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Home Improvement

Editor's note: As a special feature for April, offers a 20-part series on virtually everything you need to know about real estate. This installment is part 13.

The days when you could expect any kind of home renovation -- from a fresh coat of paint to a new addition -- to pay for itself are gone.

Softer housing prices are limiting the impact of major home improvements on resale value. At the same time, the cost of remodeling continues to escalate because many homeowners are choosing to fix up their homes rather than sell them and move to better digs.

The result is that recoup values at resale slumped last year to their lowest levels since 2002, according to a recent study by Remodeling Magazine.

Still, there are plenty of projects that will cost you just 10 or 20 cents on the dollar, with the rest going back into your house's resale value.

Replacement projects head the pack. In 2006, replacing high-end fiber cement siding recouped an average of 88% of job cost nationwide, while vinyl siding replacement took back 87.2%. By comparison, replacing upscale fiber siding returned 103.6% in 2005.

Window replacement provided the next best return last year. Given the rising cost of heating and cooling your home and the improved energy efficiency new windows and siding offer, both are relatively good investments.

"The strong performance of replacement projects is getting a lot of attention," said Sal Alfano, Remodeling's editorial director. "I think the cost of energy is contributing to this, but it also reflects a trend toward durable, low-maintenance exteriors."
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