7 Ways to Maximize Your Remodeling Investment

If you've done any remodeling work, you likely have a horror story: The $700 door that turned into a $1,200 door or the contractor who disappeared into the woodwork.

Sadly, many of today's remodeling projects are designed to improve a home's marketability, rather than upgrade the homeowner's lifestyle. That means every penny counts. In such cases, experts recommend developing a strategy that will return the biggest dividends on your remodeling investment.

Here are seven strategies to consider.

1. Don't Renovate -- Update
Nothing screams "UPDATE ME" like avocado green and harvest gold household appliances. A good place to start is by replacing 70s-era appliances, wallpaper that visually vomits bouquets, and textured "popcorn" ceilings. Head to Best Buy and Home Depot then update, update, update.
2. Stand Firm
Don't let a contractor sell you on his vision when it doesn't strike you as sane. My friend Paul hired a jerk who insisted on using cement floor tiles as kitchen-counter tiles; despite my sage warning against such a foolhardy plan. (At least Paul didn't go along with his recommendation of a deep-purple, rag-paint job on the family room wall.)

Not only did the tiles look hideous but, to fill in the holes, the jerk had to slather on several layers of a never-drying polymer. Those counters repeatedly unsold the house and were the first thing the ultimate buyer changed.

3. Which Brings Us To...Hiring a Good Contractor
Trust is everything. Ask for referrals from friends or neighbors and get at least three bids for the job. Contractors base bids in part on their work schedules: The busier they are, the more they'll charge.

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure the contractor actually has time in his or her schedule to complete the job. You don't want them disappearing half way through and leaving you with a plastic-covered hole in your living room.
In addition to price, check that the contractor has the right licenses and insurance. Request referrals to customers for whom they've completed similar projects. Follow up to make sure the contractor did a good job and completed the project on budget and on time.

4. Don't Waffle
Indecision costs money. Starting a project then ripping it out because you've changed your mind can cost thousands for labor and non-returnable materials. If the plan is unusual, ask your contractor for a mock-up before giving your final approval.

5. Curb Appeal
Get people out of their cars and into your house with exterior home and garden improvements. Touch up peeling paint, plant some flowers, mow the lawn regularly and replace that scruffy door mat.

Then turn to the inside and give the whole house a once over. Clean every nook and cranny. Scour Habitat for Humanity stores for matching lighting switch plates. Take care of all the odd jobs you've put off since moving in.

First impressions are vital, plus buyers expect a $2 discount on the purchase price for every dollar they anticipate spending on necessary repairs.

6. Go Green
Green projects may not look glamorous but the improved energy efficiency greatly improves your homes marketability.

You'll also get a cut of these savings, thanks to state appliance rebate programs and federal tax credits. Move fast, however, as the tax credits expire Dec. 31, 2010. See Go Frugal's post on the federal Cash for Appliances program for more details.
7. Low Budget Alternatives
If money is tight, go with lower-end improvements. Ditch marble and fiberglass for acrylic sinks, tubs and shower liners in your bathroom.

Kitchen counters made of granite tiles cost $6 to $10 per square foot, as opposed to granite slabs at $70 to $100. (They're actually easier to clean, as well. Slabs show streaks more readily.)

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