The recent pickup in the housing market may be giving you the feeling it’s time to finally put your home on the market and upgrade to your next dream house. So what are the best ways to do that?

When looking to raise your house's value, some improvements can cost more money than they're worth, while others are easy, inexpensive fixes with a high rate of return. Here are five of the best home improvements for raising the value of your home and making your renovation dollars count:

1. Boost Your Curb Appeal

The first thing potential buyers see when they look at your house is the exterior. That’s why, to get the best price for your home, you should raise your curb appeal. You can start by adding some color to your flower beds, putting in some path lights and making the lawn look healthy. Then spend some time and money on other outdoor improvements, like a fresh coat of paint, new shutters and an attractive, secure door handle and lock.

Don’t forget the backyard. In most places, homeowners can get nearly a 70 percent return when they add a deck. Just make sure you aren’t spending outrageous amounts for a fancy landscape design. That may be great for you, but that’s not money you get back in a sale.

2. Spruce Up the Kitchen

The next place to focus your improvement dollars is the kitchen. A huge kitchen remodel will boost the value of your home, but it’s not required. You can get better offers for your house by simply updating the kitchen you have, without spending major remodeling money.

Make simpler improvements, like:

  • ensuring that your appliances match—some dishwasher front panels are two-sided and can be turned from white to black just by unscrewing the front
  • updating the face of your cabinets with new doors or fresh paint or stain
  • new countertops, a fresh backsplash treatment
  • new flooring
  • new lighting

You’ll spend some money, sure, but it won’t take nearly as long or cost as much as an entire remodel.

3. Add and Update Bathrooms

Next to a fresh, new kitchen, adding a bathroom is one of the best improvements you can make for your money. Even a half bath can add in the range of 10 percent to the value of your home, especially if it’s a main-floor powder room suitable for guests.

If you don’t have the budget to add an entire bathroom or even a half bath, definitely put some money toward updating the existing bathrooms. They need new, efficient fixtures, fresh paint, modern hardware, good lighting and updated flooring. The list can be overwhelming, but your house will show better and you’ll get better offers if your bathrooms look like they’ve had a lot of care and thought put into them.

4. Make Better Use of Your Space

If you can create space (or at least reallocate it) in your home, you can definitely increase its value without having to go through the trouble of adding on to the square footage. A basement remodeled to be a living space will get a high rate of return. An unused den can be made into a bedroom simply by adding a closet. Or, if you have unused attic space, it can be finished and made into a bedroom and an additional bedroom adds a lot of value to a home.

If you have an older home, consider ways to add storage space to appeal to potential buyers, either by adding closets or custom storage systems (most of which can be DIY). Even adding light to existing rooms with new windows or skylights can provide give you a boost in value when it comes time to show your home.

5. Make Basic Improvements

Finally, this isn’t an obvious or even fun home improvement, but it’s an important one for increasing value. Make some basic improvements and upgrade your indoor systems. This means paying for a new roof, upgrading the plumbing and electrical systems, and making sure the furnace and air conditioning are not outdated. This gives you a chance to improve your home’s efficiency with new equipment and energy-efficient windows, and eliminate negative aspects that make buyers lower their offers.

If you can’t make these kinds of improvements before you put your home on the market, be ready to accept much less than you think it’s worth, even if you’ve spent the time and money updating and improving other areas of your home.

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