It’s hard to convince some sellers that it’s worthwhile to put money into a home they want to sell. Many sellers would rather put money into a new house. However, if you can increase your profit on the house you sell, you’ll have more to invest elsewhere. The trick is to make sure that you invest in cost effective improvements.

It usually doesn’t make sense to invest in expensive capital improvements when you sell. For instance, replacing all the windows in your home, or extensively remodeling the kitchen usually won’t pay off. In fact, in most cases you won’t recoup all of the money you invest. However, if you add a deck to a California home that otherwise has no outdoor living, you’ll probably get back more than you invested.

The main reason to make improvements before you sell is to overcome buyer’s objections. So, in an area, like California, where houses with good outdoor living sell for a premium, adding a deck, or creating a yard out of an unappealing overgrown patch of dirt is a good investment, as long as you can keep your costs down.

How much you earn on renovations differs from one part of the country to the next. For, instance, the money you invest in a new kitchen in a San Francisco home can return up to about 150 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine. However, in the Midwest, you’ll be lucky to break even. So, before you start any fix-up project, be sure to check with your local real estate agent to find out which improvements pay back the most in your area.

It’s also a good idea to consult with a decorator that specializes in staging houses for sale. These decorators, if they’re good, are up on the latest trends in home buyer preferences. They can make recommendations about inexpensive ways to improve the look of your home so that it will appeal to today’s home buyers. Most of these decorators consult on an hourly basis. Fees range from $50-$150 per hour.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Updating the look of your home is more important when the inventory of homes for sale increases. Buyers become harder to please when they have more listings to choose from. It’s a good idea to look at the listings you’ll be competing against. This will give you a good idea of how much you need to improve your home to gain an edge on the competition.

A home that’s dark and dated won’t be as popular with buyers as one that has been lightened it up with fresh paint, new light fixtures and floor coverings. These are the most cost effective improvements. You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make to replace light fixtures from the 1970’s with new, inexpensive fixtures.

Speaking of lights, plan to keep your lights on and window coverings open while your house is being shown. First impressions are lasting. It’s off-putting to most buyers to walk into a house that’s dark and gloomy. If your window coverings are old, consider removing them completely. Cover windows that have unappealing outlooks with inexpensive opaque treatments that let light through.

A fresh coat of paint almost always pays off. But, don’t even consider investing a penny without getting an expert’s opinion about what colors to use. Color preferences change over time. A seller recently repainted the exterior of his home using the same colors that he’d used fifteen years earlier. Now, the house won’t need painting again for years, but most buyers think it needs painting now because it looks old-fashioned.

THE CLOSING: If this seller had sought the advice of a color consultant first, he could have sold for a higher price.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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