Imagine walking into an important job interview looking like you just dragged yourself out of bed. You’d be unlikely to make a good impression and diminish your chance of securing the job.

The same goes for selling a home. First impressions are lasting. Some buyers won’t even look at the inside of a listing that doesn’t have good curb appeal.

Today’s buyers are picky. There is no sense of urgency in the market, so buyers are holding out for the best home they can find that will work for them for years to come. In some areas, there are a lot of homes for sale. It’s important to make sure that buyers will be attracted to your home before they even walk through the front door.

Fortunately, exterior improvements needn’t be expensive. The recent Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report 2010-2011 found that the improvements that yielded the highest return on the investment when sold were a new steel front door and a new garage door.

The average cost nationally for a new front door was $1,218; the return was 102 percent. The average cost for a new garage door was $1,191; the return was 83.9 percent. The top nine of 10 most cost-effective improvements nationally were for exterior projects. Curb appeal is as important as ever, and may be more so in this market.

The Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report is a collaborative report done annually by Remodeling Magazine and the National Association of Realtors. It compares construction costs with resale values, which are based on estimates from more than 3,000 Realtors and appraisers.

Sprucing up the front yard for sale needn’t be costly. Clean out weeds and dead plants. Add flowering plants for color and mulch to tidy up areas that aren’t heavily planted. Replace a lawn that has seen better days with less lawn and a border bed of flowering shrubs.

Do in-ground planting well in advance, if possible, so that plants have a chance to get established before your home goes on the market. If you have no choice and must plant at last minute, be sure to remove the ID tags from the nursery.

A deteriorated fence should be removed, repaired or replaced. Any peeling paint on the front walk and steps and house exterior and trim should be refreshed. The side of the house that gets the most exposure needs the most maintenance. If you’ve let it go, you’ll be docked dollars by the buyers unless you repaint where needed before you sell.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The amount returned on home improvement investments varies from one location to the next. It’s important to consult with your local real estate agent before you embark on an upgrade to make sure that you don’t overpay on an improvement that won’t generate the desired result.

Most homeowners assume they’ll get their money back and more when they sell. In fact, most upgrade investments often don’t return 100 percent of the amount invested, particularly in a down market.

A minor mid-range kitchen remodel returns 72.8 percent nationally, according to the 2010-11 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Index. In the Pacific region of the U.S., you’re likely to recoup 84.1 percent.

However, a major upscale kitchen remodel pays back only 59.7 percent nationally and 66 percent in the Pacific region. It makes sense to take on a major remodel project only if you’re staying in your home and can enjoy the use of the improvements before selling.

A deck addition ranked high on the list of popular exterior improvements. Although, nationally the cost recouped is only 72.8 percent, it may be an essential enhancement if your home has no outdoor living space and all the homes for sale in your neighborhood do.

THE CLOSING: Supply and demand in your local area will also impact how much you’ll recoup from your fix-up investments.

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