Spending on remodeling is expected to reach $316 billion this year alone, and the number is still climbing, according to The Home Improvement Research Institute. So make sure you're dumping cash in the smartest spaces to get the best return on your investment. Your kitchens and bathrooms are key areas that will make a big difference.
Mini-makeovers for BathroomsCheap:
Install new tile from the bathtub to the ceiling. It'll make the room feel fresher, seem lighter, and it helps cut down on mold.
From 39 cents per tile
Buy a curved shower curtain rod to give a small, boxy tub a luxurious feel. They're available in a variety of finishes, including bronze and pewter. Hang an extra-long liner on the inside and a standard drape on the outside for a luxe look.
Get rid of those old incandescents for new, color-enhancing fluorescent lighting to downplay grungy tile.
About $3 each
Mini-makeovers for KitchensCheap:
Redo floors. Plunk down wood or stone laminate planks that click into place -- they look like the real thing.
$4-9 per square foot
Update the backsplash.
$130 per square foot of stainless steel; $6-20 per sheet of glass mosaic; or $10-30 per square foot of ceramic tile
Swap that beat-up faucet for a sleek new one in chrome or bronze.
Starting at about $50
How to Hire the Right PeopleLook for Experience
Your pro should have several years of experience with similar projects. Find out whether a professional association, such as the National Kitchen and Bath Association, has certified your contractor.
And check them! Try to visit homes your contractor has worked on.
Know What You Want
Take along magazine photos to give examples of looks you like, a list of must-have features, and your budget .
Get at Least Three Bids
Don't always go with the lowball price. The contractor charging you the least amount may plan on using unskilled carpenters or materials of a lower quality.
[Nestperts] Jon Boyd, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents; David Finch, a loan specialist for Washington Mutual; Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates Financial Publishers of Pompton Plains, New Jersey