This summer is a hot one! And staying cool in the summer isn’t just a matter of cranking up the AC.
You want to be comfortable without wasting electricity or harming the environment.
The cost for your comfort should never impact the environment in an absurdly negative way, so ensure that you’re doing your part to stay green.
Keep reading to pick up a few ways to beat the heat and protect the earth in the process.
1. Take Advantage of Windows
Knowing how to use your windows is a great way to keep the house cool.
First off, make sure your curtains help to control temperature. Insulating curtains will help your house’s temperature in both summer and winter, by keeping hot air out in the summer and keeping it in during the coldness of winter.
You can also open your windows to create a cross breeze through the house–open the top of one window, and then across the room or downstairs, open the bottom of another. Don’t open them very much, and do it in the morning while the air is still cool from the night, before you turn on your air conditioner.
If you’ve got a window-unit AC, know that air conditioners with a higher EER rating will be more energy-efficient, so consider replacing yours for a better model. Make sure any cracks or crevices around the AC unit are sealed, too, so the cold air doesn’t escape.
2. Insulate Your House
Proper insulation, especially if your house or apartment is old, will do wonders for keeping the cool air inside.
The most important aspect of proper insulation is making sure air isn’t escaping around your windows and doors. This is a very common culprit for bad heating in the winter and bad cooling in the summer. If you feel the need to explore this option more, contact a skilled contractor in your area to begin the process.
If you have an attic, it could be one of the biggest culprits that are draining your home of its energy efficiency. Attics can reach uncomfortable temperatures, so focusing energy on insulating and cooling the attic will benefit the entire house.
3. Cool Your Body
When thinking of energy-efficient ways to cool down the home in the summer, people often forget about cooling down their own bodies.
So if you’re sitting in the living room feeling a little too hot, instead of cranking up the AC, try a few tricks to cool yourself down first.
Eat and Drink Cold Things
Maybe it seems obvious, but a glass of ice water will do wonders to cool down your insides, especially if you remember to drink a lot of water throughout the day. If you have kids, try giving them sugar-free popsicles.
Go for foods you would normally serve chilled, like fruit, smoothies, or frozen yogurt, as long as they don’t have a lot of sugar. But stay away from an ice cold beer or a cup of iced coffee–while they sound refreshing, alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate you, which won’t help you stay cool.
Chill Your Skin
Run cold water over your wrists, right at your pulse point, every so often throughout the day. Or, put a cold towel across your forehead and take it easy for a few minutes.
A water bottle full of ice or ice water behind the knees and at the ankles will also cool you down, and is a good trick to try if you’re hot at night in bed.
Leave the House
Feel like nothing’s working? It might be time to visit the freezer aisle in the grocery store or an indoor pool.
Take advantage of someone else’s cranked up AC for a while, and combine it with running errands or a fun family activity to distract everyone from the heat.
4. Plant Trees
Your landscaping can help (or hurt) your fight to stay cool in the summer.
If there isn’t a lot of natural shade around your house, you’re letting a lot of direct sunlight beat at your windows and roof during the hottest times of the day. Trees, especially planted on the southern and western sides of your house, will provide a great deal of natural shade.
As a bonus, the trees are also good for the environment, offsetting some of the carbon emissions running your AC will produce.
5. Use Hot Appliances Sparingly
Multiple appliances in your home will add heat to the internal temperature. While you can’t always avoid using these items, using them less frequently, or at specific times of the day, will help you maintain a cooler temperature in the house without using up electricity.
If you need to use any of these appliances, use them at night or in the early morning when the temperature outside is cooler, so your air conditioner doesn’t have to fight as hard against the heat they produce.
Let your dishes air dry inside your dishwasher if your dishwasher has a dry cycle, and avoid opening the door right after you’ve run it. When you open the door right away, hot air comes spilling out into your kitchen.
Unplug your computer, television, and any other entertainment items when you’re not using them. Computers, televisions, cable boxes, and the like all generate heat while they’re plugged in, which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve sat with your laptop on your lap for any period of time.
Unplugging them also has the added bonus of reducing electricity costs by a tiny amount, since plugged in appliances, even if they’re off, still use up a small quantity of electricity.
If you can, avoid using the oven and the stove. Both generate a lot of heat, so use the microwave and the toaster oven if you can. Or, better, cook outside.
Not only are hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners not very energy-efficient, they also generate a lot of heat. If you can avoid using these items altogether, do it, and find a wash-and-wear hairstyle to make your life more convenient in the summer. If not, try to style your hair in the early morning or at night, and try not to keep them plugged in at the highest heat setting for very long.
Stay cool and stay environmentally friendly this summer by following these suggestions. You’ll stay cool, save on your electric bill, and know you’re helping out the environment in the process.
*"5 Ways to Beat the Summer Heat while Staying Green", June 21, 2018. Greener Ideal. Retrieved from, https://greenerideal.com/guides/5-ways-beat-summer-heat-staying-green/
Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about spring cleaning your home. Spring cleaning is important for everyone, particularly if you’re an allergy sufferer. You owe it to yourself and your family to enjoy a clean that’s more than dirt-deep. Think allergen-deep.
And you don’t have to dread spring cleaning. Just follow these top 10 spring cleaning tips and tricks for allergy sufferers:
1. Make a Schedule
Scope out your home: What areas need the most work? Where do you skip during routine cleaning? Those are the best places to start. Regardless of where you start, having a plan for when you’re tackling each room will keep you focused on the task at hand.
Decluttering makes you more efficient and keeps you organized. But more than that, clutter has psychological influences. It signals to your brain that work isn’t done. Studies have shown that a disorganized home adds to your stress level. The scientific implications of inhaling dust – combined with the psychological stress of coming home to a pile of unsorted laundry or cluttered desk – can take a toll.
Set aside some time to:
3. Always Work from Top to Bottom
When you think about how to spring clean your home, it’s important to start from the ceiling down. This will force debris downward and keep you from having to re-dust or re-clean your space. If you have a vacuum with an extension hose, use it to get cobwebs and dust from your ceilings and fans first.
Then dust your furniture and other items before vacuuming all the dust and debris off your floors. It will save you time.
4. Use a HEPA Vacuum
Is your vacuum ready for spring cleaning? Finding the right vacuum is one of the most important parts of spring cleaning. Remove more than just dust and build-up when you vacuum. A high-quality HEPA vacuum catches particles you can’t even see. It traps pet dander, allergens and all household particles in your home.
