Just because you can't afford a new dream home doesn't mean you can't love where you live. These updates are worth every penny.
Stuck. That's how many of us are feeling in today's sluggish real-estate market, without the equity to move into a new dream home or the money for that big remodel.
But staying put doesn't mean living with the same old bland status quo. For a grand or less, MSN Real Estate has pinpointed some worth-every-penny updates that will make you love your house again.
Here are our 10 picks for greater ease or style, or just that touch of wow for your next party. Choose one or bundle them to create a place you'll enjoy living in now.
1. Change your lighting.
If so much of life is how you look at it, why not look at it in the best light possible? For less than $500, you can swap out that boring dome fixture over your table for a retro chic pendant lamp.
Or have someone remove those tacky overhead fluorescents and put in some recessed can lights. Add a dimmer, and voilà! You have instant mood lighting that will flatter you and soften your home's rough edges.
Likewise, shine a light on the things you love about your house, says Fred Spaulding of Quality Home Improvements in Kingwood, Texas.
"If you put granite countertops in, it's almost a sin not to have under-cabinet lighting," Spaulding says. The same goes for art and interesting furniture, features or collections.
Want to cozy things up? Spend a few hundred dollars on a couple of beautiful table lamps and/or sconces near sitting areas, says Timothy Dahl, editor of the home-improvement blog CharlesandHudson.com.
"My wife and I are sticklers for lighting," he says. "We really believe in dimmers to change the mood in a room. It helps us wind down a little bit."
Cost: Varies, from $20 to put in your own dimmer to $600 to $800 for three to four contractor-installed recessed can lights.
2. Go offbeat.
You walk through your front door every day. Shouldn't it be something special?
Painting your front door an unexpected color such as eggplant, lime or bright Caribbean blue gives your house personality and distinguishes it on a homogenous street. It's instant gratification, designers say, and sets you apart as "the interesting neighbor." For greater impact, consider upsizing the lighting next to the door. Often, the small carriage lights and other fixtures are too small for the scale of the house.
"You don't realize how awkward they are until you change them out," says Sarah Fishburne, director of design and trends for Home Depot.
Cost: $20 to $40 for paint and $100 to $200 each for new carriage lights.
3. Get that mess under control.
Does your husband threaten to submit your kitchen for the reality TV show "Hoarders"? Is the worst part of cooking dinner attempting to extract the right pot from the jumble in your lower cabinets?
One small change that might pay daily dividends for you is the installation of cabinet organizers. For about $40 to $60 each, you can install a series of simple slide-out organizers that bring your stacked pots out to meet you. Ditto for your lids, platters and cleaning products.
Two-tier cabinet organizers also can help you fit more in your upper cabinets and put more of your spices
or serving ware front and center for easy access. Heck, you might even decide to tackle that junk drawer.
Cost: $200 to $400, depending on the number of sliding pullouts and two-tier organizers.
4. Overhaul the powder room.
You may not have the cash to rip out countertops and tile in your master bath, but for less than $500 you can completely overhaul the look of your guest bathroom, the one more people will see anyway.
"Furniture-piece vanities have gotten so affordable," Fishburne says. They're a great swap for those simple pedestal sinks in many powder rooms. Her store sells kits that include a sleek wooden vanity, china top and matching mirror for as little as $289. Or buy a vanity/sink combo and put new framing around the edge of your existing built-in mirror to ditch that outdated look.
Slap on a new coat of paint or some stylish wallpaper and you have a totally new-looking room.
Cost: $289 to $700 for the vanity kit, plus the cost of paint or wallpaper.
5. Heat your towels. Ah …
Nothing feels more luxurious than stepping out of the shower and wrapping yourself in some toasty terry on a chilly day. To get this effect, spring for a radiator-style rack (like the one pictured on this home renovations forum) and a handful of plush Egyptian cotton towels, preferably oversized.
"It's great if you're in a humid climate; it allows used towels to dry quickly," says "Annie1971" in the home renovations forum. "It's always nice to have a warm bath towel handy after a shower."
Cost: $100 to $500 for most domestic models.
6. Give the old hardware the heave-ho.
OK, so you've already painted your kitchen and bathroom cabinets and cleared the clutter. Please don't tell me that you're going to put those tacky old brass pulls or shiny dated knobs back on.
Adding interesting faceted glass, painted ceramic or oil-rubbed bronze knobs or pulls is one of the cheapest home renovations of all, and one that says you have an eye for the details.
If you're restoring a 1950s house, search eBay for vintage boomerang pulls, or add more character to a turn-of-the-century bungalow with exquisite painted ceramic knobs from retailer Anthropologie. And consider the feel. What do you want to touch every day?
Coordinate or mix and match for an eclectic look.
Cost: $2 to $12 per knob.
7. Add interest with a kitchen backsplash.
Nothing says a kitchen is "finished" like a luxurious tile backsplash, Spaulding says. For several hundred dollars you can purchase tumbled marble, metal or mesh-mounted mosaic glass tiles that will liven up any old kitchen. Take a one-day workshop to learn how to grout, and you're set.
"It can be a fun, exciting project," Fishburne says, and one that gives you a real feeling of do-it-yourself accomplishment.
Compared with counters and floors, you don't need much square footage to get a new look. And you can really make it your own, using deco tile to outline accent areas or create interesting designs.
Cost: $300 to $1,000, depending on the tile and the area.
8. Fake a great climate — for less.
In the dog days of summer, there's nothing better than sipping a cool drink and catching a breeze on your back porch. If that breeze is hard to come by, create one with an outdoor ceiling fan kit. It’s an easy swap for that old porch light.
"You can get a lot of air movement through," says Spaulding, who installed a couple of them at his own home in hot, humid Texas. "It's really nice to sit out there underneath them in the evening."
Cost: $100 to $400 to do it yourself, depending on the fan.
9. Go retro chic outdoors.
If your wicker is looking worn or you're still lounging on webbed beach chairs, the time is probably right to buy new outdoor furniture. But skip the ornate stuff and get something sleek.
If you have money left over, shell out an extra $100 to $200 for an outdoor rug or a couple of interesting planters and hurricane lamps with big pillar candles, says Stuart McCormick, a designer with Liz Levin Interiors in Washington, D.C.
"I bought new retro-style outdoor furniture and created a different vintage look on my front porch," says "Auntjen" on a home and garden forum. "I've really enjoyed sitting out there in the mornings with a cup of tea before the heat sets in."
Cost: Prices for this makeover can vary widely, from the $200 bistro table to $1,000 or more for a larger lounging or dining set.
10. Add water or fire for that wow factor.
"Two major things that can add ambience and luxury are fountains or a fire element," McCormick says.
Fountains mask the sounds of your neighbors, their pets and street noise to make your garden a more tranquil place when you get home from work. The price for these ornaments can range from $200 for an urn-shaped fountain at Home Depot to this more Zen piece at Frontgate for $899.
Gas fire pits, meanwhile, provide warmth for those cool evenings. Some, such as this show-stopping glass ethanol-burning model that McCormick admires, can provide a dramatic centerpiece for outdoor gatherings.
Cost: $200 to $1,000.
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