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Insulation is about as sexy as flannel pajamas, but guess what? The money spent on beefing up attic insulation delivers the best bang per buck invested in home upgrades, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value report.

In fact, adding insulation (and nine other practical projects) outscored more glamorous upgrades, like kitchen and bathroom remodels.

To conduct the report, now in its 29th year, the magazine researched costs in 100 real estate markets around the country for 30 popular home projects. It asked a panel of real estate professionals to evaluate the rate of return on each of these projects in their local area.

One caveat: Earning a decent return isn’t the same as making a profit. On average, money spent on the 30 projects earned a 64% return. In most cities, the best projects only came close to breaking even. The one exception this year was beefing up attic insulation, which had a good return on investment in most markets — with an average of almost 117%.

Also worth noting: Projects recoup their cost better in high-demand real estate markets, like San Francisco, than in less-competitive markets.

These are the 10 projects that the study reported earn the biggest payback for homeowners.

1. Attic Insulation: 116.9%

Of the 30 jobs Remodeling Magazine examined, the simple task of blowing loose fiberglass insulation into a 35-by-30-foot attic pays back the best. On average, around the country, insulating the attic to an R-30 value cost $1,268. It added an average of $1,482 to the home’s value — a 116.9% rate of return. The attic insulation job makes money for homeowners in 59 of the 100 markets studied.

How much insulation you’d need at your home depends on your climate and the building energy code where you live. (This U.S. Department of Energy map shows residential and commercial energy codes used in each state.)

2. Manufactured Stone Veneer: 92.9%

Adding manufactured stone to a home’s exterior adds a look that many buyers like and are willing to pay more for. The project considered in the study involved removing 300 square feet of vinyl siding around the bottom of a home and replacing it with manufactured stone veneer at an average cost of $7,519. The “stone” is made of molded concrete that’s shaped and treated to resemble natural rock. The estimated payback: $6,988 added to the home’s value.

3. Garage Door Replacement: 91.5%

An investment of $1,652, on average, produces a return of $1,512 for homeowners who spiff up their garage with a new, uninsulated four-section steel door that reuses the existing motorized opener and adds new galvanized steel tracks. Spend a bit more and you can get almost as good a return. A more-expensive garage door replacement cost $3,140, on average, and recouped $2,830 — a 90.1% return.

4. Steel Entry Door: 91.1%

Replacing a home’s front door with a fresh one of 20-gauge steel has been a reliable winner in Remodeling Magazine studies over the years. An investment of $1,335, on average, produces a return of $1,217. For the price you get a door that is painted at the factory on both sides and includes a dual-pane window and a new bored-lock in brass or antique-brass.

5. Minor Kitchen Remodel: 83.1%

Spending $20,122 to update a 200-square-foot kitchen with new cabinet and drawer fronts and hardware, new wall oven, cooktop, sink, faucet and laminate countertops adds $16,716, on average, to a home’s value.

But take the project upscale for an upscale major kitchen remodel and the payback changes. Spend $119,909 on a “major” kitchen remodel — including top-of-the-line cherry cabinets, stone counters, cork floors, new lighting, ceramic or glass backsplash, built-in wall oven, cooktop, refrigerator, warming oven, trash compactor, commercial range and vent hood — and you’ll recoup just 61.5% of the investment ($73,707), the study finds. A major kitchen remodel done with midrange products (an average cost of $59,999) pays off better: 64.9%.

6. Fiberglass Entry Door: 82.3%

Invest an average of $3,126 on a new entry door made of fiberglass in a simulated wood grain, stained front and back with a decorative window. The price includes PVC-clad trim and a new mortise lock with lever handle and integrated deadbolt with an oil-rubbed bronze or satin-nickel finish. The payback: $2,574, on average.

7. Siding Replacement: 77%

Upgrading a home’s siding is an expensive project — the study envisions spending an average of $14,100 — but it improves a home’s value by $10,857, on average. This price tag, however, averages in not only different costs across 100 markets but also a great variety of siding products, from vinyl and foam-backed vinyl, to fiber cement and engineered siding. That means your costs and your results could vary widely based on location and products used.