It’s one of the best spring cleaning supplies you can arm yourself with. Using a vacuum with HEPA filtration will remove dirt and dust, but it will also remove allergens and impurities from your air.
You’ll see this suggestion on just about every spring house cleaning list.
If you don’t have a HEPA vacuum, look for one with attachments, like dusting brushes and crevice tools, and hoses that can be used to clean any location.
These tools make it simple to clean ceiling fans, cobwebs in corners, furniture, pillows, and tight spaces like behind furniture. Be sure to move your furniture too (or at least vacuum under it).
5. Think Green When You Spring Clean
You want to start spring off on a clean note, so don’t expose yourself to chemicals and toxins. A steam cleaner is one of the best green products for spring cleaning. It can be used to clean your microwave, tile, hard floors, kitchen appliances, bathrooms, and even outdoor areas.
Since steam cleaners only use hot water vapor, they are a 100% natural and chemical-free cleaning solution. But keep in mind – not everything can be steam cleaned.
If you don’t have a steam cleaner, one of the best natural combinations for cleaning is white distilled vinegar, baking soda, and water. These ingredients are affordable, non-toxic, and have worked for ages when it comes to cleaning.
See our top spring cleaning products for allergy-sufferers. They’ll clean your air, floor and furniture without a single chemical.
6. Walls and Windows Need Love too
People almost always clean their floors, but they typically forget about walls and windows. Not all dust settles on the floor and other surfaces. Just use a damp towel to wipe down walls and blinds (starting from the top). Remove and wipe down the window screens outside.
When it comes to the actual window, we don’t suggest using chemical cleaners. A steam cleaner with a squeegee is a great way to clean windows.
7. Don’t Be Scared of the Kitchen and Bathroom
Don’t fear cleaning your bathroom! Review this full list of spring cleaning tips to quickly hit these trouble areas. Here are a few common trouble areas:
8. Don’t Forget About Your Air
Replacing furnace and HVAC filters is one of the most important and overlooked parts of spring cleaning. In fact, replacing a standard filter with a more robust one with a high MERV rating will help keep you healthier as you enter spring.
It will catch smaller, irritating particles. Air conditioner ducts build up dust during winter, and upgraded filters catch unwanted particles so they don’t enter your space. It’s an inexpensive way to make sure you’re breathing clean, healthy air.
The best way to ensure healthy spring air void of allergens, indoor chemicals or odors is with an air purifier. If anyone in your home suffers from allergies or wakes up stuffy during allergy season, adding an air purifier to his/her bedroom will help.
9. Have Severe Allergies? Protect Yourself.
Cleaning will more than likely unsettle all the winter dust on furniture and fixtures. If you suffer from allergies or are using heavy-duty cleaners, be sure to read the labels. For safe spring cleaning, wear rubber gloves, masks, scarves and even hairnets. Protective clothing will help guard against skin irritations and allergic reactions.
10. Let Spring Cleaning Set a New Tone
If your space feels dark and heavy, you can make small changes to help make it light and fresh for spring. Adding new colorful pillows or art are great ways to change up your space. Replacing items like bedding, towels, table linens, and even window treatments are other ways to transform your rooms for spring and warm weather ahead.
*"Sylvane’s Top 10 Spring Cleaning Tips for 2019" (Mar. 5, 2019). Sylvane. Retrieved from, https://www.sylvane.com/blog/spring-cleaning-tips-and-checklist/
Modern homeowners are driving construction trends towards greener and greener approaches and materials. But the savvy homeowner knows that it’s not just to ease the conscience and be part of building a better world. One of the biggest reasons to own a home that has been built with environmentally friendly construction practices is cost savings.
Let’s examine several ways that green building practices will save you big in the long run.
WATER USAGE SAVINGS FROM ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PRACTICES
Water savings alone from green practices can run into hundreds of dollars per year. Over the lifetime of a home that translates into thousands of dollars.
To get the most bang for your buck in green practices that lead to water savings, consider the following:
ELECTRICITY SAVINGS: THE BIG MONEY SAVER IN GREEN HOMES
When it comes to the savings from a green home, it is usually electricity savings that provide the most smiles for your bank account. Electricity is often the biggest utility cost for a homeowner. Reducing it by a quarter, half or even more means upfront investments pay out big over time.
The single biggest long-term payout will come from installing solar or another low-to-no-cost electricity source. The payback time for most solar systems is between five and ten years after state and federal rebates. After that, you’ve paid off the cost of installation and any reduction in your electric bill goes straight to your pocketbook.
What’s more home values are increased and resale is usually quicker for a home that has solar installed.
Adding Energy Star appliances, LED light bulbs and smart home energy monitoring can also lead to substantial savings.
INSULATION: KEEPING THOSE HEATING AND COOLING COSTS DOWN
The right insulation is the best insulation, especially for homes in climates with more extreme winter or summer temperatures. Did you know that for a home in Western New York that is 3000 square feet savings calculations for average insulation vs high-efficiency ready insulation could translate into over $500 per year in savings?
WATER HEATING: THE SAVINGS ADD UP
The water heater you choose and the green practices you add to I can go a long way towards helping the environment and saving for that family vacation. Water heating whether by gas or electric is a common oversight from homeowners looking to drive long-term savings from efficiency.
Whether you install a heat trap, improve the insulation on your heater or even consider on-demand heating systems for your home, there is almost always a green-friendly option that will be friendlier for the environment while lowering bills.
THE DURABILITY OF A GREEN HOME
One of the most often overlooked ways that a green home will save you money is in maintenance and upkeep. Green home construction is synonymous with durability, long lifetime, and low maintenance.
It could be weather and UV resistant exterior sidings, resilient and long-life flooring, low maintenance finishes or a variety of other green-friendly construction practices. Thinking for the long-term when you select how your home was made can be one of the most earth-friendly and at the same time financially sound decisions you make.
*Green Building Saves Homeowners Big Time: The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Savings of A Green Home (Dec. 26, 2018). Natale Builders. Retrieved from, https://www.natalebuilders.com/blog/green-building-saves-homeowners-big-time-the-obvious-and-not-so-obvious-savings-of-a-green-home
Are you planning on building your next home? Before you put the pencil to paper, take a look at the newest home building design trends to see how you can make the most of your new home.
