The No. 1 home upgrade with the greatest return is the kitchen. To boost value, add color with a new tile backsplash or update with stainless steel appliances.

Step 1: Plan Your Remodel

Don’t just start knocking walls down. Plan it out — the fastest way to increase your home’s value is to make upgrades intentionally, not on impulse. Home improvement projects cost about $0.20-0.25 on the dollar. The other $0.75-0.80 spent goes directly back into the home through increased value.

Start slowly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. List the things you want to change and the updates you would like to make. Don’t worry about organization, just write it all down. Take a guess on how long you may want to live in the house. If you’re planning on selling, talk to your real estate agent and make a selling plan.

Next, categorize your list by how much it may cost, including your time and money. Be realistic! It’s OK to list an outdoor pool with a waterfall, but keep your financial picture in mind.

Look at your categorized list and prioritize what is a real “must-have” and what is more of a dream. Try to find a reasonable balance.

Once you have a plan, do research or talk to a real estate agent to see what sort of return those improvements may bring. Some improvements will add considerably more value to your home than others.

Take your time in deciding what improvements you’ll make.

Step 2: Tackle One Room at a Time

Easy there tiger. Don’t get too excited and start fixing up every room in the house. Keep projects manageable by tackling one room at a time. Whether it’s a simple coat of paint or knocking down a wall, focus on one room to keep projects achievable.

Make a list of all the things you dream about doing, break your list down into categories based on cost and write down how much time each project may take. This will help you get results. If you only have a day or a weekend, choose a project that fits within your time frame, comfort level and financial commitment.

If you set out to paint a living room wall on Saturday, and you know what it will cost in time and money, it gets done. By the end of the day, you have a stylish upgrade that will add value to your home. By strategizing, you will see your dreams take shape as you transform each room before moving on to the next.

Stay within time and budget constraints with home projects.

Step 3: Add Sense and Style

New sink or new sofa? You really need a new bathroom faucet, but stylish drapes would brighten up the living room. Don’t sacrifice decor to make the upgrades you need to increase your home’s resale value — do a little of both.

Make two lists — upgrades for your home value and upgrades just for you. Upgrades for your home may consist of replacing old faucets, permanent lighting and doors. Upgrades for you are furniture, artwork and window treatments. Throw out the dartboard approach to picking projects and then wondering if what you are doing is really making a difference.

Stick to one upgrade per month. If you already blew through your budget after one upgrade, make small changes for the next couple of months. Upgrade a couple of electric plugs or buy a small lamp.

A little window dressing does wonders for a home’s worth.

Step 4: Clean Now for Profits Later

A house can never be too clean. If you were a buyer, would you choose the house that is slightly dingy or the home down the street that is clean and welcoming?

By making a clean house a priority, you: a) stay on top of maintenance issues, spotting potential problems before they become expensive ones, b) prevent dirt and junk from building up over time (things like mold can become a nuisance if allowed to spread unchecked), and c) ensure healthier living for you and your family!

Remember, decluttering is a form of cleaning. Just as dirt builds up, so does clutter. Don’t waste money moving your junk around. Get rid of it now. When it’s time to sell, you will feel confident about what you are presenting to the buyer.

Clear out dirt and clutter to snag that buyer.

Step 5: Count on Curb Appeal

For a fresh perspective on the value of your home, walk across the street, turn around and ask yourself, “Does my house have curb appeal?” Does your home look attractive, welcoming and structurally sound at first glance?

Make a list of ways to enhance the positive and eliminate the negative. If you have a nice curvy walkway, accentuate it with flowers or lanterns. If the first thing a visitor sees is your big wide garage, try to guide their eyes into a beautiful front yard, or paint your front door red to guide the eye there. These things add value.

Take a digital photo and look at your home in black and white. When the color is removed, the truth comes out. That is where you see the cracks in the walls and the glaring flaws.

Keep things clean and tidy. Talk to your neighbors because this affects them, too. Curb appeal doesn’t stop at your property line. Your home will be more valuable if you live in a place where everyone pays attention to appearance.

Host a neighborhood cleanup party. Team up with neighbors to mow lawns and trim hedges. See who wants to go in on a few flats of border flowers. By adding curb appeal to your entire neighborhood, you will all boost your home values.

When you’re looking at your curb appeal, don’t forget the side and rear views. Buyers walk around and peek over fences.

There are no do-overs for first impressions. Make that initial glimpse memorable.

Step 6: Heat Things Up in the Kitchen

Ask any real estate expert what the No. 1 upgrade with the greatest return is, and the answer will be the kitchen!

