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Remodeling for rookies New lower-cost models and materials give more bang for the buck
Consumer Reports Home Improvement Guide

A glut of unsold homes and plummeting prices are luring more first-time buyers into the market. According to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, first-time home buyers made up more than 40 percent of all buyers at the end of 2008, up from 36 percent in 2006—when boomburgs and boomburbs were, well, booming.

If you're a recent first-time home buyer, you know what it's like to sign the roughly 439 closing-related documents, pay your lawyer and others who get a piece of the action (perhaps a buyer's broker, the title company, et al.), and put the key in the front door for the first time. The home is finally all yours.

And so is the Depression-era boiler, the 1960s paneling in the family room, or the mismatched array of disco-generation appliances. If you're planning major remodeling, renovating, or redecorating, use our Home Improvement Guide (shown). The free interactive is based on our unbiased, independent tests and includes information on dozens of products, including those mentioned below as well as mattresses, air conditioners, closet organizers, paints and stains, smoke and CO alarms, vacuum cleaners, and snow blowers.

  • For a bathroom sink, consider an undermount model for its easy cleanup or a drop-in type for its lower cost and easier installation. You can also save in the bathroom by choosing a single-handle design for the faucet and vinyl tiles or planks for the floor. Learn more about bathroom remodeling.
  • In our tests of kitchen flooring, plastic laminate has actually proved tougher than solid wood and engineered wood. Even bamboo did far better than before, though it's expensive.
  • For your kitchen countertop, quartz—also called engineered stone and sold under such brand names as Caesarstone and Silestone—mimics natural stone better than ever, often costs less than granite and marble, and never needs resealing. You can also save by opting for today's better-looking laminate.
  • When buying a range, look for a model with at least one large gas burner or higher-wattage electric element. And think twice before choosing a pro-style range. Many other ranges provide can comparable or better performance and greater overall reliability.
  • When you need to replace your washing machine or dryer, focus on the washer, since performance of washing machines varies far more than it does among dryers.

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