Heated Entryway Floors
Heated Entryways Floors are one of the hottest home-building trends this year (get it?). Heated floors have been traditionally reserved for bathrooms, but are now making the transition to the rest of the house. With our tough Buffalo winters, this is one feature in your home your guests will thank you for time after time. They’ll immediately feel the warmth of your home when they take off their ice-laden boots and take their first step onto your heated floors.
The Dining Room Revival
The American dining room has lost its footing over the years to expanded kitchen eateries and admonished for its lack of use, but the formal dining room is making a strong comeback. Today’s dining rooms still have a touch of stuffiness, but it is subdued by integrating eclectic furniture and lighting to make the room feel more fun and quirky. And, yes, the rumors are true, wallpaper is back in.
Sun rooms have taken on a lot of functions recently and a move back to incorporating the room into home design is back in full swing. Traditionally, sun rooms have been treated as an escape from the high-tech living rooms with a focus on leisure. The newest trends look at using that well-lit space as a dining room and convertible patios. Most people in WNY probably consider the sun room as a waste of a room due to our harsh winters, but when properly planned, the room can be used comfortably year-round. Buyers in colder climates should keep their heating options in mind like installing a fireplace or baseboard heating.
Walk-in Universal Pantries
As the baby-boomer generation grows older, many more people are staying in their home for longer which means home designs are focused on the future. One of the top concerns in home design lately is mobility. Many people wonder if they are going to be able to reach those high shelves in their golden years or if they’ll be able to fit a wheelchair into a pantry. Features such as height-adjustable drawers and large walk-in pantries are becoming more popular with more people focusing on ease of access.
Move over great rooms, the kitchen is the place to hang. The days of isolated back-burner kitchens are over as large smart kitchens are becoming the norm. Home chefs have gone from isolated to the center of attention in newer homes. The large kitchen design brings everyone around stove and not the TV. That’s not to say televisions aren’t still an integral part of new kitchens.
While there is the big kitchen push, there has also been a counter-movement for a minimalist kitchen. Even though the minimalist kitchens tend to be a little smaller, they certainly don’t sacrifice space for community. Often separated by things like tables and islands, the minimalist kitchens create more space when needed and are easily changeable to support any occasion.
Outdoor Living Space
What started as a simple outdoor fireplace has morphed into a need for full outdoor living spaces. Families want to get the full use out of every square inch of their property and creating outdoor living spaces is how they are doing it. Homeowners are now designing their back yards with people in mind. Full kitchens and bars as well as living room sets are now found outside of the house.
Green Building Practices
Home builders are focusing more of their home design around energy efficiency and sustainability. While not all homes may be fortunate enough to take advantage of hydropower, it’s easy to reduce your carbon footprint and your monthly energy bills too.
Of course, many green building techniques circle around common-sense practices like proper insulation and ensuring there are no gaps between windows and walls letting air in. Some of the more advanced design techniques include building out renewable energy sources like solar panels and windmills and using geothermal heat.
Walk in Showers
Walk-in showers aren’t a new concept, but they’re getting a lot of attention from designers who are looking to modernize homes. Many of the walk-in showers found in new homes feature his and hers shower heads. Many of the newest designs feature either glass doors or no doors at all.
Natural lighting and massive overhead shower heads have been two of the top trends for bathroom designs in new homes over the past couple years and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Like the kitchen, the bathroom is beginning to be examined as another place in homes to create living space.
The use of reclaimed wood as flooring and siding on homes gives your home a rustic, lived-in feel to it that is hard to replicate. Wood used from deconstructed barns and boxcars not only gives your home a great aesthetic, but helps the environment as well by not needing to purchase new lumber. In addition, reclaimed wood is often much stronger than new manufactured wood due to the length of time the trees were allowed to grow before harvesting them.
Open Floor Plans
New homeowners are making the most of their space by incorporating large, flowing floor plans into their home designs. Where once there were separate rooms for the dining room, living room and the seemingly ancient “media room,” open floor plans seemingly meld multiple rooms together bringing a greater sense of togetherness, without family members being heaped on top of one another in a cramped living room.
*The Top 10 Hottest Home Building Trends (n.d.), Natale Builders, Retrieved from, https://www.natalebuilders.com/blog/the-top-10-hottest-home-building-trends
1. Introduce the Colors of Fall
By introducing the deep, rich hues of yellow, reds and oranges into your home, it will inflict a warm, cozy atmosphere. These fall colors do not need to be on a grand scale, you can significantly alter the feel of a space with simple adjustments:
2. Add Texture to Your Space
While summer is all about light materials, fall is all about texture and blankets. Add some patterned or textured pillows to your sofas and chairs for visual appeal. For texture, add rugs to your space. A rug will immediately add warmth to a room. And don’t forget throw blankets. Causally draping a blanket over a back of a chair will invoke a sense of warmth. Your family and friends will appreciate the coziness and warmth of your home when visiting.
3. Change Your Light Bulbs
Exchange your cool bulbs for warm bulbs. Instantly, your room will seem warmer. This is a cheap and easy way to change the tone of your space without breaking the bank.
4. Style with Scandinavian Simplicity
Carpets are no longer in style – the trend is now open flooring and Scandinavian elegance
The Nordic style keeps it simple by using wood flooring and whitewashed furniture. While this may sound minimalistic, using sheep rugs and pillows gives this trend a sense warmth and coziness.
Garages are rarely connected to a home’s heating and cooling system, so why insulate a garage door? Energy-efficient smart garage doors offer a range of advantages, from cooling the garage during hot weather to offering better security. The right garage door can even increase the value of your home.
Why You Need an Energy-Efficient Garage Door for Your HomeGarages are often the largest uninsulated room in a home, which can mean less energy efficiency. Garage air temperature will transfer to rooms next to or above the uninsulated space, forcing your home’s heating and cooling system to work harder. Opening the doors that connect the garage to the interior of the home also affects your home’s temperature, especially in winter.
How Summer Heat Affects Your Garage
In the summer, uninsulated garages can become hot enough to damage electrical components, including the electronics in stored electrical items, your garage door and even your car. If that were not bad enough, excessive heat also increases the rate at which car batteries fail.
If you’re not using energy-efficient garage doors, the heat can shorten the working life of your garage door, leaving you with repairs or replacement costs.