  • Do a mini-remodel. Change the paint. It sounds simple, but it works! You can also paint a faux-wood finish onto your cabinets.
  • Add a splash of color with a new backsplash. New tile is attractive. Home improvement stores teach classes on how to do this.
  • Go stainless steel. The cold feel of steel is a hot ticket item for buyers. Transition your appliances as they wear out and go with a similar metallic look in your light switches.
  • Make your kitchen rock with a rolling island.
  • Hang a pot rack with fresh new pots, pans and a hanging wine-bottle holder.
Stylish tile and paint add warmth to the kitchen.

Step 7: Beautify Your Bath

The bathroom is the workhorse of your house. There’s lots of wear and tear, so you want to keep it functioning well and make good-looking upgrades along the way.

  • Focus on your faucet. Bathrooms are not utilitarian anymore. People like to feel relaxed, like they’re in a spa. Drop-sinks are old news, people want the under-mount sinks.
  • Go granite or marble with your countertops. If you are toying with the granite idea, your bathroom counter is most likely smaller than your kitchen counter and less expensive. This is a great place to start your first granite project.
  • Nix the overhead lighting in favor of wall mounts to add warmth and value to your bathroom. Make sure that around the mirror you have even lighting with no side shadows.
  • Heated floors attract buyers like bees to honey.
  • Upgrade your bath area. With an 85 percent return, install a shower with body sprays and stone surround tile. If you are not selling right away, you will feel like you are in a Zen garden every time you step into your bathroom.
  • Keep it clean. Dirt and grime can become embedded in bathroom surfaces very quickly. Freshen it up with new grout.
Splurge on sleek bathroom upgrades to get buyers into a lather.

Step 8: Remodel or Sell?

Should you stay or should you go? How do you tell if there’s more value for you in fixing up or moving on?

First, estimate your costs to buy a new home. Add up the Realtor and home-selling costs (packing, moving and the new loan financing). Don’t forget hidden items. The buyer may ask you to replace the carpet before you sell. What if you have to replace appliances? Make your best effort to include everything it will cost in time and money to sell your home and buy a new place. Then estimate what you may get for your house and how much cash you will leave with to put down on a new home.

If you like your neighbors and your school district, consider remodeling. You can get exactly the home you want, and you won’t risk any buyer’s remorse. Estimate the cost of making the most crucial renovations needed for you to stay. Decide what you would like to do and go price shopping at your home improvement store. Call contractors, and get estimates. This is especially important if you need to add on extra square footage.

Look at what it would cost to move, then what it would cost to remodel. Add in factors like friends, schools and neighbors. When all is said and done, you may find you get more equity by staying in your home and remodeling.A little reflection and some contractor estimates may show you if your dream home is the one you’re living in now.

Step 9: Hire a Certified Home Inspector

Like you and your car, your house can use a regular checkup. A home inspection can be a valuable thing, whether you are selling or not.

If you are selling, get your own inspector before you put your home on the market. The last thing you want is to have a contract on the table, only to hear the inspector has found dry rot. If you know in advance, you can take care of it. If a home inspection turns out well, it is likely the buyers will feel good about their purchase and not ask for costly fixes or concessions.

Why bother having an inspection if you’re not worried about selling? Keep those records to show buyers you have maintained your house all along. Also, time is on your side. You can fix problems on your terms for far less than you will likely spend if you wait. Think of it like a physical that will only keep your home healthy and more valuable.

If you get a clean bill of health, it helps you make decisions. You can pick your home projects and spend your money with confidence.

Shine a light on your home before it goes on the market.

Step 10: Focus on Finances

Don’t forget the cash! Your financial strategy can boost your home value in a big way. Don’t rush into your home loan, evaluate your options. The strategy you develop for the type of loan you want depends on where you see yourself in five or 10 years.

Combine different loan features to create a loan that is comfortable for you and offers you the flexibility to do home improvements as well as invest in your future.

Don’t overdo your down payment. If you spend all your money in a down payment, then you may not have enough to do the improvements you want. The rule of thumb is if you are moving into a fixer-upper, go for 10 percent down.

Consider making interest-only payments to manage your debt payment. It will give you an opportunity to save that money for retirement or a college fund.

Refinancing gives you the chance to switch up your loan and try something new, but avoid using it as a financial crutch. Are you doing it to lower your interest rate, or are you doing it because you want cash? If you are moving in a year, refinancing probably isn’t a good idea since it costs between $1,900 and $2,600.When it comes to a home’s value, put your financial goals in order.

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