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Whether you’re planning to sell your house in the next few years or you’re in it for long haul, if you’re thinking about renovating, it pays to put serious thought into which improvements to do. Since home values have plummeted (and may fall further still), you’ll want to be sure that any work you put into your place will provide a reliable return on investment.

First, consider which fixes and upgrades are absolutely necessary. Before adding a deck and hot tub, make sure the water heater, heating and cooling systems, plumbing and other mechanicals are functioning at top efficiency. Having the innards of a house in tip-top condition will give the homeowner peace of mind and a potential buyer will be reassured the property is well maintained.

Also paramount to consider is the location of the property. If a sits in an area where similarly sized and maintained properties sell for $300,000, splashing out $250,000 on a resort style pool, a temperature controlled wine cellar and a lavish master bathroom is probably not the smartest idea unless you’re planning to stay in the house for 10 or more years during which time property values can rise to meet the expensive upgrades. Here are 8 projects that will give a homeowner a big bang for their buck.

1. Paint. Paint. Paint. A fresh coat of paint (inside and out) acts like a really good facelift; Everyone will notice the house looks younger and better taken care of, but no one will quite be able to put a finger on what’s different.

2. Get A Green Thumb. It’s not always necessary to rip out an entire yard in order to give it a new look. A few new plants here, a small patio there is sometimes all it takes. If you’ve got extra bucks for an overhaul, consider xeriscaping – which is a way of naturally irrigating a property through landscaping. It will help conserve water and lower the water bill.

3. Upgrade The Kitchen. This is probably the most popular (and expensive) way to upgrade a home. Buyers in high-end areas expect high end kitchens so if the home is located in an upscale area go with the highest grade appliances and counter tops that the budget allows. If a full renovation isn’t feasible, consider re-facing cabinets, replacing older appliances and/or laying down a new floor tile for a more upscale look.

4. Replace The Siding. New siding can be a major expense but it gives back much of its cost back in increased value. If cedar shakes or wooden clapboard seem like too much maintenance, consider a fiber cement option like Hardie Board, which resists rot and stands up beautifully to the elements including seaside salt air.

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5. Install New Windows. With the ever escalating cost of heating and cooling a home, replacing old, single pane windows with high quality and energy efficient double or triple pane models will not only save money every month on utility bills, any potential buyer will see the upgrade as money in their pocket. There’s also a nice tax write off. If you really want to save on the energy bill, consider solar panels.

6. A Better Bathroom. Like kitchens, bathroom renovations are pricey but they add tremendous value. If a full renovation isn’t in the financial cards, try updating and upgrading the hardware, faucets and lighting fixtures, a much less expensive way to give a bathroom a new look.

7. Finish The Basement or Add A Deck. Basements represent substantial and often under-used square footage that’s perfect for a game room, a family room or even an extra guest room. Decks increase the square footage for entertaining and make a house feel larger. Both projects can be costly, but both return well on the investment when it’s time to sell the house.

8. Open It Up. Older houses sometimes have choppy layouts. If money isn’t an object, opening up interior spaces so that it better suits a more modern lifestyle is an excellent project. If pockets are really deep, add some square footage…a private master bed and bath upstairs, a family room off the kitchen that opens to the rear entertaining areas for easy indoor/outdoor flow always add value and appeal to buyers.

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