One of the biggest and most perplexing challenges for new and even seasoned homeowners is deciding which improvements add value and which ones just end up costing them big bucks.

Basically, home upgrades and improvements can be loosely divided into two areas: those that are needed to maintain the home, and those that are elective and may not return your investment. Sometimes there’s a blend, such as an upgrade that returns only a fraction of the cost but one you enjoy while living in the home, and that’s payback enough.

Some examples of the first category would be repairing or replacing a roof, furnace, water heater, or carpeting. If you don’t make these types of improvements, the home’s value and ...

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