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Add a Fireplace
"A fireplace adds ambience that can't be attained any other way," says Donna Freeman, real estate expert. It adds warmth and creates a focal point for the room. Dress up the firebox with a tasteful surround and a classic wood mantel. If you opt for a gas unit, upgrade to one with the most realistic-looking logs.
Install a Bay Window
"Changing a standard window to a bow or bay window makes a room feel larger, creates a focal point, and also lets in more light than a regular window," says Linda Lenore, design expert. To call attention to the new window and add function to the room, consider adding a built-in window seat with a bench that opens for storage. The seat will be a cozy reading spot for you and an architectural point of interest for future buyers.
Refinish Wood Floors
"Refurbishing hardwood floors will enhance the look and the value of your home," John A. MacDonald of Keller Williams Real Estate in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Just be ready for a few days of dust. If your floors are worn or stained, replacing them may be the better option. Consider splurging on wide-plank hardware floors in your foyer and living room, then scaling it back in the bedrooms.
Upgrade Your Foyer and Staircase
The entryway is the first thing visitors will see when they enter your home, so make sure it welcomes them in style. If you can't change the whole space, concentrate on high-impact items. Splurge on the entry flooring, or focus on improving the staircase. Sand and re-stain treads, paint risers, and replace railings and newels. Check building codes regarding railing height and spindle spacing.
Polish Up the Laundry Room
Create an attractive, functional laundry room for the main level, an upper level, or the basement. Replace old appliances with units that offer the latest energy-and fabric-saving features. Also, equip your laundry room with long stretches of counter space for folding clean clothes, tuck-away bins for sorting dirty laundry, and cabinets to keep detergents stowed out of sight, and a built-in ironing board.
Upgrade Kitchen Countertops
Durable granite is one of the most sought after upgrades and "still by far, the most requested countertop material," says interior designer and space planner Mary Fisher Knott of Mary Fisher Designs in Scottsdale, Arizona. If granite is beyond your budget, however, consider laminate countertops that offer the look of natural stone at a fraction of the price. Add a beveled edge to these laminate countertops for an even more authentic stone look.
Add an Island
For many homeowners, an island work space is a kitchen must-have. For easy traffic flow, be sure to allow at least 39 inches of space all the way around it, says interior designer and space planner Mary Fisher Knott of Mary Fisher Designs in Scottsdale, Arizona. Need a budget-friendly island? "Use a sofa table topped with tile, or place two painted chests back-to-back and top with butcher block," Knott adds.
Replace old appliances
If your appliances are more than 10 years old, consider buying new ones that use less energy. Energy Star appliances are not only good for the environment; they are good for your pocketbook, too. The appliances cost a little more up front, but the money you save on energy bills in the long run more than makes up for the initial price difference. Similarly, energy-efficient water heaters and furnaces pay back the extra cost after a few years of service and will continue to save you money for years to come.
Create a Pantry
A shallow pantry can be squeezed into just about any kitchen. "Hire a carpenter to frame the space between two studs and finish with cabinet doors," Knott says. "It's great for storing spices, soft drinks, or canned pet food. You can also adapt this idea for all those jars and bottles in the bathroom." If you have room for it, adding a walk-in pantry will pay off even more.
Add a Bath
"Properly executed, a powder room, second, or even a third bathroom is an advantage. But if it's too small, doesn't fit into the flow of the house, or seems like an add-on, you do yourself a disservice," says Designer Shannon Freeman. Also make sure the room includes an exhaust fan -- something home buyers rank high on their list of desires -- and a window that will bring in plenty of natural light.
The most affordable option is vinyl siding. Once a bland material that paled in comparison to real wood, it's now available in a wide variety of colors and styles, including scalloped and square-cut shingles. If your vinyl siding is in good condition but looks worn or faded, consider sprucing it up with a product that cleans and restores its original color and sheen.
Freshen your Landscaping
Quality landscaping enhances the style of your home and makes the exterior more attractive. "Cut back overgrown bushes and fill in those bare spots," says Stacey Moncrieff, editor in chief of Realtor magazine. "A neat, well-maintained landscape instantly increases your home's curb appeal and suggests that your interiors are equally well-maintained."