How Winter Cold Affects Your GarageYour garage temperature in winter can be as little as 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. In cold climates, this often results in below-freezing garage temperatures which can damage your garage door springs and lubrication.
Just as ice dams in gutters cause problems for your house, ice that makes its way into your garage can cause water damage. Ice buildup can also cause a garage door to freeze shut and create complications for your commute.
Benefits of an Energy-Efficient Garage DoorDo garage walls need to be insulated? The short answer is yes, but wall insulation alone (without insulating the garage door) won’t solve the problem. A garage door functions as a wall and an entry point, so unless you insulate garage doors, you’re essentially leaving one wall of the room uninsulated.
The benefits of installing energy-efficient garage doors include the following:
What Makes a Garage Door Energy Efficient?Multiple factors determine whether a garage door is energy efficient, including the material used to make the door, the garage door R-value or U-factor, and the number of layers in the garage door. Depending on your needs, you can purchase an insulated door or retrofit your existing garage door. Check out the list below for more on what to look for in an energy-efficient garage door.
Garage door insulation is one of the best ways to keep your garage at an ideal temperature throughout all the seasons of the year.
Garage door insulation offers the same advantages as any other insulation: it helps control garage temperature in winter and assists with cooling a garage in summer. Most garage doors have one to three layers, with more layers providing more insulation. For energy efficiency, triple layers—which includes a layer of insulation between the outer layers—is your best choice.
What is garage door U-factor?Your garage door U-factor measures the heat transference of your garage door, or how well heat can move through the material. A high garage door U-factor means that your garage door transfers heat easily. To keep your garage cool in summer or warm in winter, you want a garage door with a U-factor of .35 or less, although the lower the U-factor the better.
What is garage door R-value?Garage door R-value describes the ability of a garage door to slow or prevent conductive heat—when heat is transferred from one surface to another. The higher the R-value, the more the door resists conductive heat.
The standard garage door R-value recommendation for a detached garage depends on your climate, but if you’re looking for the best R-value garage door insulation, you want to find a garage door with a minimum R-value of 12 or more to be most effective.
Pro tip: Garage door R-value is only one consideration when choosing an energy-efficient door. The door’s ability to prevent air leaks is another.
The garage door material has a direct impact on the energy efficiency of your garage. Steel, aluminum, wood and composite wood are the more common materials used in garage doors.
Steel offers relatively little insulation on its own but is a good choice when combined with an internal layer of polyurethane insulation. While Aluminum and wood are both viable materials for your garage door, composite wood offers the attractive facade of wood and can be paired with steel and polyurethane for better insulation.
How to Use Smart Garage Door Openers to Make Your Garage Door More Energy EfficientKnowing how to keep a garage warm during the winter—especially if you forget to close the door when you leave—is a common issue for homeowners. Forgetting to close the door when you leave the house can have an impact on your energy savings. Smart home automation ideas can help!
Keep your home safe and secure with a smart garage door opener.Garage doors aren’t smart in and of themselves, and only become smart garage doors once you add smart technology to the garage door opener. Once installed, the smart tech sets the garage door to open and close by syncing its operation to a smart car, a smart device app, or by linking its door operation to your car’s location using geofencing. When the car enters or leaves a defined geographic area, the garage door will open or close, respectively.
Link your smart assistant to your garage door as part of your daily routine.A smart garage door can communicate with your home’s smart assistant and automated home security system, allowing you to control the door through your daily smart-assistant routine. You can set your smart assistant to open and close the garage door at specified times of day.
For security, you can set your assistant to send you an alert if the door opens at unexpected times. If you love the idea of automating more than just your garage door, learn more about how to make your entire home a smart home.
Pro tip: Protect your garage door opener and other garage electronics from electrical storms or power surges with a quality surge protector.
Other Ways to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your GarageInsulating your garage door is only one step you can take if you’re wondering how to keep a garage warm during the winter or are concerned about cooling a garage in the summer. And improving the energy efficiency of your garage may qualify you for a tax benefit: Constellation’s “Homeowners’ Guide to Tax Credits and Rebates” has a great list of home improvement tax credits.
Check out these other ways to improve your garage’s energy efficiency:
*"Choosing Energy-Efficient Garage Doors", (Aug. 10, 2018). Constellation. Retrieved from, https://blog.constellation.com/2018/08/10/energy-efficient-garage-doors/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=08-23-2018-resi-monthly-email.
Before you start picking out tile and paint chips, be sure you know how much it will cost to remodel your house.
Ready for a kitchen renovation? Anxious for a bathroom remodel? The easy part is knowing your goal for home remodeling — whether you’re trying to keep up with your growing family, add office space, or increase your home’s value.
But figuring out how to plan a home renovation that doesn’t break the bank can be tricky.
Here are five key steps in planning your home remodeling project.
1. Estimate home renovation costs As a general rule of thumb, you should spend no more on each room than the value of that room as a percentage of your overall house value. (Get an approximate value of your home to start with.)
For example, a kitchen generally accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the property value, so spend no more than this on kitchen renovation costs. If your home is worth $200,000, for example, you’ll want to spend $30,000 or less.
Something else to keep in mind: Contrary to popular belief, kitchen renovations offer among the lowest return on investment, according to analysis from Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate. Every dollar you spend on a kitchen remodel increases the value of your home by 50 cents.
The highest return on investment? A mid-range bathroom remodel.
2. Consider home remodeling loan options If you plan on borrowing money to fund your home renovations, there are a number of loans out there to help with just that.
3. Get home renovation quotes from contractors Some contractors will give you an estimate based on what they think you want done, and work completed under these circumstances is almost guaranteed to cost more. You have to be very specific about what you want done, and spell it out in the contract — right down to the materials you’d like used.
Get quotes from several contractors, tossing out the bid from the one who gives you the lowest estimate. Going with this choice could be asking for problems, as low-priced contractors are known to cut corners — at your expense.
4. Stick to the home remodeling plan As the renovation moves along, you might be tempted to add on another “small” project or incorporate the newest design trend at the last minute. But know that every time you change your mind, there’s a change order, and even minor changes can be costly. Strive to stick to the original agreement, if possible.
5. Account for hidden home renovation costs Your home may look perfect on the outside, but there could be issues lurking beneath the surface. In fact, hidden imperfections are one of the reasons renovation projects end up costing more than you anticipated.
