There are lots of home improvements that give pleasure, and many that add value. But there are only a few home improvements that add pleasure and value, and even fewer that add dollar-for-dollar value.
In all our research, we found only two home improvements where you can add the same value to your home as what you spend. This rare breed of home improvements will return you dollar for dollar on resale and might even fall into the category of investment (drop that line on your husband when you're trying to convince him how much you need these improvements.)
A Solar system that offers near-total replacement for your utility bill will return dollar for dollar value on your next home appraisal.
One of the primary reasons for this is that there is an economic value to what Solar provides - you can definitively calculate the utility savings that you will receive by installing a solar system on your house, and the value of these savings has a rate of return - or a capitalization rate - that will add hard-cash-value to your home.
The economics of Solar energy make sense, which is why solar should be your #1 consideration in value-adding home improvements.
This is an area where you can definitely overdo it, but if you're moderate and tasteful, you'll get dollar-for-dollar return on landscaping improvements.
There are few reasons for this: Landscaping represents a ton of sweat equity - you have to work hard to install and maintain it. So while materials are relatively affordable, the labor component - when it's provided by you - comes at a low-to-no cost (especially when you're the kind that enjoys landscaping). Now, if you're paying for someone else to do all that work, then that's a different matter. But if you're doing the work, then the economics of landscaping really pays off.
The second factor that increases the value of landscaping is that generally, a maturing landscape increases in value over time. That oak sapling that you planted 20 years ago is now a towering shade-tree, and buyers put a premium on mature trees.
Be careful, even with these dollar-for-dollar improvements, you can "over-spend" by investing more than you will get back in home value. But when you find improvements that add dollar-for-dollar value and you have the cash to spend now, why not spend it! You'll get the pleasure now, and your money back later. Sounds like a great deal to us!