Small Remodeling Budgets Big Upgrades

Dated: 01/22/2018

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I am often asked by clients....What remodeling should I do before we put the house on the market? Here are ten ideas with a big return....

Not everyone has a fortune stashed away for a major home remodel. So smaller-scale projects, such as replacing windows, siding or a front door, are gaining in popularity among homeowners. Compared with a full remodel, replacement projects cost less and can offer a higher return on investment. This year, homeowners are recouping 67.6% of the cost of such smaller-scale replacement projects during resale, according to Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value report. Major remodeling projects, such as additions, are recouping 59.7%, on average.

Whether you want to make upgrades for your own enjoyment or you plan to put your house on the market soon, we've rounded up nine home-improvement projects that will give you the most bang for your buck for about $1,000 or less. As you plan your project, keep in mind that many of the prices quoted here are national averages. The actual cost of any renovation will vary based on many factors, including the location of the home, the scope of the work, the quality of the materials selected and the experience of the contractor.

Caulk Windows and Weatherstrip Doorways

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Caulking windows and applying weatherstripping to exterior doorways will make your home more energy-efficient by sealing major sources of air leaks. This can help cut down your cooling bills during the summer and heating bills in winter. Both projects are simple enough that many homeowners tackle the tasks themselves. A DIY caulking job costs $50 including materials, such as a caulk gun and 12 caulk cartridges, according to DiyOrNot.com, a Web site that provides cost projections for common home-improvement projects. However, if you aren’t handy around the house, you can hire a handyman to do the work for $144 on average. That includes labor and materials. Applying weatherstripping and updating an exterior door’s threshold yourself will cost $65, but having a professional do it will be $95 per door.

Install Under-Cabinet Lighting in the Kitchen

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Adding under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen illuminates work surfaces (a plus for home cooks) and can make the space appear less dated (a plus for future buyers). Since there can be a bit of wiring involved to connect multiple fixtures to each other, not to mention drilling holes in expensive cabinetry, you might want to leave this project to a pro. The average cost of hiring an electrician to install three 14-inch surface-mounted lighting fixtures that plug into an existing receptacle is $142, according to DiyOrNot.com. A qualified handyman can easily handle this project as well, since no hard-wiring inside the walls is required. The cost and complexity will be much higher if a receptacle needs to be added.

Update the Hardware on Kitchen Cabinets

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If you have a limited budget, a full-scale kitchen remodel is not an option, considering that a midrange renovation averages about $54,000. However, you can make small tweaks to help freshen up the space. A project that’s cost-friendly and doesn’t require professional assistance is updating the hardware on your kitchen cabinets and drawers, says Donna Shirey, owner of Shirey Handyman Service, a Seattle home-repair company.

As long as your cabinets are in good condition, swapping out dated hardware will give your cabinets an instant facelift. “It’ll cost you about $5 to $10 per handle, depending on the finish,” Shirey adds. So if you have 25 cabinet door and drawer handles in your kitchen that need to be replaced, expect to pay up to $250.

Add Crown Molding in the Living Room

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Crown molding can add a touch of luxury to a living room without a luxurious price tag. Having a carpenter install crown molding where the walls meet the ceiling in a 12-by-20-foot room costs about $330. That’s the national average for 70 linear feet of installed finger joint pine crown molding, according to DiyOrNot.com. Adding a chair rail—molding attached to walls at roughly the height of a chair back—can also give a room a finished look says Neil Parsons, owner of Design Build Pros, a Toms River, N.J., remodeling firm. Parsons suggests painting the walls different shades above and below the chair-rail molding to make a room stand out.

Keep in mind, though, that molding should be added for your own aesthetic enjoyment rather than purely for resale purposes. Ask any real estate agent about what sells homes and they’ll tell you kitchens and baths. If your remodeling budget is tight, focus your resources on those rooms first.

Install a Tile Backsplash in the Kitchen

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Up the wow factor in your kitchen by adding a tile backsplash. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are the most popular tile finishes; however, ceramic tile costs less. At Home Depot, for example, you can buy ceramic tile for as little as $1.12 per square foot. Porcelain tile starts at $3.65 per square foot.

The average cost to hire a tile contractor to install a 10-foot-long, 12-inch-high ceramic-tile backsplash is $388. That includes labor (about six hours' worth) and materials (tiles, moisture-resistant adhesive and grout), according to DiyOrNot.com. While a professional will almost certainly do a better job, skilled homeowners should be able to complete the project themselves for less money, says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm.

Add or Paint Shutters

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If you've got a smaller home with no more than five to eight front windows without shutters, consider adding some to improve the curb appeal, advises Sullivan. However, on a $1,000 budget you’ll likely only be able to afford vinyl shutters, which start at $21 per pair at Home Depot (wooden shutters start at $46 per pair). You'll spend the remainder of your $1,000 budget having a professional install them.

If you already have exterior shutters and they’re in good condition, apply a fresh coat of paint to give them new life. The cost of hiring a painter to update exterior shutters varies by location, but it can be less than $1,000 depending on the quality of the paint and other materials, such as primer, being used. In Washington, D.C., for example, the average cost of painting 16 shutters for eight windows starts at $581.55, according to Homewyse.com, a Web site that offers cost projections for labor and materials. In Seattle, it'll run you $650.81.

Replace Fixtures in a Bathroom

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Consider swapping the existing fixtures in your bathroom, such as the toilet, faucets and shower head, for high-efficiency versions, Sullivan says. "Not only are you getting an updated look in your bathroom, but you’ll also be saving money on your water bill." Replacing an old toilet with an efficient model, for example, can save the average family $110 a year on water bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At Home Depot, you can purchase a WaterSense-rated two-piece toilet for as little as $139. A high-efficiency faucet for the sink starts at $31.48, and a tub faucet and showerhead combo starts at $49.98.

Hiring a plumber to remove your old toilet and replace it with a new one will cost $459, on average, according to DiyOrNot.com. Changing out a single-control faucet on a bathroom sink costs $254, and replacing a shower head costs $155. Having all three completed at the same time adds up to $868.

Apply a Fresh Coat of Paint

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Professional home stagers recommend painting the interior a neutral color, such as taupe or cream, to make spaces feel larger. But a whole-house paint job is expensive. On average, a homeowner will spend $2,039 to hire someone to paint the entire interior of a house, according to HomeAdvisor.com, a renovation Web site. To keep the project under $1,000, focus on the most visible areas, such as the entryway, kitchen, main-level bathroom and family room or living room.

Painting is another project that many homeowners choose to do themselves to cut costs. Remember to factor in the price of paint, primer, painters’ tape, brushes and rollers when setting a budget. Costs can vary considerably by brand. A gallon of Benjamin Moore paint can cost two to three times more than a gallon of Behr, for example.

Replace the Front Door

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This project is aimed at homeowners who are in search of the highest payback from a renovation when they eventually sell the house. According to Remodeling magazine's Cost vs. Value report, replacing a front door with a new steel door will result in a nearly 86% return on the investment at resale. That's the best ROI of all the projects ranked in the report. Granted, the national average cost for a replacement steel entry door is $1,137, slightly above our budget, but we made an exception because homeowners are likely to recoup most of that expense down the line.

Curious about the home-improvement project with the lowest return at resale? It's a home-office remodel, which recoups just 44% of the original cost.


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