blue home with improvements

Enhancing curb appeal is one of the most cost-effective home improvement projects.


You don’t have to spend a mint to make your home a happier, more enjoyable place.

For all the focus we put on transactions — buying and selling — the truth is that for most of your life as a real estate consumer, you’ll be a homeowner. And because your home is so much more than just something you buy, it makes sense to spend some portion of your time, energy, and money making it really work for you.

Unfortunately, what too many of us do is wait until we can save up or pull out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity to make a major change to our homes. And that means we almost never do the project, or we do it only when it’s time to sell.

Here’s a hit list of the top 10 things you can do for $10,000 if you’re in your home and planning to stay put for a while:

1. Crank up the curb appeal

Enhancing curb appeal is one of the most cost-effective home improvement projects. There’s just something about loving the way your home looks when you drive up to it day after day that dramatically increases your enjoyment of home.

Depending on which projects you choose and whether you do the work yourself, you can crank up your curb appeal for a few hundred dollars or a few thousand. Here are some curb appeal-boosting projects to consider:

  • Exterior paint or power wash
  • Paint or install a new garage door
  • Paint or install a new front door
  • Paint or install new trim (shutters, eaves, etc.)
  • New exterior hardware (door kickplate, mailbox, house numbers, etc.)
  • Exterior or landscape lighting
  • Front yard landscaping spruce-up or makeover

2. Get rid of a wall

It’s the number one remodel fantasy of homeowners-to-be: knocking down a wall.

In fact, removing walls, even structural walls, is highly feasible and much less expensive than many homeowners assume. (If a load-bearing wall is removed, the structural component can often be preserved and finished by simply leaving a beam at the ceiling.) What can jack up the price is the relocation of plumbing or wiring contained in the wall being removed.

Reconnecting interruptions in flooring and adding features like an island also can add up. Check with a reputable contractor to find out how such a project can be planned and executed efficiently.

3. Swap out old windows for new, dual-paned

Switching out your old single-paned windows for new dual-paned ones might make your home look better, but it will definitely make your home operate more efficiently — and more comfortably. They’re also a must if you have street noise or other noise challenges around your home; the extra insulation traps noise before it can get to you.

As with everything, costs vary by location and by the quality of window you choose, but you can use $200 to $300 per window, installed, as a rough rule of thumb.

4. Extend your living areas outdoors 

The National Outdoor Kitchen and Fireplace Association pegs the average cost of an outdoor kitchen at $12,000 to $15,000 on average — but if you can cut costs, find appliances on sale, or do some of the work yourself, you might just be able to get one in your own backyard for the $10,000 price point. Outdoor kitchens can be as simple as a table and grill, or as complex as wood-burning ovens, refrigerators, and big-screen TVs.

5. New kitchen appliances

In terms of sheer functionality, new kitchen appliances can create an upgrade to your family’s everyday life. A new fridge will run you anywhere from $350 to $2,000 on average, a new stove/oven range can run anywhere from $300 to $6,000, and a dishwasher will cost you somewhere around $250 to $1,600.

6. Swap out your carpet

If you have $10K to spend and you can’t stand your carpet, you can estimate that it’ll run you about $300 to $500 per room to replace it with new carpet, or $1,500 to $2,000 per room to replace it with hardwood, depending on where you live, how large your rooms are, and what specific materials you choose.

7. Bring a bathroom into this millennium

You can do dozens of things to your hall or other bathrooms to bring them into the 21st century for well under the $10,000 mark:

  • Replace the vanity with a new wood model that has a stone counter
  • Add a new mirror and faucet
  • Improve lighting and ventilation with a new combination light and exhaust fan
  • Add a set of sconces on each side of the mirror or medicine cabinet
  • Update towel bars, hooks, toothbrush and toilet paper holders, and cabinet hardware
  • Add matching shelves for your towels and toiletries
  • Switch your standard showerhead to one with multiple settings
  • Keep your towels toasty with a heated towel bar

8. Build in organizing systems

One of the most significant advantages to owning your home is that you can customize it to manage your stuff and your activities, rather than being forced to fit your things into someone else’s system. If you have $10K in hand to make your home more “you,” consider having custom organizing systems built into your closet, office, pantry, or garage, tailored to your family’s stuff and needs.

9. Paint

Painting can be very affordable, depending on your home’s size and details, and is a great starter do-it-yourself project to boot. My personal cost-cutting tip: Pick your colors from the designer paint swatches, but have the paint department staff use more affordable paint when they custom-mix the colors to match.

10. Connect your home 

The costs of connecting your home have come down — a lot. For anywhere from $200 to $2,000, you could potentially have your home’s systems wired so that you can:

  • Control lighting, heating, and AC remotely
  • Have your HVAC systems and window coverings, for example, work in sync
  • Monitor your home via video and sensors for security and other home crises (e.g., flooding), no matter where you are
  • If you’re considering making a modest investment in a home you plan to own for a while, you’re increasingly in the norm. Studies show that more than 50% of homeowners focus on smaller home improvement projects that increase their enjoyment of their homes — even if they don’t increase its value.

Do you fall into this group? What $10,000-or-less projects have you done at home that boosted your enjoyment?