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6 Affordable upgrades that will improve your home’s value

The moment you sign on the dotted line at closing, you’re already dreaming of what you’re going to do next. But before you sink any more cash into your “money pit,” it helps to know which real estate upgrades are worth your time and investment.

It’s one thing to start pinning your dream home on Pinterest. It’s quite another to execute it once you start pricing supplies and calling contractors for quotes. Even a small project that could run you a few hundred dollars may not be worth your time if it doesn’t add to the value of your home. A larger project in the thousands of dollars, like a new kitchen or backyard deck, had better be worth the money spent on renovation.

Here’s something we can all agree on: Home improvement ain’t cheap. According to the latest estimates, homeowners are expected to spend close to $3000 on home renovation in 2015, up from the $2370 spent on the average home in 2011. Don’t let these conservative numbers fool you — home renovation expenses can swing widely, from a little to a lot. When calculating the cost of a total home remodel, Red Beacon estimated that minor cosmetic changes may run $343 on the low end, up to $18,462 for a major kitchen overhaul.

There’s no guarantee that blowing a year of your child’s college tuition on your home will come back in your favor, but there are several ways to determine if a home renovation is worthwhile. The first step is to do your homework: Check your dream upgrade in this year’s Remodeling Cost versus Value Report to determine the potential ROI of a specific project in your state.

The next step is to hear it from the horse’s mouth. We’ve asked some of the top real estate experts how to strike the perfect balance: Which affordable home upgrades can provide the best return on investment?

1. Fix up finishes

Here’s how to dip your toes in the water if you’re not ready to take on a full renovation yet: Start with the finishes. “Outdated finishes can instantly have buyers thinking they’re buying a fixer-upper,” explains Monica Lazkani, broker associate with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Kansas City Homes. “Polished brass screams ‘dated!’ and tends to deter buyers. You can de-brass your house without spending a pile of gold. Replace cabinet pulls and hinges with updated hardware and paint brass fireplace trim with black matte heatproof paint. Updating plumbing and lighting fixtures and door hardware will cost a bit more but is sure to pay off.” According to the Appraisal Institute, minor upgrades offer the best ROI.

More: Home renovation ideas that will have you calling your contractor

2. Repaint

If you’re hoping to sell soon or want to give your humble home some much-needed TLC, real estate experts agree: repaint, repaint, repaint. “One of the cheapest updates that can be made to your home while having a big visual impact is to repaint the walls, ceilings, door frames and skirting boards. It instantly refreshes a room and can update your interiors so it looks more modern and clean,” advises UK-based home improvement company Evander. “Opting for neutral and light colors such as creams or pale colors makes a room feel more spacious and bright and works with most interior styles.” A new interior paint job can provide an estimated 112 percent return on investment.

3. Update technology

For homes more than a few decades old, it may be time to welcome them into the 21st century. Making strategic tech upgrades to your home not only enhances safety and convenience, but it can make it more attractive — and more valuable — to prospective buyers. “Taking advantage of modern technology is a fantastic way to add market value to your home. As technological barriers continue to break down, staying ahead of the curve will add extra value to the cost of convenience and connectivity that our world seems to be so consumed by,” says Michelle Johnson, External Communications Director for Obrella. Johnson recommends starting with smartphone-enabled tech upgrades, like apps that can be used to control lighting and surveillance. While exact ROI for new tech upgrades can vary based on technology, a 2015 Better Homes and Gardens survey confirms that 64 percent of millennials are looking for smart home features.

More: How to set a home improvement budget

4. Upgrade bathrooms

The good news about bathroom updates is that small (and cheap) changes can make a big difference. According to Evander, “Changing the taps and getting a new showerhead can renew the overall look without costing much — they can also be done within the same day. If your bathroom looks outdated, changing the tiles, wall color and bringing in some wall art goes a long way to modernizing it. A transparent shower curtain or glass divider will make a small bathroom feel more spacious, while a big bathroom will look majestic if the shower rail is placed close to the ceiling with floor-length curtains.” If you have the time and money to take on a full bathroom remodel, Evander estimates a potential 60 percent return on investment.

5. Upgrade the kitchen

You’ve probably heard the fun fact that the kitchen is the most used room in the house, and Sabine H. Schoenberg, president of the real estate brokerage and development company PrimeSitesCT, agrees. “The kitchen is the most important space in a home today — and from a home value perspective, this means it is the most important space to get right to get the highest return on home improvement dollars.” For homeowners on a tight budget, all hope isn’t lost. Schoenberg recommends cutting costs by installing new cabinet doors instead of a full kitchen cabinet set or updating appliances at a bare minimum. Almost all kitchen remodels provide at least a 100 percent ROI, with minor and mid-range upgrades yielding the best return.

More: Do you need a building permit for that?

6. When in doubt, stage

Keep this tip in your back pocket for the eleventh hour, when you’re desperate to sell your home and don’t have time to start a major renovation. As a last resort, Leo Biyevetskiy of recommends contacting a good home staging company for a quick return. He tells SheKnows, “In some cases, if you invest $10,000-$15,000, you can make an extra $20,000 when selling your home. For example, if without staging, a house would sell for $500,000, with staging it can sell for $540,000 because people love the warm look of freshly remodeled homes.”

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