning is an inexpensive investment, especially if your rugs are in good shape and are neutral colors. If your carpet is showing serious wear, cover it with inexpensive, strategically placed area rugs. Most real estate agents don't suggest replacing wall-to-wall carpeting right before you sell your house unless it is truly hideous. The new homeowners may want to choose their own carpeting.

8. Let there be light

If you have boring recessed lights in your dining and living rooms, consider replacing one of the room's lights with an eye-catching chandelier. Home stores offer a wide range of inexpensive, but nice-looking, ceiling fixtures. Add accent lighting instead of sticking with the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa. Spotlights that plug into existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, like art or plants. If you have a ceiling fan and light, you can also buy replacement fan blades (leaving the fan body in place) to update the fixture's look.

9. Reframe your entry

It's the first thing you, and your guests, will see. Repaint or refinish that front door. If you have a basic steel front door that has gotten dented, consider replacing it with either another inexpensive steel door or a fiberglass, wood grain door for a slightly higher cost. Next, replace that worn, flimsy little knob on your main entry door with a more substantial-looking handle-and-lock set. A nice, big piece of hardware signals newcomers that this is a solid home. Then, place two large planters on either side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out. Look for foliage colors and blooms that complement each other. Go for different heights and textures, mix perennials and annuals, blooming and nonblooming varieties. If you want to add another touch, tie it in to the front door with a coordinating wreath.

10. Consider curb appeal

Although it sounds obvious, a nicely mowed lawn, a few well-placed shrubs and a swept walkway make a great first impression. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. What buyers see when they first drive by your home is tremendously important. No matter how nice it is inside, they may never come back. If you don't have a green thumb, consider hiring a landscaper to install some new sod, plant a few evergreen shrubs and give your front yard a good cleanup. These kinds of changes can instantly change people's perception of your home and, therefore, increase its value and your neighbors will love you for it, too.

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