Real Estate Guide 2009
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Upgrades that help sell homes

With houses remaining unsold for months -- even years, in some cases -- it's clearly not a good time to sell your home.

But if you're planning to sell soon despite the market conditions, how can you help your home stand out from the crowd?

Upgrades and renovations can make all the difference to a potential buyer who has many homes to choose from, experts say. With the recession keeping many people from spending on home improvements, now might be the perfect time to find a great deal.

"A lot of the big remodeling jobs have gone away because people are not sure about the economy, so they're just waiting," says David Lupberger, home improvement expert at ServiceMagic.com, a company that connects homeowners with home service professionals. As a result, "a lot of good contractors are available."

Top 5 midrange renovations by return on investment
ProjectJob CostResale ValueCost Recouped
Deck addition (wood)$10,601$8,67681.8%
Siding replacement (vinyl)$10,256$8,27480.7%
Minor kitchen remodel$21,246$16,88179.5%
Window replacement (wood)$11,512$8,94677.7%
Window replacement (vinyl)$10,537$8,13277.2%

Contractors are ready and willing to do the job, and many can be hired at a discount right now, Lupberger says. "It's a matter of supply and demand. These guys have been used to doing one or two $300,000 projects. Those projects aren't around, so now they're doing the $25,000 projects, the $50,000 projects, and pricing them very competitively."

While deals will probably be best in areas of the country hit hard by the real estate downturn and a worsening economy, it doesn't hurt to get quotes from several contractors no matter where you live, Lupberger says. Also, be open to different types of offers. For example, one contractor could charge $5,000 less for one particular job, while another might tack on an extra project for free if you spend a certain amount of money with his company.

Getting buyers to buy

For those planning to sell a home in the near future, getting a deal on costly renovations can pay off yet again when they sell the house. Some remodeling projects not only add to the home's value, but they give prospective buyers more incentives to buy in the first place, particularly in a competitive market such as this one.

"Many buyers judge a house by its exterior," says Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors. So it's little surprise that among the home improvement projects most appreciated by buyers are midrange wood deck additions and siding replacements, according to Remodeling magazine's 2008-2009 Cost vs. Value Report, which looks at the return of investment for various remodeling projects. Owners who put decks on their homes recouped 81.8 percent of their money, and siding replacement projects gave homeowners 80.7 percent of a return on investment.

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Another type of project that paid off for homeowners: "Midrange kitchen remodels, which are often valuable projects in terms of resale," Molony says. According to the report, minor kitchen renovations netted a 79.5 percent return on investment.

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