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Tricks for low-cost, high-impact home upgrades

Want to fix up the old place but don't have a bucket of money to spend? Luckily, if you focus your resources in the right areas, little changes can make a huge difference in the way your home looks -- to yourself or potential buyers. Here are some low-cost ideas to get you started:

1. Begin with the front of the house. It's the first thing you, and your guests, will see. "Always repaint the front, the trim and the door," Pay special attention to the front door and the door handle. For potential buyers, "that's the first time they touch the house," . Twenty-five dollars worth of paint makes a door look new. And another $50 to $75 for a shiny handle on a freshly painted or stained door "makes an enormous difference.

2. Dress up the porch. Place two large planters on either side of the front door, with a profusion of healthy plants spilling out. "Think of your pots like clothes -- you want something that's going to go with the house. The plants should be twice as tall as the pot. Since you're literally assembling a garden in a pot, look for different textures.

3. Paint. The biggest change you can make in a room is painting the walls, changing the color, Paint makes it look clean again.

Some pro paint tips:
* Paint the trim a contrasting color.
* Another option: Paint a wall three different shades of the same color. Measure equal sections and use painter's masking tape to mark off each area. Do the bottom of the wall first with the darkest shade. Once it dries, do the middle section with the next lightest shade and so on. Want something really different? Go for big squares in various colors.
* Paint the kitchen cabinets. If you're the handy type, also think about adding a new kitchen counter to give the room a whole new look.
* Don't limit the paint to the walls. Inexpensive, unmatched furniture gets a whole new look with a coat of paint -- especially white. The trick also works with lamps, especially if you add a little glaze for an antique look.

4. Display photos. Have some favorite photos blown up, pick up some inexpensive frames at a discount store and line a wall.

5. Shine a little light on the subject. Add accent lighting, instead of the two ordinary lamps that flank both ends of the sofa. A lot of discount and home stores are stocking inexpensive lighting options that can make a big difference in a room. Spotlights that plug into existing outlets can direct light to features you want to emphasize, like art or plants.

6. Make rooms instantly more spacious. Go through your rooms and get rid of one-third of your furniture and junk. Whether you need a little breathing room or you're getting ready to sell and move, this will give you more free space. And it makes it that much easier for potential buyers to picture their own furnishings in the home.

7. Give the yard a good clip. Trim back the trees and shrubs that block the street view of the house and especially the windows. A well-groomed yard that lets light into the home looks great.

8. Create areas of interest in your yard. Start with one small section and create a focal point. Install a birdbath, bird feeder, arbor or bench with copious amounts of flowers and plants around it to create a mini-sanctuary.

9. Trick the eye. To make an area of the yard look larger, use curving pathways and sidewalks instead of straight ones. Curves fool the eye and make an area look bigger.

10. Use everyday objects in new ways. Sometimes the secret to less-expensive decorating is to look at things differently. Looking for a cart to serve as a bar in a study or dining area? Check out an office supply retailer or the office furniture area of your favorite home store. Chances are the wheeled cart being sold for a fax machine or computer would also make a stylish little mini bar.

Better Homes & Gardens
Monday, October 18, 2004

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