(MS) - Most Americans watching mortgage rates rise are deciding that now is the time to buy or sell before it's too late. Whether you want to sell, or just improve your home's value before you tap into your equity, here are five things experts suggest you consider before calling your bank or putting the "for sale" sign on your lawn.Make Only Renovations That Count. Experts agree that the right renovations, especially bathrooms and kitchens, affect the marketability of your home. Bathrooms have become a popular remodeling choice, and for good reason - they have the highest rate of return of any home addition or home remodel. Real estate agents agree that a gleaming kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances, cork or hardwood flooring, stone countertop and lots of cupboard space can sell a house the instant a prospective buyer sees it. Conversely, a cramped, ill-lit kitchen with outdated linoleum and harvest gold appliances might actually scare buyers away.

Improve What You Can't Renovate. If you can't afford to renovate, update and refresh key rooms instead. Replacing an old countertop, repainting cupboards and walls, and installing new door pulls and lighting make big improvements to your kitchen for a very modest price. Similar touches increase the appeal of older bathrooms, too. Fresh paint throughout your home is another low-cost, high-return project - it makes everything look cleaner and brighter, and buyers love a house they won't have to redecorate immediately.

Maintain Where You Can. Depending on the age of your house, you can expect to spend between one and three percent of its value every year on maintenance and repair. Your maintenance budget should increase as your house ages, so remember to include funds to replace major systems as required. Foundations and roofs are things that are difficult to inspect, but in the long run minor repairs can save you about ten times the cost of work necessary to replace or rebuild.

Don't Overimprove. Before you commit to any big project, ask, "Is this three-car garage or pool out of character for my neighborhood?" If the answer is yes, you may be consigning your house to an oddity status. If your house is improved beyond the scope of all the neighborhood homes that surrounds it, it is likely that the value of your home won't be realized when it comes time to sell.

Do Your Home Value Homework. Many sites promising to give you the value of your home don't deliver, but at www.domania.com you can use their Value Check tool to get an instant valuation from a real estate professional that includes a value range and neighborhood statistics. If you want to "value it yourself" at Domania, you can search through their database of 28 million historical home price records. Searching by price, by location or by address, you'll develop a better understanding of neighborhood trends - and if you look hard enough - what your neighbor paid for their house.

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