Rather than scramble to come up with extra money after the fact, give yourself a cushion upfront. Factor in 10 to 20 percent (or more) of your contracted budget for unforeseen expenses, as they can — and do — occur. In fact, it’s rare that any project goes completely smoothly.
*Gibbons, Vera. (Mar. 13, 2018). How to Set a Home Renovation Budget. Retrieved from, https://www.zillow.com/blog/budget-for-home-renovations-177504/
These smart upgrades and fixes won't cost you a lot of money, but they could help you clinch a deal if you're trying to sell.
With housing prices increasing, now is the time invest in your home to capitalize on its value. Here's what veteran real estate professionals from around the country say are the best value home improvements, whether you are selling now or in the future.
1. Create Space
Knock out a non-structural wall, or even remove that kitchen island. Anything that opens the space and creates a sense of flow in the house is generating a response from buyers who can afford to be choosy. For the price of a few hundred dollars, you'll transform the feel of the house. "Right now buyers want a wide open floor plan, the living room right off the kitchen. They are into big spaces," says Kristin Wellins, Senior Manager of Program Development for ERA Real Estate.
Seattle broker Reba Haas says a kitchen island can be an asset, creating needed storage space. But if the kitchen has enough cabinets, it could pay to haul the island away. Haas says homeowners might want to consider a moveable island. "You can adjust them to you needs," she explains.
2. Prune, Limb, and Landscape
Tangled trees and unkempt bushes can obscure views, darken interiors, promote mold, and block a good look at the house.
"People forget about their trees more than almost anything," says Roger Voisinet, a thirty-year veteran of the Charlottesville, Virginia real estate market. Yet, landscaping is one of the top three investments that bring the biggest return. According to a 2007 survey of 2,000 brokers conducted by HomeGain, an online real estate marketing site, an investment of around $400 or $500 dollars in landscaping, can bring a return of four times that. "It could really make a significant difference in the price. Nobody likes to spend money, but landscaping might even be the most important thing, even if owners have kept up the house," says Voisinet.
Reba Haas agrees, "Overgrown landscaping is a problem at all price points." Haas says it hurts with marketing too. "People say, 'Where's the house?" If buyers can't see what they are getting, they just move right on."
And if neglected, mother nature may go wild at considerable cost. Voisinet looked at one house recently where a fallen limb from a poorly cared for tree caused $2,000 in damage.
3. Let in the Light
The number one item on the 2007 HomeGain survey, lighting—everything from a dimmer switch to the increasingly popular sun tubes—noticeably enhances a home's appeal. California broker Robert Bailey says, "Dimmers allow you to create a mood."
He's a booster of sun tubes, too. Less expensive than framing in a skylight, sun tubes—also known as light pipes, sunscoops, and tubular skylights—use reflective material to funnel natural light from a globe-capped hole cut in a rooftop down through a ceiling fixture and into a room. Bailey says, with tubular skylights, sunlight is nice, and moonlight is even nicer. "I'm putting six of them in my house. I don't need a skylight, but I do want the natural light."
A few other ways to light things up: Fix broken panes, make sure windows open, and consider lights that use motion detectors to turn themselves off. Remember high wattage bulbs make small spaces feel larger, and soft lighting brings warmth to empty spaces.
4. Don't Put Off Care and Maintenance
Before thinking about a fancy upgrade to the kitchen, address the basics. Insulate the attic, repair plumbing leaks, replace rusty rain gutters, inspect the furnace and the septic system, replace or repair leaky windows, install storm doors, weed the flower beds. As broker Robert Bailey says, "What you don't notice as a weed, I see as a weekend of work."
These kinds of fixes go a long way toward value. Jessica Gopalakrishnan with HomeGain says, "Starting with a couple hundred dollars on a few things could increase the value of your house by a few thousand dollars. People are surprised by that. It's exciting. People think they have to put in a lot of money to see a big difference and they really don't."
Investing in maintenance and repairs is not only moneywise; could also be crucial to a sale. Brokers and agents from across the country say the houses that get attention in this buyers market are in tip-top shape. John Veneris, the regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors in Downers Grove, Illinois, says, "What's important in this market, now more than ever, because there is so much inventory, the houses that sell are in pristine condition and are priced to the market."
5. Go Green
If maintenance and repairs are in hand, Virginia broker Roger Voisinet says put the greenbacks into green efficiency. If your heating or air conditioning systems are old, "new ones are so much better, with savings of up to 30 to 40%." Another example he points to: for $7,000 for the unit and installation, with $2,100 back in green tax credits, a solar-powered water heater could save you as much as 80% on your water-heating bills.
Research published by The Appraisal Journal estimates that energy savings add twenty times the annual savings to the value of your property. Though Roger Voisenet cautions, "a lot of appraisers don't know that yet," he says buyers appreciate now what appraisers will recognize later: Energy savers make your house more desirable. Says Seattle broker Reba Haas, "Do the update green, because everyone is now, for the first time in five years, asking about the utilities."
6. Home Begins at the Front Door
ERA's Kristin Willens says, "Don't underestimate the power of a front door. People make up their minds in the first seven seconds of entering a house."
Surveyed brokers like a working door bell, and Voisinet says don't forget an overhang, such as an awning or portico, above the front door. "If you don't have a way out of the rain, or shelter from the sun while you are fumbling for your keys, you are really missing out."
If you're up for more exterior upgrades, move to the back or sides of the house. John Veneris, the regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors in Downers Grove, Illinois, says, "People get back dollar for dollar for the decks they put in." Even in the snow-laden housing market of Craig, Colorado, Realtor Vicki Burns says the right deck on the right house can be an eye-catcher. "I had a home come onto the market with a small yard. It was about 20 by 30. The owner had encompassed almost the whole area with a deck. The buyers really liked that. It dressed it up and enhanced the area, making it an extension of the living space." Burns notes, "If the deck is done with the right material so that it will stay nice-looking and in good shape, it'll hold value."
7. What's Under Your Feet?
Don't undervalue the materials you're standing on. Ninety-four percent of real estate pros recommend spending some money on floors. But it doesn't have to be a lot of money. For an estimated average investment of $600 to $900, brokers report that the return in value comes in at up to $2,000.
And you can spend even less than that. A few well-placed nails can eliminate distracting
squeaks. Other small projects with a big impact include repairing broken tile, patching damaged floor boards, and tossing out the wall-to-wall carpeting.
