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Selling your home? How to renovate right

The rooms that are most commonly renovated before a sale — the kitchen and bathroom — are also the most difficult to work with. Here, TODAY real estate contributor Barbara Corcoran gives readers advice on how to get started.
/ Source: TODAY

Looking to renovate your home before putting it on the selling market? The rooms that are most commonly renovated — the kitchen and bathroom — are also the most difficult to work with. From cabinets and countertops to tiles and appliances, there are many factors to consider. Here, TODAY real estate contributor Barbara Corcoran gives readers advice on how to get started.

First off, here are the renovations that will get you the most money back for your efforts:

Refinish the backsplash You can add some color or contrast above the counter with inexpensive paint, tile, glass or ceramic. The area you need to cover is small, but changing it makes a big difference.

Revamp — don’t replace — the cabinets
You can give cabinets a fresh coat of paint or sand them and stain them. If the cabinet doors are old-fashioned or worn, you can keep the cabinet boxes and just replace the doors for about half what it would cost to replace the whole cabinet. Adding new knobs and drawer pulls updates a kitchen, and a little crown molding gives a more polished look.

Add or update your islandBuilt-in and free-wheeling islands add both work and storage space to your kitchen and most buyers love them. If you want the island to look like permanent furniture, add a baseboard.

Here are some real concerns from readers:

Q: Which major status appliances would you recommend for making my kitchen more competitive? -Scott

A: When a buyer sees a fancy kitchen appliance with a label like SubZero, Viking or Miele, they make the mistaken assumption that your whole kitchen is top of the line. So buy yourself only one appliance with a highbrow brand name and buy inexpensive knockoffs for the rest.

Q: We just purchased a condo on South Padre Island, Texas, and want to rent it out when we're not there. The kitchen needs a renovation ASAP, but we're not sure how much to put into it since we're not there all the time and we plan to sell in 10-15 years. -John and Rose, Texas

A: A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 10 percent of the value of your home on renovating your kitchen. Ten to 15 years is a long time to live in any home, even a second home, so why not renovate your kitchen now and enjoy it? And when you rent your condo, tenants will pay more since it has a new kitchen and so you'll already begin to make your money back even before you sell.

Q: I have an adorable hot-pink bathroom with white tile and lots of open shelving. We're getting ready to sell our condo and I wonder if I should change my bathroom. -Jennifer, New York

A: The fact is that no one wants to move into someone else's bathroom, no matter how cute it is. But if you're willing, a few bucks can make a big change to a small bathroom. First, you should get rid of all your personal clutter. If you replace the toilet seat, buy a new shower curtain and regrout your tiles to make them look fresh, your bathroom will look new again for not a lot of money. And as few buyers are into hot pink, paint the walls a light, neutral color.

Q: My brother and I are going to buy our first house with money we inherited from our mother. The house we found is kind of a wreck and we're not too handy. The kitchen and bathrooms are old, and the whole place needs a paint job. Our plan is to move in, fix it up and flip it. -Desiree

A: It's not a good idea to buy a fixer-upper if you don't know how to fix it up. Money pits always cost more than you think. A small kitchen renovation costs about $20,000 to $40,000, and a small bathroom about $15,000 to $20,000. Even a paint job today can cost $10,000. You and your brother should do something more fun with your money rather than buying into a job you might regret. What's wrong with a pretty vacation home to enjoy and that you can rent out when you're not there?