Homeowners seem to instinctively know remodeling the kitchen and bathroom will pay off when you sell-not to mention how happier it will make your family while you stay.
But most people don't have enough money or time for a complete overhaul. According to a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report on remodeling, minor remodeling outnumbered major make-overs 2.6 to 1. Among do-it-yourselfers, there were 3.3 minor jobs for every major one. In 2001 the average "minor" makeover cost $3,900 from a pro and $1,200 for a do-it-yourselfer-compared to $17,737 for a major job.
That doesn't mean that you can't do something that will make a big difference in how good your kitchen looks and feels for as little as $500.
According to Remodeling Magazine's 2006 Cost vs. Value Report minor kitchen remodeling jobs have among the highest returns on investments at 85.2%. That means if you spend $1,000 you should expect your home's price to go up $852. That's even higher than the return on a major improvement, where you'd only get $804 back at the sale. And it's certainly better than the average $630 you'd get back working on your home office.
But what can you do for $500?
You can start with one of the simplest and cheapest projects overall: paint. Your kitchen walls can suffer a lot of splatters, odors and stains. That's why some people choose a high-gloss paint for the kitchen, at least for areas exposed to water, food and dirty hands. If high-gloss looks too industrial for the whole room, you can get the same color in different gloss levels. You can probably paint the room for under $60.
Unless you have wood stained or synthetic window sills, a fresh coat of high-gloss white can make a huge difference. While you're at it, redo your baseboards and other trim. That will add about $20.
You can also replace the grimy switchplates for about $20. Add a little drama and personality to your kitchen by replacing the knobs-a job you can easily handle yourself. The cost is widely variable. You can get knobs for $1 at the Home Depot or on eBay or you could spend $100 or more per drawer pull in a specialty shop.
Do you have an old rug in front of your sink? Is it disgusting? Replace it. How dirty are your curtains? Window treatments take little skill or money to replace and they can give the whole place a new look.
To really give the place a makeover, you may be able to upgrade to one of the following - your cabinet doors, your countertop or your floor. Of course, that depends on what you've got there now. If your floor is a worn sheet of vinyl, an upgrade will be cheap. If you've got an expensive real tile floor, it will be expensive to do better.
The cost of replacing cabinets or countertops will depend on the size of what you have now, your taste in replacements and whether you have the skill to do the job yourself-or at least to wheedle a family member into doing the job.
By now everyone's heard that the way to save money with cabinets is to simply reface them instead of replacing them. If you your cabinet doors cover the entire cabinet-with none of the old color showing in between cabinets-you may be able to do the job yourself. Shop around at the big hardware stores and online for cabinet facings and countertops.
Finally the simplest way to give your kitchen a new look is totally free-get rid of all the stuff on your counter. If you're selling your house, you want to make it look as spacious and uninhabited as possible. Even if you're staying, clearing away the clutter will make a huge difference in how clean your kitchen looks.