Unless you own a luxury yacht, or have hundreds of thousands invested in the market, I am going to guess that your home is your biggest investment.

When it's time to sell, you want your investment to pay off, because, well... it's an investment!

That means you need to make some smart decisions.

Plan early

Before you list your home is the time to decide what needs to happen for maximum return on your investment.

You want to choose home improvement projects that improve your home's resale value without sacrificing your own bank account.

Here are six sure ways to add worth to your home.

Clean up

Getting rid of excess belongings, and then thoroughly cleaning your home inside and out is the perfect start to home staging. It's essentially free, so that's an awesome ROI.

Clutter, dirt, mildew, pet odors, and general messiness send buyers running for the door.

Even a home with fixable "problems" like older appliances or popcorn ceilings can keep buyers in consideration mode if the home is immaculate. But funny smells and other signs of neglect create a hurdle they can't always get past mentally.  

Even cleaning up your yard, pruning shrubs, adding mulch. and spending as little as 5% of your home's value on landscaping projects alone could yield a return on of as much as 150%. That's impressive!

A tidy front yard tells buyers what to expect inside.

Check  your floors 

After cleanliness, the second thing home buyers will likely notice in your home is flooring. 

If your floors are old, mismatched, worn, or discolored, you won't get as much money as you would with better-looking ones. The fact that Americans spent $21.9 billion on flooring in 2017 indicates the importance people give to what's underfoot. 

Consider upgrading carpeted or vinyl flooring with bamboo or another hardwood. One Realtor I know just installed bamboo throughout her own home, with an eye to the future when she sells it. She told me it is more popular now with buyers than other hardwoods, carpet, or cork.

Another popular choice is what's called "luxury vinyl," the engineered planks that imitate the look of wood or stone. There is a wide range of prices, depending on thickness, quality, and patterns. Engineered vinyl is durable, water-resistant, and easy to install.

If your floors are in bad shape but you don't want to spring for a new flooring installation, you still have economical options. If your carpeting has seen better days, you can have it dyed, or have it professionally cleaned, or have budget-friendly, builder-grade carpet installed.

It's not a hand-knotted, silk rug from Asia worth 
thousands. But for about $100, it looks great,  
and is perfect for staging! Photo: Wayfair  
If your wood floors need an overhaul that you can't afford, you might be able to have them screened and top-coated, a simpler and cheaper process than refinishing.

Another possibility is to use rugs to cover the worst areas of wood flooring. Most buyers will peek under the rug, but first impressions will still have influence. My favorites, for now, are the new but distressed synthetic Persian and Oriental designs. They look convincingly rich but are inexpensive, just right for staging a mid-priced home.

Some people will criticize my suggestion to hide flooring that's not perfect. And I usually recommend that a seller never deliberately conceal problems in a home, but a rug is just a rug. It's temporary and easy to peel back. Certainly a home inspector is going to make note of serious floor deficiencies.

Make doors attractive  

Does your front door say hello with a smile? Is your garage door an asset? Doors issue an invitation and create curiosity. Make them part of your selling team.

Front doors are the visual focal points of your property from the street. If they don't add major points to your curb appeal score, give them some love. If they don't respond sufficiently to a good cleaning, you might want to paint them. I've already blogged about how easy it is to repaint your overhead garage door, and how anyone can paint a front door without removing it.  

Invest in smart stuff

Today's home buyers usually include some smart home features on their want lists. 

If you have an older home, upgrading your HVAC system will help buyers relax about the age of the structure. Replacing AC equipment components that are more than 15 years old can result in significant energy savings, but since buyers are entitled to learn what you are paying for utilities, the sooner you upgrade the system, the better your record will look to them.

Buyers are impressed with smart devices that will save them money or make their lives more convenient. If you have a Nest thermostat, programmable interior lighting, and an automated lawn watering system, make sure the agent showing the home understands and explains the savings they bring.

But if your new smart refrigerator has a touchscreen that creates shopping lists and lets you turn on the ice maker from your smartphone, don't list it with the MLS specs if it doesn't convey with the property. The same thing applies to features like security systems and your programmable outdoor grill. 

Freshen walls

This foyer sports a fresh coat of Benjamin Moore's 
Spring Sky. Photo: Meg Braff Interiors 
Unless you haven't lived in your home very long, your walls are likely ready for a fresh coat of paint. This is especially true if the colors vary from room to room, or if they are unusual, dated, dark, or saturated colors.

Painting gives you a better return on your money than any other DIY project.  

On this blog, I've passed along my best tips about how to paint like a pro, whether you are painting walls or furniture. 

Hire good people 

Most of us need some work done by professionals, whether it's an electrician, an exterminator, a plumber, a house painter, or a carpet cleaner.

My best advice to avoid substandard work is to get referrals from people or agencies you trust, and get quotes from two or three of them before making a hiring decision.

Minor renovations, as well as big upgrades, need to be quality work. If the home buyers don't notice shoddy workmanship, the home inspector they hire will. Work with local, professional contractors if necessary for larger projects, and be willing to put some time, effort, and skill into each remodeling project you begin.

Never pay for the entire project ahead of time. If a contractor does not have the capital to go buy the basic materials for your project, (paint, lumber, plumbing parts...) maybe he isn't the contractor for you. 

Stay in communication with people who do work for you. Politely let them know your preferences, your budget, and your schedule. Show your appreciation for the work they do. I always buy the donuts for their first day on the job.

Get the look, get the book

Since you're about to start a new chapter in your life, it's time to profit as much as possible from your home investment. You don't want repairs and upgrades and home staging to end up costing you money that doesn't return to you in the form of a quicker sale at a better price. Do the homework and you'll be able to decide which property improvements will add value.

For more tips on how to prepare your home for sale, no matter what style, age or condition of your home, download my home staging ebooks and get ready to attract buyers!