8. Wood Deck Addition: 75%

The project envisioned includes a 16-by-20-foot deck of pressure-treated wood planks and joists, three steps and a built-in bench and planter and railings — all of the same material. The cost: $10,471 and the return: $7,850.

Composite decking is the newer alternative. The best composite products are low-maintenance and offer a longer lifespan. But a nearly identical project done with composite planking costs $37,943, on average — almost four times the price of wood — and it recoups just 57.7% of the cost ($21,877) when selling a home.

9. New Vinyl Windows: 72.1% — 73.3%

Vinyl windows beat wood windows when it comes to recouping cost, but not by much.

The cost of replacing 10 windows (leaving the trim in place) runs $14,725, on average. Envisioned for the project are 3-by-5-foot double-hung insulated, low-E vinyl windows with a simulated wood finish on the inside. You’d recoup $10,794 (73.3%), on average, if the home gets sold within a year.

Wood windows are costlier: The same project costs an average of $18,087, but you’d recoup about $13,050, or 72.1%.

10. New Roof: 71.7%

There’s nothing cheap about replacing a roof, but maybe that’s why buyers pay a premium for a home with a new one already in place (and why this may be a good negotiating tool). At least they know the project is out of the way for a long while.

The average cost for a new roof in the study was $20,142. This replacement was for a roof of 30 new squares of 235-pound fiberglass asphalt shingles. The cost also included installation, removing the old roofing material, disposing of the waste and new felt underlayment, drip edge and flashing. Gutters were not included. This project is expected to recoup $14,446, on average, when the house sells. That’s a great deal on a new roof for a home buyer.

What About the Fun Stuff?

You probably have the idea by now: Money spent on practical, no-frills upgrades offers the best financial return. But if you’re still wondering about how well money spent on lifestyle-type projects pays back, here are a few examples.

  • Basement Remodel: 70.4%
  • Two-Story Addition: 69.3%
  • Family Room Addition: 67.9%
  • Midrange Bathroom Remodel: 65.7%
  • Master Suite Addition: 64.1%
  • Upscale Bathroom Remodel: 57.5%
  • Bathroom Addition: 56.7% — 56.2%

What’s Trending & Where

If you’re thinking of putting money into remodeling, here are some of the other takeaways from the study that may help you decide on the best project for you.

  • Curb Appeal: Many of the projects with the most return were improvements to a home’s exterior. That, the magazine’s editors speculate, may be because they improve what the real estate industry calls “curb appeal,” or the impression the home makes on buyers and passers-by. Work done on windows and siding, for example, paid off better than money invested in work on kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Replacements: Replacement projects – like doors, windows and siding — returned slightly more (61.5%) than remodeling projects (57.3%).
  • Project on the Upswing: The project with the greatest financial gain in the last year was a minor kitchen remodel, which delivered 83.1% this year compared to the 79.3% return reported in 2015.
  • Where Remodeling Pays: The projects studied delivered different returns in different markets. In just one city, San Francisco, every one of the jobs returned more than 100% of the investment. Housing shortages seem to drive up return, the magazine says. In 18 cities where the renovations performed best (at least 75% of the money invested returned), half were in California or Florida.
  • Payback Varies by Region: Payback was highest — 77.5% — in the Pacific region, which includes high-priced real estate in California and Hawaii, as well as Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Payback was lowest — 54.9% — in the East South Central region, in states that include Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

[Editor’s Note: If you are considering making any upgrades to your home, whether for resale value or just because, it’s a good idea to avoid spending more than you can afford on a project. You can see how your home upgrade project fits into your financial goals, like building good credit scores, by using this free tool on Credit.com.] 

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  • Tony

    If the goal is to increase one’s net worth, I can’t understand why one would spend X amount of dollars on home improvement when one could only expect to recoup a percentage of that when the home is sold. Wouldn’t one be farther ahead if one simply did not make the improvement.

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