In some cases, however, a new floor is in order. Broker Reba Haas says one would-be seller's house might've sold were it not for a kitchen floor that drew questions from buyers. "The number one problem was the fact that her floor was really personal: blue and green vinyl. It clashed with the other upgrades in the kitchen. Everyone kept saying, 'That kitchen!'"
If you want a wood floor that holds value, Reba Haas suggests engineered hardwoods. If you like cork, she says floating cork wears better than cork tile which is glued down and can peel.
8. Easy Bath Upgrades
Brokers, one and all, say spiffing up the kitchen and bath is a sure bet for adding value to your home. Surveyed brokers say these kinds of improvements can get expensive. It may not be economical to do a major renovation if you are trying to spend as little as possible before putting a house up for sale. But some upgrades are cheap, easy, and fast...especially in the bathroom.
Replace frosted glass for clear glass, clean the grout, remove rust stains, apply fresh caulk, update doorknobs and cabinet pulls, replace faucets, and install a low-flush toilet. Even buying a new toilet seat can make a difference. Bailey says, "You can spend $500 on a bathroom, and it's totally tuned up."
9. Neutral Wall Colors
If you're getting ready to put a house on the market, don't allow walls with chipped paint to go unmaintained. If you need to do more than a touch up, choose neutral colors.
Broker Reba Haas says, "Get out of your personal taste." She says buyers want to be able to project their own ideas onto a space, and sellers can help with toned-down wall color.
10. Remove the Question Marks from Your House
Haas calls it the "What's that?" factor, and whatever it is (1950s wallpaper in a 1930s bungalow, a broken front step or cracked threshold, green-and-blue vinyl flooring), fix it or remove it. She recommends getting the impartial advice of a friend who can tell you what's drawing attention and raising questions for the wrong reasons. "The more questions, the more people are likely to say, 'We don't want that house.' Sometimes it's the quick fix that someone put in thinking, 'I can live with it.''' Haas says those fixes bite you back later when it's time to sell because prospective buyers are looking for more than jerrybuilt solutions.
11. Bonus Advice: Be Patient
Illinois Realtor John Veneris says homeowners can enlist the help of a trusted real estate professional to consult on what changes to make. "The realtor will keep them informed of changes in the marketplace. So they really need a team approach with the realtor…and a bit of patience."
Veneris says patience may be rewarded sooner that you might think.
*Baron, Jeanne (n.d.). Brokers Tell All: 10 Ways to Boost House Value. Retrieved from, https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ideas/brokers-tell-all-10-ways-to-boost-house-value.
To calculate how much remodel you can afford, follow these four steps: Ballpark the cost, establish a spending limit, get quotes from contractors, and set your priorities.
When it comes to home improvements, knowing what you want is the easy part. The tougher question is figuring out how much you can afford.
Follow this four-step plan to arrive at the answer.
1. Ballpark the CostsFirst, get a handle on how much your remodeling dreams will cost. In general, major upgrades, such as a bathroom remodel or a family-room addition, run $100 to $200 and more per square foot. If you’ll be using a design pro or remodeling contractor, discuss your project with them to get a rough idea of costs.
2. Figure Out How Much You Have to SpendOnce you’ve zeroed in on a project, the next question is whether you have the money. If you’re paying cash, that’s easy to answer. But if you’re borrowing, you need to assess how much a bank will lend you and what that loan will add to your monthly expenses.
There are three basic types of loan options:
Because a HELOC is a line of credit rather than a lump-sum loan, it comes with a checkbook that you use to withdraw money as needed, up to the maximum amount of the loan.
The catch is that the minimum payment on a HELOC is just that month’s interest; you’re not required to pay back any principal. Like only paying the minimum due on a credit card, that’s a recipe for getting stuck in debt.
Instead, establish your own repayment schedule. You can do this by paying 1/60th of the principal (for a five-year pay down) or 1/120th (for 10 years) in addition to the monthly interest. If you can’t afford that much, then you should reconsider your project.
3. Get Quotes from ContractorsBefore seeking bids, determine exactly what you want, right down to the kitchen countertop material and the type of faucet. By specifying these details up front, you ensure that prospective contractors are all pricing the same items.
Get recommendations for at least three contractors from friends, neighbors, and other tradesmen who you trust. Give each one your project description and specific product lists and request an itemized bid. To find the right contractor:
Reality Check: Cost Overruns
Take the winning contractor’s bid and add a 15% to 20% contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, you’re ready to get started. If not, it’s time to scale back your plans.
4. Set Priorities and Trim the Project to Fit Your BudgetDreams and budget not in alignment? Carefully scale down your dream — chances are you’ll end up satisfied and solvent. Enlist your contractor for suggestions on cutting costs — that way, he’ll be an ally in helping you stick to your budget.
Low-cost alternatives. For example, specify laminate countertops instead of granite.
Keeping older items that are still in working condition. Appliances, furnaces, and lighting fixtures can be upgraded later.
Making the project smaller. Trim that bathroom addition from 100 square feet to 80 square feet.
Buy it yourself. You’ll save up to 20% on your project costs if you buy materials and appliances yourself. Be sure to coordinate your BIY efforts with your contractor.
*Marks, Oliver (n.d.). Budget for a Remodel. Retrieved from, https://www.houselogic.com/remodel/remodeling-tips-advice/how-to-budget-for-home-remodel/.
Home Improvements: $100 or LessTip 1: Spend an hour with a pro.
Invite a Realtor or interior designer over to check out your home. Many Realtors will do this as a courtesy, but you will probably have to pay a consultation fee to a designer. Check with several designers in your area -- a standard hourly fee is normally less than $100.
In an hour, a professional can give you lots of ideas for needed improvements. Even small suggestions, such as paint colors or furniture placement, can go a long way toward improving the look and feel of your home.
Tip 2: Find inspiration.
Want an even cheaper alternative to a professional consultation? Search for remodeling and decorating inspiration in design-oriented magazines, books, TV shows and Web sites. Simply tear out or print off the ideas you want to try and start your to-do list. Keep it simple: when remodeling on a tight budget, do-it-yourself type projects are best.
Tip 3: Inspect it!
Not every home improvement is cosmetic. Hidden problems like deteriorating roofs, termite infestation or outdated electrical systems can negatively impact your home's value. Hire an inspector to check out the areas of your home that you don't normally see. Small problems, like a hidden water leak, can become expensive headaches if you put off repairs. A little investment now can save you loads of cash later.
