Suppose you suddenly came into a nice sum of no-strings-attached money. Perhaps you received an unanticipated tax refund or a surprisingly generous year-end bonus. Or maybe a relative died, leaving you a lavish bequest.

Whatever the source, you probably have no shortage of ideas on how to spend it. For most people, it’s a list of competing priorities: finally taking care of that lingering student loan, making a deposit in a child’s college savings account, investing in the booming stock market, or just putting it in the bank and finally relaxing about expenditures after a long spell of scrimping.

But what about your house? It is, after all, the biggest investment most families make, and money spent improving it is generally borne out later in resale value. Just as important, most people spend more time in their house than anywhere else, and making sure it’s genuinely comfortable, and not just functional, can go a long way toward boosting your quality of life.

The question is where to begin. The choices are many, and each has its own price tag and set of variables attached to it. That’s where the experts come in. We talked to a number of contractors, landscape architects, do-it-yourselfers and interior designers to hear their recommendations and get a sense of the possibilities at several price points: $7,000, $20,000 and $50,000.

Obviously, it’s not one-size-fits-all. The cost and caveats for a 1,200-square-foot Capitol Hill rowhouse will be very different than for a 5,000-square-foot house in Potomac, Md. Prices also vary widely depending on materials and on whether you do the work yourself or hire someone else to do it. So consider these suggestions as guides, rather than definitive prescriptions.

If resale value is a key consideration, homeowners will probably want to focus on a few specific options.

“If I were to say spend money on any one thing, it would be the kitchen — and the bathroom if you have extra money,” says Jonathan Montgomery, an appraiser with the Real Estate Appraisal Group, a Takoma Park-based business. “But anything you can do to improve the look of the home, that’s where you spend the money.”

If you’re not planning to move anytime soon, though, you might have different considerations. And what these ideas highlight are that the best changes aren’t necessarily the big-ticket items. Those can be satisfying, but there are a number of more subtle improvements that can dramatically improve the feeling and value of a house.

(WaPo)