17 Low-Cost Home Renovation Ideas With the Biggest Payback

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MAKE BIG IMPROVEMENTS WITH SMALL INVESTMENTS

Don't break the bank to renovate your home. With a little cash and some sweat equity, it's possible to spruce up a home's curb appeal while also making the inside more stylish and appealing. Here are 20 low-cost ways to make a home more enjoyable in the short-term and more marketable when it comes time to sell.
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MAKE FLOORS SHINE

Kids and pets can do a number on floors, giving prospective buyers the impression a house is a rundown mess. The good news is that it's possible to restore shine to hardwood without too much drama, notes David Crowley, strategic real estate advisor at One Boston Real Estate. Sanding and refinishing will cost $3.50 or $4 per square foot. Hiring a pro to do a less extensive buffing will cost you $1.50 to $2 per square foot.
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UPGRADE THE LIGHTING

One simple option to improve the look of a kitchen is adding under-cabinet lighting. There's no need to rewire when using LED, battery-powered units, real estate advisor David Crowley notes. New light fixtures can also be an "easy and quick upgrade that can freshen the space," Crowley adds. Fixtures can be bought at any of the big box stores at a prices ranging from under $18 to $300 or more.
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PERK UP LIGHT SWITCHES

Light switches and electrical outlets can get dingy, fast. The cost to replace them is about $1 each for a no-frills, white cover. "That can be a big eyesore when rooms are freshly painted and wall switches and plates are old or unmatched," real estate advisor David Crowley says. "The eye is drawn to the dichotomy, and all the benefit of fresh paint or newly re-finished floors or upgraded lighting is lost."
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STRIP WALLPAPER AND PAINT

Transform a house by painting the interior. Forget conservative white or beige and pick brighter, more visually engaging colors to grab a buyer's interest. It can be a DIY project -- just be prepared to put in some long hours. Budget at least $100 a room to cover the cost of paint, bucket, brushes, painter's tape, tarps, and other materials. Plan to add a few dollars if there is wallpaper to strip, and add stripping gel, a scoring tool, and a putty knife to the shopping list.
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GRAB NEW DOORKNOBS AND HANDLES

There's nothing worse than a bunch of loose, shaky, and worn-out door knobs to make a bad first impression for a prospective buyer. For DIYers, it will cost $6 or $7 plus an hour's worth of elbow grease to replace each doorknob. To have a handyman do it, Homewyse says to plan on $193 to more than $300 to install a half-dozen door knobs.
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GET A NEW LOOK FOR KITCHEN CABINETS AND APPLIANCES

Fortunately, cabinets and appliances don't need to be changed to give a kitchen a fresh look. Instead, HouseLogic suggests putting a thin veneer of real wood or plastic laminate on the surface of existing cabinets for a less-expensive option. Also, consider using paint or decals to give appliances a stainless-steel finish for $32 or less. A contractor can apply the new laminate in a week, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $6,000, while a DIY approach will cost roughly $500 for materials. Don't forget to pick up new cabinet knobs and handles, too.
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HANG A NEW FRONT DOOR

Improving curb appeal by installing a new front door can have a big impact when it's time to sell. Take down a worn-out, faux-wood door and replace it with a sturdy, 20-gauge steel model. Be brave and paint it red or another bright color. Spend the money for an exterior brick-mold casing and for brass or antique brass handles, as the front door is a prospective buyer's introduction to the home. Remodeling magazine says to expect to recoup at over 90 percent of the expense when the house is sold, too.
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UPGRADE LANDSCAPING

Dramatically upgrade your home's curb appeal with a few hundred dollars and lots of sweat equity. Buy a pre-made grid on which to lay out a brick patio for less than $10 at Home Depot, and buy bricks for $600 to $750 for a 60-square-foot patio. Hire a contractor to do the work and expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000, but good news -- HouseLogic notes that a basic landscaping upgrade of flowering shrubs, a 15-foot tall deciduous tree, a flagstone walkway, two stone planters, and fresh mulch will give sellers a return of 105 percent on a $5,000 investment.
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STICK TO A NEW BATHROOM FLOOR

Replace a dreary laminate floor with a few hours of labor and about $50. Tear up the laminate and put down peel-and-stick vinyl. A fresh look can be found at under $1 a square foot at Lowe's or other home improvement stores.
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INSTALL INSULATION

To save big on the electric bill and boost your home's resale value, stop warm air from escaping through the attic during the colder months. It costs about $1,343 to hire a contractor to air-seal the average-sized attic floor and pump in fiberglass loose-fill insulation. In addition to immediate savings, expect to make a 107.7 percent return on the improvement when the house is sold.
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LET THE SUN SHINE IN

To add light to a windowless bathroom or hallway, it's tempting put in a window -- at a cost of $1,500 and up. Instead, consider inserting a light tube skylight for under $300 to let the sun shine in. A home that feels sunny and well-lit is going to be more appealing to buyers when it's time to sell.
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BUILD BUILT-IN BOOKSHELVES

Expect to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to hire a contractor to build built-ins, but the job can be done DIY with some carpentry skill for $500. If the built-ins add appeal to the room, Realtor.com says to expect a return of 75 percent when the house is sold.
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PUT IN A FRENCH DOOR

A French door with glass panes is a feature that looks expensive and, if used to replace a back window to open onto the backyard, makes a house feel more spacious. An exterior-facing French door can be found for under $400, though Modernize says the labor to switch the window to a door will be at least $600.
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ADD A DECK

While a deck doesn't have the highest return of all home improvements, it can definitely be enjoyed by a homeowner until it's time to sell. A basic 16-by-20 deck will cost roughly $10,707 if a contractor is used. Remodeling magazine says to expect to recoup 71 percent of the cost, or $7,652, when it's time to sell. For a DIY project, expect to shell out $6,000 for lumber and other materials.
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SPRUCE UP THE FACADE

Consider a stone face to boost a home's curb appeal and give it a distinctive look. Hiring a contractor to install the facade will cost $7,851, but Remodeling magazine says nearly 93 percent of the cost should be recouped at sale, or just over $7,000. For those who want the DIY option, the stones in a manufactured stone veneer cost anywhere from $180 to $270 for 10 square feet, far less than natural stone.
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GET A NEW GARAGE DOOR

A house can have great curb appeal, but a dingy garage door will undo a positive first impression. Installing a new, two-door garage door will cost roughly $2,300 and HouseLogic says owners can expect a return of 87 percent when the house is sold.
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NEW KITCHEN SINK

Of all household fixtures, the kitchen sink takes the most abuse. Kitchen sinks also capture more attention than the cabinets and flooring when buyers take a first look around the house. Find a new sink at Lowe's or Home Depot for anywhere from $250 to $1,000. Installation will cost a couple hundred more.