PETER KUBILUS

Whether you’re putting your house on the market next month or planning to live in it for years to come, making upgrades that increase your home value is always a good idea. No matter your budget, there are plenty of expert-recommended home improvement ideas that’ll yield a great return on investment. From cutting down energy costs to elevating your home’s aesthetic appeal, these changes will make your living space more enjoyable in the short-term and increase its value down the road.

START WITH CURB APPEAL

First impressions are everything. When evaluating a home, buyers definitely judge a book by its cover, says New Vernon-based real estate agent Stefani Werring. “The majority of home buyers have already seen the entire interior of the home online before they’ve stepped foot in it physically,” Werring says. “If they pull up to the house and they don’t like what it looks like from the street, a lot of times they won’t even get out of the car.” A fresh coat of paint is an easy way to make a big impact on the exterior of your home. “Painting is an upgrade that yields an incredible return on investment,” Werring says. She recommends consulting with a color expert to help you choose paint options buyers will find appealing.

“Even if you can’t afford to paint the entire house, it pays to make sure the trim is in tip-top shape, says Shirley Messinger, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent in the East Brunswick area. “When you walk up to the door, potential buyers will see if the kick plate and the trim around the door are peeling.”

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It’s also crucial not to neglect basic landscaping and lawn care. “Landscaping makes the biggest impact on curb appeal,” Messinger says. “If people have let shrubbery overgrow and block the house, a nice pruning and fresh mulch application really dresses up the whole property.” Messinger and Werring agree that installing a pool can go either way when it comes to attracting buyers; in seasonal areas like NJ where a pool will only be used a few months out of the year, the cost of maintenance is harder to justify.

SMALL CHANGES, BIG DIFFERENCE

A coat of paint on your home’s interior is a great way to freshen up its aesthetic. “In the past few years, we’ve actually seen the rebirth of a crisp white interior,” Werring says. “It’s very fresh, sleek, and minimal and it’s nice because if a home is extremely outdated and sellers feel overwhelmed, white is a blank canvas. Buyers can come in and have a much easier time envisioning what they would do to the space to make it their own.” Minor updates can really brighten up a home. “When I walk into a bathroom, usually the tub and shower are in great shape, but the bathroom sink is either chipped or worn, or the cabinetry is water-stained,” Messinger says. “Something as easy as replacing a vanity really improves the impression that people get when they walk into each room.”

In the kitchen, swapping out cabinet hardware and lighting fixtures can elevate its appeal, says Alexandria Como, a Morristown interior designer. “Even for someone on a smaller budget, if you can get a designer in to help make a few selections, you can do what you like without it being so outrageous,” Como says. “The beauty is, let’s say you paint your island blue—in five years, you can repaint it. You’re not married to it forever.”

Consider replacing overly ornate molding, says Wyckoff-based interior designer Terri Fiori. “We recently replaced dentil molding from a client’s home with a much simpler crown molding. Previously, your eye was drawn right to the moldings,” Fiori says. “Now it’s simply a cleaner transition.” Adding hardy plants, fresh flowers and accent pillows to a space are just a few low-cost additions that make a big difference.

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WORTH THE INVESTMENT

Creating an outdoor living space is an investment you’ll be able to enjoy now and that’ll attract buyers in the future. “When temperatures get a little warmer and because people don’t feel as comfortable entertaining indoors, they’re taking to their outdoor spaces,” Werring says. “You could put in a fire pit, a sensible patio and maybe a water feature.”

Improvements that lower your monthly costs are a great idea. “Heated floors warm the floor up so often people are able to set their thermostat lower, which saves money in the long run,” Werring says. “They make windows that are very energy efficient, and it saves the seller money on monthly heating and cooling costs. Buyers like to know what they’re looking at in terms of monthly expenses when buying a home.” Installing hardwood flooring is another investment that can show a 100 percent return. “If you have wood flooring that has been covered with wall-to-wall carpeting, remove the carpeting and refinish the floors if needed,” says Fiori. “A throw rug can be changed out with the seasons, based on the room you have in mind. It’s not only a healthier option, but will open up the space.”

Don’t remodel a bathroom or kitchen just to sell a home. If these rooms are in need of an update, it’s better to give buyers a credit on the sale and let them do what they want, Werring says. On the flip side, if you’re going to live in the house for at least another 3-5 years, Messinger says to go ahead and upgrade the kitchen or bath. You’ll be able to enjoy them for the money that you spend, and they’ll add value to your home’s resale, too. Equally important to visual improvements is making sure to service your HVAC system and hot water heater regularly. Doing so ensures you won’t be surprised by expensive repair or replacement costs after a home inspection. No matter how much you spend, taking these tips into account will give you the most bang for your buck.

—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and lifestyle coach based in Wilmington, NC.

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