Before you lift a hammer, make sure your home improvements are well thought out.
*Unless the structure is flawed, leave the "bones" of the house alone. Some alterations are impractical, says Baltimore appraiser Edward Brockmeyer. Examples: moving a central staircase; building additions that clash with the house design; cutting windows in illogical places; converting closets to rooms lacking easy access.
*Hesitate before you sacrifice bedrooms. A change of furnishings, lighting and storage systems will turn a spare bedroom into a temporary study or sitting room. Converting the bedroom to a bathroom or insulated wine cellar, however, could be permanent. That might rob the house of an asset -- adaptable space you might need or want later.
*Once a garage always a garage, in many cases. In suburban communities with expensive houses and commuter orientations, attached garages hold value. Turning them into woodshops or dens can make them a difficult sell later, says Georgiana Simmel, a Realtor in Howard County.
*Don't rush to replace old with new. Restore chair rails and carved banisters; they are a house's character lines. Also, the voluptuous claw-foot tub is back in style; don't trade it for a fiberglass stall.
*Swimming pools give some buyers a sinking feeling. Pools offer their original owners entertainment and exercise. And chores. And potential liability. And no guarantee of recouping the cost when the house sells. If you'll have the only pool on the block, seek expert advice. If you have the only house on the block without one, make sure your neighbors aren't filling in theirs. Talk to your appraiser, your insurance agent and your real estate agent as well as competent pool contractors.
*Some cover-ups aren't improvements. Using a remodeling job to hide trouble, e.g., water seepage, will cost you more in the long run than fixing the problem now.
*Personality isn't always a plus. Your favorite color is apple red, but how long will you love red kitchen cabinets? Install white cabinets and buy red door pulls, a red table skirt, a red toaster. Be practical.
*Avoid low-quality materials. Top-of-the-line hardware and appliances aren't necessities. Durable, well-made products are.
*Finish what you start. Take on only one project or room at a time. "Do it slowly, do it well and do it completely," says Mr. Brockmeyer. Trails of exposed wiring, unfinished carpentry under sinks, and crooked cabinets that could have been rehung plumb will affect the job value.