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Fixing Your House for Sale

With home sales sluggish and prices falling, most homeowners have scaled back on renovations.

Q. I want to sell my house. But in a bad real estate market, how can I make my house more appealing to buyers without overspending on fix-ups?

A.The good news: Prices on building materials and labor have dropped in recent months—in part because of waning demand—and are expected to continue to fall in coming months. But to ensure you don’t overpay, check out Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Trends” report, updated each year. This website estimates the cost, in your geographic area, of various home projects and their value come selling time, according to members of the National Association of Realtors.

In most areas, according to the latest report, the best rate of return comes from installing a wooden deck, new siding and new windows, as well as giving a kitchen a minor update with energy-efficient appliances and new cabinet fronts (as opposed to entire cabinets).

But don’t overdo it. With home sales sluggish and prices falling, most homeowners have scaled back on renovations—a trend expected to continue through most of 2009, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. So you may be best off spending your time and money on minor fixes (leaky faucets, squeaky hinges and the like), a thorough cleaning and greater curb appeal with new landscaping and a neat lawn, suggestsRemodelingeditor Sal Alfano.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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