Not all home improvements pay for themselves, but here are 5 projects that offer homeowners the best return along with five cheap alternatives.
IMPROVEMENT: ADD ATTIC INSULATION
Hold off on those flashy, pricey renovations, because energy efficiency is what really pays off. Adding fiberglass insulation to the attic to help maintain a home's temperature can bring just under a 117 percent return on investment, according to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. That makes it the best bang-for-your-buck project on the magazine's list. Remodeling's experts ballpark an average cost of $1,268 nationwide, but that includes hiring a pro to do the dirty work.
BUDGET ALTERNATIVE: INSTALL A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
Looking for a cheaper energy-efficient fix? Homeowners can install a programmable thermostat to save roughly $180 a year on energy bills, according to the government's Energy Star program. Basic models cost as little as $50. For $200 to $300, a Wi-Fi-enabled "smart" thermostat, can detect when you're away, turning down the air conditioning or heat automatically. Bonus: These thermostats appeal to younger homebuyers who are accustomed to smart devices, according to Consumer Reports, and some utility companies offer significant rebates to customers who install them.
IMPROVEMENT: SWAP SIDING FOR STONE VENEER
Nothing dates a house quite like dirty, aging vinyl siding. Swapping just the bottom third of that siding for manufactured stone veneer can seriously boost a home's curb appeal and bring a nearly 93 percent return on a homeowner's investment, according to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. The magazine's experts estimate that replacing 300 square feet costs a nationwide average of $7,519.
BUDGET ALTERNATIVE: WASH EXISTING SIDING
Cleaning vinyl siding costs next to nothing, so homeowners who can't stomach spending thousands on stone may want to invest some elbow grease instead. The Vinyl Siding Institute recommends using a soft-bristled brush, mild soap, and water to clean siding. Its website also features a list of recommended cleaners for grimier jobs and specific stains such as rust or grease. Power washers are fair game as long as the siding manufacturer allows them, but be sure to follow all directions. For instance, aiming a power washer higher than eye level can drive water behind the siding, experts warn.
IMPROVEMENT: REPLACE THE FRONT DOOR
Replacing a tired-looking front door may be a smart move. This simple project can recoup a bit over 91 percent of its cost when you sell, according to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. A steel door is a better value than fiberglass for most homeowners. Opting for a fiberglass door could still lead to a tidy 82 percent return on investment, but it also costs more: an average of $3,126 compared with $1,335 for steel, according to Remodeling's data.
BUDGET ALTERNATIVE: ADD QUICK CURB APPEAL
A new front door can make a home more eye-catching, but smaller projects can help, too. Painting an existing front door can cost as little as $50 in primer, paint, and supplies -- just be sure to pick the right color. While a bold, contrasting front door can make a house stand out, steer clear of gaudy hues that clash with the home's style or existing color scheme. (Still in doubt? White and red have perennial appeal, according to Angie's List.) Other cheap updates: Dress up plain windows with shutters for about $50 a pair, and consider adding flower-filled planters or window boxes for additional color.
IMPROVEMENT: REPLACE GARAGE DOORS
Don't stop with the front door -- the garage door may need to be replaced, too. This project also brings a return of about 91 percent on homeowners' investment, according to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. Again, a basic steel door is a good bet, and the magazine's experts say the average cost is $1,652. For a similar return on investment, the report says prospective sellers in upscale areas may want to splurge on higher-end carriage-style doors with a heftier price tag of more than $3,000.
BUDGET ALTERNATIVE: FAKE A CARRIAGE-STYLE DOOR
Some new paint can also work wonders for a garage door on the cheap. Again, use the home's existing color scheme and the overall look of the neighborhood for guidance. And don't stop with paint: For $300 to $500, consider adding faux decorative windows to the top of the garage door, as seen on HouseLogic. Updated exterior lighting and decorative hardware such as powder-coated pull handles can complete a high-end carriage-door look at a fraction of the price.
IMPROVEMENT: REMODEL THE KITCHEN
Kitchens sell houses, according to prevailing real estate wisdom. So it's no surprise that homeowners can recoup 83 percent of the cost from a minor kitchen remodel, according to the Remodeling report. That includes replacing cabinet doors and hardware; switching out laminate counters; and adding a mid-range sink, energy-efficient appliances, and new flooring. The magazine's experts estimate an average cost of $20,122 for this kind of remodel.
BUDGET ALTERNATIVE: REFRESH THE KITCHEN FOR LESS
At more than $20,000, even a "minor" kitchen remodel is still be too pricey for many homeowners. To keep costs low, try painting cabinets instead of replacing the doors. Add a sleek tile backsplash for big impact -- depending on the type of tile and amount you need, you may be able to do it for less than $1,000, even with professional installation, according to HomeAdvisor. And if high-end counters are out of the budget, take another look at laminate. These days, it can do a credible impression of granite or even marble. Homeowners can spend as little as $1,575 for 30 linear feet of laminate, compared with $4,440 for a granite slab, according to HouseLogic.