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Aim for your neighborhood’s norm

You’ve lived with those ugly kitchen countertops for a decade. Should you replace them now that you’re ready to sell your house? That’s not a simple yes or no question, says Scott Thompson, a certified real estate appraiser whose work has taken him inside hundreds of homes in the Spokane area. Scott doesn’t put much faith in across-the-board industry estimates of the resale value for specific home improvements designed to attract buyers. Rather, he suggests sellers take an objective look at their property in relationship to others on surrounding blocks. “For the best value, aim for a house that is up to neighborhood standards but not the fanciest house on the block,” Scott says. “Take the middle path.” In a high-end neighborhood that might mean tackling significant improvement projects. Typically, though, the best use of dollars is to freshen what you have because “buyers don’t want a house that feels worn out.” “It’s the boring stuff like paint and carpets that gets you the most bang for the buck” when it comes time to sell, Scott says. “Bigger home improvements don’t return as much in value, generally speaking.” Of course, remodeling isn’t strictly about dollars and cents unless resale is in the immediate future. Real estate appraisers say it’s perfectly valid to consider “value in use,” meaning investing in a home to improve its livability and comfort. “It’s the boring stuff like paint and carpets that gets you the most bang for the buck,” Scott says. STCU Media and Communications Manager Dan Hansen and his wife Pam embraced this idea in 2014 when they decided to tear out the aged, poorly-laid-out kitchen in the 1947 Millwood home they love. Thanks to Pam’s meticulous planning, the Hansens traded rusty metal cabinets, leaky plumbing, flickering fluorescent lights, and old appliances for a bright, custom kitchen where company tends to gather. “It was a big investment and we knew we wouldn’t get all of our money out of it,” Dan says. “But we enjoy the place a lot more now. It’s every bit as useful and nice as we thought it would be.” Prioritize your home improvements. When it comes to improving a home for resale, appraiser Scott Thompson says some steps are no-brainers, while others should be tackled only if it’s the neighborhood norm: Definitely: Clean up and de-clutter inside and out. Mow the lawn, clean out the flower beds, and fix that sagging gate. Low costs: Repaint rooms that look tired. Replace dated wallpaper, and floor coverings that show stains and traffic patterns. Moderate costs: In some neighborhoods, your house may sell easier if you install a fence, update doors and trim, replace dated countertops and back splashes, or make upgrades like installing a programmable thermostat. Major costs: Only in the most extreme cases is your house likely to require such major work as complete kitchen or bath remodels, new windows or other energy efficiency projects, or replacing a roof or furnace that’s outdated but still functioning.