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Selling a home: Which improvements are worthwhile?

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What is the No. 1 improvement that is a good investment for homeowners to make when readying their home to sell?

house entrance

Replacing their front door with an attractive steel door, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report.

That improvement – also the least expensive of the two dozen remodeling projects measured at $1,162 – has been ranked first for the past five years and is the only improvement project that brings back a return of more than 90 percent of its cost nationwide (96.6 percent).

Low initial cost combined with the positive effect on curb appeal is likely responsible for the high ranking, the report said.

In 38 markets across the country, the replacement of the front door topped a 100 percent return, bringing more value to the home than it cost. The same was true of adding a wood deck in 25 markets.

The top 10 home improvements nationwide, which recoup up to three-fourths of their cost in a resale, are:

Improvement Project Natl. Avg. Cost % Recouped
1. Front door replacement (steel) $1,162 96.6%
2. Wood deck addition $9,539 87.4%
3. Attic bedroom remodel $49,438 84.3%
4. Garage door replacement $1,534 83.7%
5. Minor kitchen remodel $18,856 82.7%
6. Window replacement (wood, vinyl) $10,926, $9,978 79.3%, 78.7%
7. Siding replacement (vinyl) $11,475 78.1%
8. Basement remodel $62,834 77.6%
9. Deck addition (composite) $11,476 74.3%
10. Major kitchen replacement $54,909 74.2%

Those projects with the least improvement value include remodeling a home office (48.9 percent), adding a sunroom (51.7 percent) and adding a bathroom (60.1 percent).

Kitchen projects outperformed bathroom projects in general across the study, for both average and upscale homes. Of all bathroom and kitchen projects, the minor kitchen remodel – which includes new appliances and countertops and a facelift of existing cabinets – had the best return on investment.

Some improvement projects showed significant gains in the 2014 report compared to previous reports.

The biggest gain was the presence of a back-up power generator, likely because of the increased number of tornados, big storms and unpredictable weather across the country in recent years.

The return on investment of the cost a generator ($11,742) increased 28 percent to 67.5 percent in 2014.

The next biggest increase came in the remodeling of the attic into a bedroom, which gained 15.6 percent to become the third highest cost-effective improvement.

Even though this is a big ticket item at an average $49,438, that cost is still less expensive than building an addition. The same is true for basement remodels, the report said.

The value gained from remodeling is considerably higher in some cities than in others of the 100-plus markets that were studied. The Pacific area, in general, gets more bang for its remodeling buck.

Honolulu and San Francisco were the only two cities that recouped more than 100 percent on their remodeling investments.

The top 10 cities with the overall highest cost-to-value percentages for home improvements – all over 80 percent – were:

1. Honolulu, Hi.

2. San Francisco, Calif.

3. San Jose, Calif.

4. San Diego, Calif.

5. Bridgeport, Conn.

6. Fort Myers, Fla.

7. Charleston, S.C.

8. Oklahoma City, Okla.

9. Washington, D.C.

10. Austin, Texas