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Upgrades That Pay

Is your home suffering from the winter blahs? Before you take a sledgehammer to the den's drywall and take out a second mortgage, you might want to curl up by the fireplace with's annual Cost vs. Value Report. It looks at the price of specific remodeling and home-improvement projects, and the amount each would add to a home's price a year later. (You can search the report by project or by region.)

The best bang for your remodeling buck is a "kitchen spruce-up," which includes refinishing cabinets and installing energy-efficient appliances, laminate countertops, new fixtures, wall covering, and resilient flooring at an average cost of $14,773, according to the survey. Should you sell your home with its new lemon-fresh kitchen a year later, expect to make back 88% of the money you put in, or $13,039. A two-story addition (at a whopping $67,743) will pay back 84% of the outlay. And adding a second full bath to a house with one or 1.5 baths for an average of $14,216 will recoup 82% of your dough.

Want to avoid living in a money pit? Think twice before getting a new roof if yours isn't leaky (just 60% will be recouped), sunroom (average cost $27,081, of which you can expect back just 16 grand), or a home office (55% of an average $10,526 outlay), the survey says.

The payoff depends on the value of your home and others in the neighborhood, how fast property values in your area are rising, and the cost of materials and labor and the color you pick for your backsplash.

For those who prefer to avoid drywall dust in their cereal, consider other ways to make the most of your biggest asset -- your home. We've got tips on everything from saving money on bi-weekly mortgages, title insurance, and cutting costs big-time when you sell your home.

Do you have home-improvement ideas for your fellow Fools? Take them to theBuilding/Maintaining a Homediscussion board.

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