Fall Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Friday, October 1, 2004

Upping your home's value
Ten home-improvement projects that make a difference

by Kit Davey

Which home improvements projects will give you the best return on your dollar if you're planning to sell your home in two years or less? How do you know if the updating and remodeling you are planning will increase your home's resale value?

If today's hot real estate market continues, you probably won't have to spend much time or money preparing your home for sale. But if you want to improve your quality of life now, and get a higher price when you sell, experts advise on updating, rather than remodeling or adding on to your home.

If you know you'll be selling in a few years, any project you undertake should follow these general guidelines:
** Don't over-improve your home as compared to others in your neighborhood.
** Use neutral finishes, styles and colors.
** Invest in quality workmanship.
** Make sure the project will improve your quality of life while you live in the home.
** Invest in basic repairs and maintenance before undertaking costly and time-consuming projects.

The following improvements are most likely to yield a high return while increasing the enjoyment of your home:
1) Landscaping. Presenting a well-maintained, healthy looking yard is essential to curb appeal. Amend your existing landscape, or design and install a new front yard that includes automatic sprinklers. Tip: Junipers, red lava rock and sparkly white gravel are "out"!
2) Exterior painting. Paint the body of your home in a light beige, khaki or gray, and the trim in white. If your paint is in good shape, but the trim is dark, or an unusual color, paint it out in white. Repaint your front door in a classic color, such as white, forest green, burgundy or navy. Adding shutters and painting them to match the front door can add friendly charm.
3) New garage and/or front door. If your hand-operated garage doors are sagging, replace them with new automatic garage doors. Replace a dated front door. Complete the new look with a shiny brass light fixture, doorbell surround, kick plate and hardware.
4) New windows. If your home has corroding single-paned aluminum windows, or wood sash windows that don't open, new double-glazed aluminum, vinyl or wood windows can give your home an immediate facelift. You may also save hundreds of dollars in energy bills.
5) Interior painting and re-wallpapering. Light-colored walls reflect light, and make your home look more spacious and clean. Potential buyers also appreciate neutral paint because it doesn't clash with the colors in their furniture. If your home has no wallpapered rooms, don't paper them! Remove wild, heavily-patterned or dark paper and either repaint the room in a light khaki or taupe, or select a new paper with a white background and subtle suggestions of color.
6) Recarpeting or refinishing hardwood floors. Replace dark or oddly colored carpeting in "real-estate beige" or off white (if you don't have pets or children) in a low, dense pile, or Berber type carpet . If the hardwood floors under your orange shag rug are in good shape, remove the carpet and show off your floors. Refinishing worn hardwood floors can also be an excellent investment.
7) Kitchen update. Give your kitchen a "cheater remodel": Replace dated vinyl with a light neutral linoleum or tile, paint dark cabinets white, replace your cabinets' hardware, replace wildly colored countertops with a stone-like, neutral-colored Formica or tile, switch out your old faucet and re-finish your odd-colored appliances.
8) Bathroom update. Give this room a cheater remodel, too: Re-glaze sinks, tubs or shower stalls in white, replace tired or oddly colored flooring with light-colored vinyl or tile, paint the vanity white and replace the hardware. Increasing the size of the mirror or replacing a corroded medicine cabinet can also pay off.
9) Neutral window coverings. Don't indulge in fancy, colorful window dressings. Go for a neutral color, as close as possible to the wall color, or the same color as the wood moldings. Tab-topped curtains, honey-comb shades, accordion shades, horizontal or vertical blinds offer basic privacy and room darkening and cannot raise objections with potential buyers.
10) New light fixtures. Replace unusual or dated fixtures with modern, simple ones. Adding recessed lights or wall sconces to a particularly dark room may also give you a good return on your dollar.
Some projects may be fun to implement but will not give you much pay back. Money-losing projects include installing stained glass windows, adding a hot tub or pool, or building a screened-in room.

Kit Davey, Allied Member, ASID, is a Redwood City-based interior designer who uses what you already own to redecorate. E-mail her at KitDavey@aol.com, call her at (650) 367-7370; visit her Web site at AFreshLook.net.