By J.W. Elphinstone, AP Real Estate Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Want to get a 30% return on a home improvement project? Replace your front door.
Spend $1,000 on a steel door and you'll get $1,290 back, according to Remodeling magazine's most recent Cost vs. Value report. A steel door provides increased security and safety from extreme weather. And it can be stylish too, with custom colors and double-paned glass windows. It's also the only project that pays back more than you put in.
That's an important calculation for homeowners. A house is the largest financial asset for most Americans, and wise improvements can help boost value over time as well as quality of life. For those needing a quick sale, smaller, cheaper projects can help a home stand out.
Indeed, homeowners are making improvements again after the recession and housing slump stalled spending.
Home Depot and Lowe's both reported that shoppers are spending more. What's more, remodelers with the National Association of Home Builders report they're fielding more customer calls. Remodeling activity is expected rise 5% this year to $121.5 billion, a level on par with last year, according to Harvard's University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Whether you're selling or nesting, start with the upkeep.
"Make certain the first dollars you spend are on required maintenance and repairs," said Ron Phipps of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.
Outside maintenance improvements like siding or windows offer the best return, especially in areas with older homes like the Northeast. These aren't sexy, but they help your home hold its value. And if you're selling, house hunters will drive by a house in need of repairs.
Government incentives and a focus on green living has boosted interest in energy efficient improvements from both homebuyers and owners, said Leslie Sellers, the president of The Appraisal Institute, a trade group. Homeowners can cut their energy bills as much as 50 percent by insulating the attic or replacing heating, cooling and water-heating equipment with newer models. The Cost vs. Value report didn't rate these improvements.