Labor Day looms large for homeowners. The end of summer signals that many of us will soon be immersed with an accelerated work schedule plus soccer practices, homework and other realities of back-to-school season. (Or maybe it’s football-filled Sundays that most cut into your handyman time in the fall.) But there’s still time to tackle a wide variety of remodeling projects. And while your goal may simply be to freshen the appearance of your home, you also want to know that your hard work will increase your home’s value.
Here are eight home improvements you can finish by Labor Day that will pay you back. Each costs less than $1,000 and should require less than a day’s work. Take a look.
Replace Sinks and Faucets
Estimated Price: $400 (sink), $150 (faucet)
For home buyers, “the kitchen is king,” says Paul Cardis, chief executive of Avid Ratings, which conducts an annual survey of more than 20,000 first-time home buyers to determine design preferences. “For those looking to spruce up their house, the kitchen is the place.”
You can replace a kitchen sink and faucet yourself in a matter of hours. Be sure to seek out low-flow faucet aerators that can reduce water usage by 30%. (Energy-efficient features, specifically, are a “must have” or are “really wanted” by 88% of home buyers these days.) You can expect to recoup 70% to 80% of the cost of kitchen-remodeling work when you sell your home.
Add a Backsplash
Estimated Price: $14 per 12-by-12-inch tile
The easiest way to add pizazz to your kitchen is with a new backsplash. You can go from country to modern in a snap with a variety of options for finishes and colors. To save money, time and frustration, consider the peel-and-stick tile options now available. “They’re aesthetically pleasing and will do the job if that’s all you can afford,” says Fredda Weisbard, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s an inexpensive Band-Aid for updating your kitchen.” The messier grout-and-tile approach will add $50 to $100 more in related supply costs but will appeal more to prospective buyers.
Install Vanity Cabinets & Toilets
Estimated Price: $200 (vanity), $250 (toilet)
Even relatively minor updates to your bathroom can produce a return on investment of 172%, according to HomeGain.com’s 2009 Prepare-to-Sell survey of 1,000 real estate agents nationwide. Because toilets fit neatly over existing plumbing, they’re surprisingly easy to install. Look for modern water-saving models that will both save on your water bills and appeal to energy-conscious buyers when it’s time to sell. If you’re feeling creative, save hundreds of dollars by using an old dresser as the foundation for a new vanity. Simply cut out room on the top to hold a basin sink and to connect pipes.
Paint a Room
Estimated Price: $30 per paint can
It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do to immediately transform any room in your house. Keep in mind that lighter shades generally make a room feel larger; neutral shades will appeal most to potential buyers. “Buyers won’t be able to look past [bold] colors and see the rest of your home,” says Weisbard.
You’ll earn a 250% return on your investment in freshly painted interior walls, according to HomeGain.com’s survey. Just be sure to test colors -- Home Depot sells 8-ounce sample cans of paint for $3 -- before buying the full batch of paint needed for the room. Limit costly mistakes and spills by splurging on drop cloths and painter’s tape.
Install Crown Molding
Estimated Price: $5 per linear foot
Crown molding in your home compared with none in a similar home in your neighborhood could make a difference when it’s time to sell. “You may not get the money back, but it’s a feature that most buyers appreciate when looking for a home,” says Weisbard. “It’s a wow-factor feature. It stays in buyers’ minds.”
Fair warning: Installing crown molding might be the trickiest task on our list. There’s a lot of geometry involved -- along with a nail gun and a miter saw. Follow the “measure thrice, cut once” rule to limit waste.
Estimated Price: $20-$500
Improvements to a home's functional space can be just as valuable as ones that make a home look better. Potential buyers like to assess space and storage area for their belongings when evaluating new houses.
Focus your efforts on the garage, basement and closets, where you can declutter easily with clear storage bins or new shelving.
Replace the Front Door
Estimated Price:$150-$500 or more
As the first thing prospective buyers will see upon entering your home, a new front door will more than recoup your investment. Expect a fat 129% ROI on a steel door, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2009–10 “Cost vs. Value Report.” (Note that fiberglass models, which can cost three times as much, recoup only 65% of their cost.)
Bonus: Buy a qualifying energy-efficient door and reap a tax credit of 30% of your cost (up to a maximum of $1,500 in 2009 and 2010 combined).
Estimated Price: $300-$400
Before your visitors (and prospective buyers) even get to the door, they’ll see the front yard. It’s a critical first impression that can change the way they view the entire house. “If the outside of your home isn’t appealing, then what does that say about the inside?” Weisbard says.
You needn’t spend more than $300 to $400 in basic landscaping projects to produce $1,500 to $2,000 in added home value, according to HomeGain.com’s Prepare-to-Sell survey. Ninety-four percent of real estate agents who participated in the survey recommend landscaping work to sellers before they list their homes.
Go for plants -- whether they line your walkway or the front of your house -- that add color and complement your house, suggests Bruce Butterfield, market-research director of the National Gardening Association. “People react to color emotionally.” Perennials will require less maintenance year to year, and hydrangeas in particular -- Butterfield recommends the “Endless Summer” variety -- will give you several months of blooms each year. You can pick them up for about $50 each, compared with $150 or more for a new tree, which will take much longer to mature.