Tip 4: Paint, paint, paint.
One of the simplest, most cost-effective improvements of all is a fresh coat of paint. Newly painted rooms look clean and updated -- and that spells value. Neutral paint colors appeal to the greatest number of people, therefore making your home more desirable. On average, a gallon of paint costs around $25, leaving you plenty of money to buy rollers, tape, drop cloths and brushes. So, buy a few gallons and get busy!
Tip 5: Cut energy costs.
If you think your utility bill is a fixed amount, call your local utility company to find out. Many energy providers offer free energy audits of their customers' homes. They can show you how to maximize the energy efficiency of your home. A power- and water-saving home will conserve your money now, and is more valuable in the long run. Plus, you can use the money you save for more updates!
Home Improvements: $100-$200Tip 1: Plant a tree.
Plan for the future with a landscaping improvement that will mature over time: a shade tree. Not only will a mature tree make your home more desirable, it will also provide a habitat for wildlife and add curb appeal. Plus, a properly placed tree can cut your cooling costs by as much as 40 percent. So why not grab a shovel already?
Tip 2: Low-maintenance landscaping saves you money now, adds value when you sell.
Shrubs and colorful plants will add curb appeal to your home, but make sure you "think green" while you're shopping at the local garden center. Purchase plants that are native to your region, or water-conserving drought-tolerant vegetation. These require less water and maintenance, which means you'll save time and have a little more green in your yard and your wallet.
Tip 3: Add a money-saving luxury.
Here's another way to tap into extra savings: install a water filtration system in your kitchen. Not only do these systems purify your water, you'll also save the money you were spending on bottled water. A water filtration system is an inexpensive addition, but it's the sort of small luxury that home buyers love.
Tip 4: Improve the air quality inside your home.
Air quality isn't just about outdoor conditions --older carpets can hide contaminates and allergens. Hire a professional company to test your indoor air quality to determine if your rugs need to be replaced. When choosing new flooring, update your home with environmentally-friendly natural products like tile or laminate floors. Hard surface floors are easier to keep clean, and are usually more appealing to buyers.
Tip 5: Save the popcorn for the movies.
Few structural elements date a house more than popcorn ceilings. So dedicate a weekend to ditching the dated look and adding dollar signs to the value of your home. First, visit your local hardware store for a solution to soften the texture. Then, simply scrape the popcorn away. It'll bring your house into the new millennium with minimal cost and effort.
Home Improvements: $200 to $400Tip 1: A messy lawn creates a bad first impression.
Overgrown or patchy lawns and oversized bushes will cause your home to stand out -- in a bad way. The good news? Taming your jungle is an easy fix. For a few hundred dollars, you can hire a lawn service company to trim your lawn and shape your hedges. Your home's curb yard will go from cluttered to clean-cut -- without blowing your budget.
Tip 2: Cleanliness counts.
You only get one shot at a first impression, so make the interior of your home shine from the entrance to the exit. For less than $400, you can hire a cleaning service for a thorough top-to-bottom scrubbing. Even if you clean your home regularly, you likely miss or overlook some nooks and crannies. Let a cleaning service do the dirty work to really make your home sparkle.
Tip 3: Visually increase your home's square footage.
The size of your home dramatically affects its value, but square footage isn't the only thing that counts. Make sure your home feels as large as possible by visually increasing the space in every room.
Sunny rooms feel larger and more open, so replace heavy drapes with blinds or shutters that let light in. Also, adding a large mirror in each room can visually double the space in a room. Finally, clear the clutter. For less than $400, add an attractive shelving unit to an underused space and store your clutter out of sight.
Tip 4: Add new energy-efficient fixtures.
A functional, decorative ceiling fan is a beautiful thing. But an outdated, wobbly, loud or broken fan is a useless eyesore. Replace old fixtures with new to make your home more enjoyable now -- and increase the bottom line should you decide to sell.
Tip 5: Small bathroom updates equal a big return.
Bathroom updates are always a smart move. Even if you can't afford a full remodel, small changes can update the room without bruising your bottom line. For a quick, inexpensive face lift, replace dated wallpaper or light fixtures with updated paint and lighting.
Home Improvements: $400 to $750Tip 1: Update your bathroom and add lots of value.
The two rooms that gain the most value from small renovation are the kitchen and bathroom. You can do a minor bathroom remodel for less than $750, and even one cost-effective change will guarantee a lot of bang for your buck. Replacing an outdated vanity, old plumping or lighting fixtures or adding a new tile floor will give your bath an updated, modern look -- without breaking the bank.
Tip 2: Any kitchen update equals added value.
The same rule applies in the kitchen. You don't have to start the room's design from scratch to maximize your home's value. Start by swapping out just one item, such as a stained sink or ancient microwave for shiny new stainless models. Even small kitchen updates will add big value to your home.
Tip 3: Replace any worn carpets or area rugs.
Take a look at your home's soft flooring. Are your carpets and area rugs stained or worn? Nothing turns buyers off more than the thought that they will immediately need to replace all of the flooring in a home. If a limited budget keeps you from replacing all the flooring, start by replacing the carpet in the room that shows the most wear and tear. You can replace the others as your finances allow.
Tip 4: Keep up with regular maintenance and repairs.
Walk around your home and make a list of all the small things that need to be repaired. Small repairs may not seem important by themselves, but little things can add up to create the impression that your home has been neglected. Don't feel comfortable tackling repairs yourself? Hire a handyman for a day and watch your "to-do" list disappear. Staying on top of maintenance today eliminates problems down the road should you decide to sell.
Tip 5: Get help with getting organized.
Hire a lifestyle coach for a day. How does that help your home? The coach will help you organize your life, which includes organizing your home. A clutter-free house is part of a more organized life, and an orderly home is more valuable.
Home Improvements: $750 to $1,000Tip 1: Go tankless.
Trade your standard water heater for a tankless model. Most old-fashioned water heaters keep 50 gallons of water hot at all times -- whether you use the water or not. Tankless water heaters heat only the water you need, as you need it. The eco-friendly water heater will save energy and money, and will help set you home apart if you sell.
Tip 2: Upgrade your appliances.
