The Best Remodeling Choices for a Soft Housing Market

These days, new exterior doors often bring a better return on investment than a kitchen re-do.

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In tough market conditions, homeowners might be best advised to make smart decisions but also opt for the upgrades they'll get the most use of: a chef-quality stove because they love to cook instead of an entirely new suite of high-end cabinets, for instance.

"These days, it's hard to put your finger on just how much of a kitchen renovation you'll recoup in the home sale. That is, unless a kitchen is decades out of date," says Ronnie Potter, president of Potter Sunderland Construction, Inc., in Louisville, Tenn., near Knoxville. "Homeowners, in many cases, are renovating kitchens because they plan on staying for awhile."

[See How Low-Ball Appraisals Are Limiting the Housing Recovery.]

Project list. Remodeling's Cost vs. Value Report is an annual region-by-region calculation of home improvement projects. The report differentiates between midrange and upscale projects and includes the percentage of cost recouped at resale for the most popular projects and whether the recouped amount is trending higher or lower. Nationwide, the total cost-to-value ratio of remodeling is down, with homeowners getting back 60 percent of their costs, on average, in 2010/2011 compared to nearly 64 percent a year earlier. Construction costs have fallen in step with a weaker economy, but home values have fallen more dramatically.

The newest report, covering 2011/2012, comes out in November and will be available on the report's website then. See the 2010/2011 report with complete analysis and regional breakdown here.

Here's a snapshot of 2010/2011:

Mid-range projects

• Garage Door Replacement: Cost: $1,291; Resale: $1,083; Recouped: 83.9%; Trending: Up

• Steel Entry Door: Cost: $1,218; Resale: $1,243; Recouped: 102.1%; Trending: Down

• Major Kitchen Remodel: $58,367; Resale: $40,126; Recouped: 68.7%; Trending: Down

• Minor Kitchen Remodel: Cost: $21,695; Resale: $15,790; Recouped: 72.8%; Trending: Down

• Wood Deck Addition: Cost: $10,973; Resale: $7,986; Recouped: 72.8%; Trending: Down

Upscale projects

• Bathroom Remodel: Cost: $53,759; Resale: $30,738; Recouped: 57.2%; Trending: Down

• Master Suite Addition: Cost: $232,062; Resale: $122,370; Recouped: 52.7%; Trending: Down