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5 ways to get more value out of your home

By Kristi Keck
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(CNN) -- Keeping your home's value up is all about giving a little to get a lot.

Whether you're a new homeowner or you've been in your house for years, a few steps can make sure that your hefty investment is also a valuable one.

Room to grow

If you want to make your home worth more, updating an outdated look is one of the first steps. Be sure to revamp with care, however, because not all remodeling projects are profitable.

Start with the kitchen, said Elizabeth Weintraub, a Realtor in Sacramento, California, with more than 30 years of experience. The kitchen, she said, yields the most dollar return on resale.

Revamping the bathroom is another profitable option, according to Remodeling magazine and the National Association of Realtors. The average bathroom makeover costs about $10,500 but recoups about 102 percent of the cost upon resale.

On the other hand, steer clear of master bedroom makeovers -- those only return about 80 percent upon resale.

The focus should be on updating and not adding-on, said Robert Irwin, a real estate broker who has written more than 60 books on the subject.

"Additions are almost a waste of money. The only time an addition really makes sense is if you're in a neighborhood with lots of big houses, and you have a really small house, and that's handicapping you in terms of being able to sell," Irwin said.

Revamp within reason

Remember the basics of making a good investment -- you need to get back more than you put in.

"You can do a kitchen makeover for $100,000 or $10,000. My suggestion is that you do the cosmetic version of that which is going to not cost that much," Irwin said.

An attractive home is a valuable home. You can repaint the walls, clean the carpet and stain your cabinets for a relatively low price, he said.

"The real question that you have to ask yourself to save money is, 'What are you willing to give up?'" he said.

Give up getting all new stuff, and instead "clean up and fix up what you have," Irwin added.

And there's something to be said for sweat equity. If you can doll up your house yourself, by all means, do it. But be sure your skills are up to the task so that you don't have to pay someone to go back and fix your faux pas.

Design in mind

It's fun to be a trendsetter, but be practical. Choose materials that are durable and designs that have natural beauty.

"[Homeowners] need to look at what's going to have lasting value, Weintraub said. "Traditional things will have lasting value -- things that aren't too garish. I mean, the cat-puke greens? I don't know how long they are going to last."

"If you really need to have something that is unique in your house, then do it with paint because you can always paint over it," she added.

Curb appeal

First impressions are important, and the exterior of your home is the first thing people will see. To up the ante on your abode, paint the house, paint the door or replace it with an inexpensive new one and freshen up the landscaping, Irwin advised.

If you're thinking about reselling anytime soon, don't go overboard with the lawn because you won't always reap what you sow.

"Everybody appreciates a good garden, but they just don't have the time to work on it," Weintraub said. "It has to be something low maintenance."

If you spend 15 hours a week on your garden, potential buyers will know that, and they'll also know if they don't have the time to keep it up.

Stick with perennials. Don't over-invest in something that will last only one season.

The white elephant

When fixing up your house, visit open houses and chat with your neighbors to see what they've done, and don't outdo that, Irwin said.

"What you want to do is bring your house up to the neighborhood norms, but you don't want to exceed them. If you make your house a lot better than the houses surrounding it, all of a sudden you have created a white elephant, and you can't get your money out of it," he added.

Making improvements yourself can mean even more return on your home investment.


Saving money on the market

For buyers:

  • It's a buyer's market -- you are in the driver's seat.
  • Shop around -- there's a lot of inventory.
  • Lowball the seller -- offer a low price, and if you're willing to do that a lot, chances are someone will take it.
  • Look for handyman specials and fixer-uppers.

    For sellers:
  • Stick with cosmetic makeovers.
  • Get your own inspection report to fix any problems before buyers arrive.
  • Clear out a third of your furniture and unclutter as much as possible.
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