Low Cost, High Impact

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Home improvement can equal big bucks, but not everyone has the cash to invest in a major home remodel. Doing smaller scale projects and DIY work can actually make a big impact. Kiplingers has an excellent list of potential home improvement projects that give you the most bang for your buck for about $1,000 or less. According to Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost Vs. Value report, homeowners are recouping 67.6% of the cost of such smaller-scale replacement projects during resale. Major remodeling projects, such as additions, are recouping 59.7%, on average. Here are our top picks from the Kiplinger list; click here to read about all nine of their home improvement projects. Remember, the actual cost of any renovation will vary based on many factors, including the location of the home, the scope of the work, the quality of the materials selected and the experience of the contractor.

Install Under-Cabinet Lighting in the Kitchen

Adding under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen illuminates work surfaces (a plus for home cooks) and can make the space appear less dated (a plus for future buyers). Since there can be a bit of wiring involved to connect multiple fixtures to each other, not to mention drilling holes in expensive cabinetry, you might want to leave this project to a pro. The average cost of hiring an electrician to install three 14-inch surface-mounted lighting fixtures that plug into an existing receptacle is $142, according to DiyOrNot.com. A qualified handyman can easily handle this project as well, since no hard-wiring inside the walls is required. The cost and complexity will be much higher if a receptacle needs to be added.

Update the Hardware on Kitchen Cabinets

If you have a limited budget, a full-scale kitchen remodel is not an option, considering that a midrange renovation averages about $54,000. However, you can make small tweaks to help freshen up the space. A project that’s cost-friendly and doesn’t require professional assistance is updating the hardware on your kitchen cabinets and drawers, says Donna Shirey, owner of Shirey Handyman Service, a Seattle home-repair company.

As long as your cabinets are in good condition, swapping out dated hardware will give your cabinets an instant facelift. “It’ll cost you about $5 to $10 per handle, depending on the finish,” Shirey adds. So if you have 25 cabinet door and drawer handles in your kitchen that need to be replaced, expect to pay up to $250.

Add Crown Molding in the Living Room

Crown molding can add a touch of luxury to a living room without a luxurious price tag. Having a carpenter install crown molding where the walls meet the ceiling in a 12-by-20-foot room costs about $330. That’s the national average for 70 linear feet of installed finger joint pine crown molding, according to DiyOrNot.com. Adding a chair rail—molding attached to walls at roughly the height of a chair back—can also give a room a finished look says Neil Parsons, owner of Design Build Pros, a Toms River, N.J., remodeling firm. Parsons suggests painting the walls different shades above and below the chair-rail molding to make a room stand out.

Keep in mind, though, that molding should be added for your own aesthetic enjoyment rather than purely for resale purposes. Ask any real estate agent about what sells homes and they’ll tell you kitchens and baths. If your remodeling budget is tight, focus your resources on those rooms first.

Install a Tile Backsplash in the Kitchen

Up the wow factor in your kitchen by adding a tile backsplash. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are the most popular tile finishes; however, ceramic tile costs less. At Home Depot, for example, you can buy ceramic tile for as little as $1.12 per square foot. Porcelain tile starts at $3.65 per square foot.

The average cost to hire a tile contractor to install a 10-foot-long, 12-inch-high ceramic-tile backsplash is $388. That includes labor (about six hours’ worth) and materials (tiles, moisture-resistant adhesive and grout), according to DiyOrNot.com. While a professional will almost certainly do a better job, skilled homeowners should be able to complete the project themselves for less money, says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm.

Replace Fixtures in a Bathroom

Consider swapping the existing fixtures in your bathroom, such as the toilet, faucets and shower head, for high-efficiency versions, Sullivan says. “Not only are you getting an updated look in your bathroom, but you’ll also be saving money on your water bill.” Replacing an old toilet with an efficient model, for example, can save the average family $110 a year on water bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At Home Depot, you can purchase a WaterSense-rated two-piece toilet for as little as $139. A high-efficiency faucet for the sink starts at $31.48, and a tub faucet and showerhead combo starts at $49.98.

Hiring a plumber to remove your old toilet and replace it with a new one will cost $459, on average, according to DiyOrNot.com. Changing out a single-control faucet on a bathroom sink costs $254, and replacing a shower head costs $155. Having all three completed at the same time adds up to $868.