"Believe it or not, the kitchen and bath are the rooms that traditionally sell houses," said Louise M. Erskine, a real estate agent in Paxton, Ma.

She said most experts agree it is not always cost-efficient to remodel a kitchen in anticipation of selling. But there can be instances in which you'll benefit in the long run if you spend time on minor improvements and general sprucing up.

"There are ways to make your kitchen sparkle," she said. "Repair leaky faucets and remove stains from the kitchen counter and sink. Next, clean the interior of your oven and dishwasher, as someone is sure to open them and dirty appliances can convey an impression that will extend to the rest of the house."

Many of America's kitchens -- some 90 million -- are more than 50 years old, which means many could use a minor facelift, especially if you're selling.

"Before taking out walls or committing a lot of money, you have to ask, does it need a facelift or major surgery," said Jason Feldman, director of style, innovation, and design for Home Depot, regarding any kitchen, regardless of whether it's going on the market. "There's no point in replacing cabinets or making structural changes if all that's needed are a few cosmetic improvements. Think of it as Botox for the kitchen."

Feldman says one of the most important things you can do, whether you're selling or staying put, is to "drop a few pounds" and get rid of the clutter -- clear off countertops, remove floor obstructions and clean out the cabinets.

"Clutter isn't pretty and can add years to the look of a kitchen," said Feldman.

Feldman offers these additional pointers:

  • Rejuvenate with paint. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for cabinetry, walls and ceilings.
  • Add an instant center work island. If you're striving for a custom look, connect two or three stock base cabinets and overlay it with a new countertop -- and leave room for bar stools on one side.
  • Let molding add some flair. If your cabinets look too ordinary, spice them up with molding. Panel or picture molding redefines the flat doors and drawers while elaborate crown molding, placed where cabinets meet the ceiling, creates a classic look, sure to draw attention. If you have a few extra dollars and are feeling adventurous, add new doors with beveled glass inserts.
  • Accessorize. Replace your cabinet hardware. "It's like treating yourself to a new kitchen," said Feldman. "Think of it as jewelry for your cabinets and drawers."
  • Make a splash with a new backsplash. You can use glass mosaics, porcelain tile, natural slate, or a faux paint finish for a unique backsplash.
  • Light up. Adding lighting to a kitchen can have dramatic results -- and it can be added virtually everywhere, including under and above cabinets, and from the ceiling. If you have an island, you can spotlight it with smaller pendant lights.
  • Replace your old sink and faucet. If your sink is dingy-looking, try replacing it with a stainless model and a pullout faucet.
  • Get rid of the old appliances. If you're selling in a buyer's market, you'll want to do everything you can to make your house -- and especially your kitchen -- more attractive. That can include replacing your appliances with updated, energy efficient models. Stainless steel appliances continue to be popular and white or bisque finishes make a kitchen appear bigger and brighter.
  • Dress up your windows. Consider wood blinds or Roman shades to add style -- and keep the sun out during the time of day the sun hits the kitchen.

    Before you consider making any changes to your kitchen, it's usually best to talk to your real estate professional. If you're in a hot seller's market, you may not need to do much to sell quickly and receive top dollar for your home. On the other hand, if houses are selling more slowly in your area, then you'll want to do everything you can, including sprucing up your kitchen, to garner offers.

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