Eighty-six the old school appliances for sleek new energy-efficient ones. An appliance with an energy star label has been certified by the government to use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than conventional appliances. Matching stainless appliances will not only look great now but will make your home shine brighter than the competition if it's on the market.
Tip 3: Go for the green.
Everyone loves a yard with thick, green grass. With less than $1,000 and a weekend's time, you can replace your existing patchy mix of weeds and grass with fresh new sod. You'll be amazed at the difference this one change will make in your home's curb appeal and value.
Home Improvements: $1,000 to $1,500Tip 1: Spruce up your ceilings.
The ceiling makes up one-sixth of a room's total area, yet is often the room's most neglected space. Updating your home's ceiling will add architectural interest, and net a lot of bang for your buck. If you still have popcorn ceilings, hire a contractor to scrape them smooth or do it yourself. To add a sophisticated custom look to a smooth ceiling, install crown moldings or box beams for a coffered look. Small touches like this will help your home stand out from the pack.
Tip 2: Update your home's entrance.
Your front door and entrance are among the first thing people see when they enter your home, so they should complement your home's overall design. If your existing door isn't up to par, pick up a more energy-efficient and attractive replacement. Whether you choose a solid wood door or a decorative entry with stained glass panels, a welcoming front door is sure to increase your home's bottom line.
Tip 3: Consult a design pro.
If you're unsure of which design style or paint color to use, hire a designer. They'll bring discriminating taste and a trained eye to help with making the big decisions. Even if you don't have the funds to do a full remodel now, they'll help you put together a cohesive plan to ensure a pulled-together finished look. When you get the right mix of time and money, you'll know exactly which project to tackle next.
Home Improvements: $1,500 to $2,000Tip 1: Save on air conditioning costs.
Tired of expensive energy bills? A whole house fan is a great alternative to air conditioning and uses one-tenth the electricity of AC. "Green" home improvements like the energy-saving fan are popular with today's home buyers. As the cost of electricity continues to rise, green energy alternatives will only gain popularity.
Tip 2: Brighten up.
A bright way to increase the value of your home is to add lighting. A well-lit room feels more cheerful, and makes spaces feel larger and cleaner. Bright rooms also show you have nothing to hide, so prospective buyers will feel at ease when touring your home.
Hire an electrician to add recessed lights to a dim kitchen or family room or elegant sconces to a formal dining or living room. You'll enjoy the lighting now, and your home will feel more welcoming to home buyers later.
Tip 3: Add the right landscaping and watch your home's value grow.
Landscaping makes a huge difference in the curb appeal of your home. For less than $2,000, hire a landscape designer to create a plan that will make your home's exterior really shine. For maximum impact, plant mature trees or fast growing varieties. Though these can be pricy, they will instantly make your home feel more established.
Home Improvements: $2,000 to $3,000Tip 1: Kitchen or bath remodels are always a safe bet.
Improving your home is a solid investment at any level -- but if you have two to three thousand dollars, a great place to start is by upgrading either the kitchen or bath. You don't have to do a complete floor-to-ceiling remodel in either room to reap financial benefits. In fact, modest kitchen or bath updates can be your best bet for a big return, netting an 80 to 85 percent return on average.
Tip 2: Protect your investment.
A home is the largest investment most people make, so treat it that way! Hire a financial planner to analyze all of the financing options that are available. A financial whiz can tell you if you should refinance to lower your monthly payments or pull out some equity to pay for value-adding improvements.
Tip 3: Bring the outdoors in.
Consider turning two standard windows into an opening for beautiful French or sliding glass doors. Full-view glass doors really brighten up the space and a light and airy room is always more attractive. Also, with a view of the outdoors, the room will feel much larger. Another bonus: modern doors are energy-efficient, cutting down on heating and cooling costs. That means more cash in your pocket now and a financial bonus should you decide to sell.
Home Improvements: $3,000 to $5,000Tip 1: Add closet or garage storage.
Realtors agree that ample storage space tops most home buyers' list of wants. For less than $5,000, consider upgrading your home's storage by adding custom shelving to a closet or garage. Then, get organized. Start by sorting your belongings, then stash them away in your new closet. You'll end up with a clutter-free space that maximizes your home's value.
Tip 2: Green flooring choices equal more green in your wallet.
Worn, tired carpet will not only turn off homebuyers, but it can make you feel worn and tired too. Replace it with the hottest trend in flooring: renewable, environmentally-friendly bamboo. Solid surface floors are easy to keep clean and give your home an upscale look and feel. "Green" flooring choices, like bamboo, minimally impact the environment and are a big selling point to today's environmentally-conscious home buyers.
Tip 3: Resurface concrete.
Replacing the cracked concrete surfaces around your home can cost a small fortune. But for a fraction of that cost, concrete can be resurfaced in a multitude of colors and finishes. Consider adding a cobblestone finish to your driveway, a brick look to an old walkway or a slate finish around the pool or patio. Whichever texture you choose, it will be a huge improvement over standard concrete -- and potential home buyers will take note.
Home Improvements: $5,000 and UpTip 1: Refresh the exterior paint.
The condition of your home's exterior is critical to the overall curb appeal. If you put your house on the market and the exterior paint looks bad, a buyer may assume the interior has been neglected as well.
Refreshing your facade with a coat of paint will preserve and protect your home's exterior siding, and the right paint color can transform a home from dull to dazzling. But remember to choose your color wisely -- a house painted with an overly bright or bland color will make a house less appealing and hurt the value.
Tip 2: Go solar to save some green.
Save energy bill greenbacks by going "green" with a solar water heater. The installed price is anywhere between two to five thousand dollars, but these systems can slash your hot water bills by as much as 80 percent. You'll also attract energy-conscious home buyers should you decide to sell. Install a solar water heater where there's unobstructed southern exposure and you'll have savings made in the shade.
Tip 3: Kitchen remodels are king.
Most experts agree that if you plan on updating only one room in your house, it should be the kitchen. Large, open kitchens have become the social hub of the modern home. High-end touches like granite countertops, custom cabinets and energy-efficient stainless steel appliances are the gold standard in modern kitchens. Experts agree that kitchen remodels return an average of 80 to 85 percent of every dollar spent. You can expect an even higher return if you are remodeling an extremely outdated kitchen.
*"Increase Your Home Value on Any Budget". (n.d.). Home and Garden Television. Retrieved from, https://www.hgtv.com/design/real-estate/increase-your-home-value-on-any-budget