Afraid of dipping your toe into the home improvement pool? Don’t be. There are many things you can do to spiff up the old place without spending a fortune.
1. Make your kitchen really cook
The kitchen is still considered the heart of the home. For a few hundred dollars, you can replace the kitchen faucet set, add new cabinet door handles and update old lighting fixtures with brighter, more energy-efficient ones. If you have a slightly larger budget, you can give the cabinets themselves a makeover. Rather than spring for a whole new cabinet system, which can be expensive, look into refacing the ones you have. Many companies will remove cabinet doors and drawers, refinish the cabinet boxes and then add brand-new doors and drawers at a price considerably less than new cabinets. Unless the cabinets are mica, a fresh coat of paint can also do the trick.
2. Give appliances a face-lift
If your kitchen appliances don’t match, try ordering new doors or face panels from the manufacturer. Many dishwasher panels are white on one side and black on the other. It can be as simple as removing a couple of screws, sliding the panel out and flipping it over.
3. Buff up the bath
Next to the kitchen, bathrooms are often the most important rooms to update. They, too, can be improved without a lot of cash. Simple things like a new toilet seat and a pedestal sink are pretty easy for homeowners to install, and they make a big difference. You can replace an old, discolored bathroom floor with easy-to-apply vinyl tiles or a small piece of sheet vinyl — often applied right over the old floor. If your tub and shower look dingy, consider regrouting the tile and replacing any chipped tiles. A more complete cover-up is a prefabricated tub and shower surround. These one-piece units may require professional installation, but still can be cheaper than paying to retile walls and refinish a worn tub.
New paint makes everything look clean and bright again. And don’t forget the ceiling. Paint the trim a contrasting color. Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the same color. Measure equal sections and use painter’s masking tape to mark off each area. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries, do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on.
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.