When remodeling won't help you sell your home

Save Me: Selling a Home
Save Me: Sell your home for top dollar   

Homeowners preparing to sell can find themselves between a rock and a hard place: Pouring money into renovations rarely pays for itself in added value, but buyers who spot maintenance issues are likely to offer less.

Now is the time to determine what your home needs to be sale-worthy. March is when buyer traffic typically picks up, Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, told CNBC.com earlier this year. Many are families hoping to find and close on new homes in time to move during the summer.

Big projects aren't your best bet. The average project recoups just 62.2 percent of its cost in added home value, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2015 Cost vs. Value report. A major, midrange kitchen remodel costs an average $56,768, for example, but adds $38,485 in value at resale—67.8 percent of that cost. (See chart below for some of the most and least valuable projects.)

Read MoreFor the best deal, skip this amusement park line

Which remodeling projects pay off?

Midrange Project
Cost
Resale value
Percent recouped
Entry door replacement (steel) $1,230 $1,252 101.80%
Manufactured stone veneer $7,150 $6,594 92.20%
Garage door replacement $1,595 $1,410 88.40%
Siding replacement (vinyl) $12,013 $9,694 80.70%
Deck addition (wood) $10,048 $8,085 80.50%
Master suite addition $111,245 $68,596 61.70%
Backup power generator $12,135 $7,263 59.90%
Bathroom addition $39,578 $22,875 57.80%
Home office remodel $29,066 $14,155 48.70%
Sunroom addition $75,726 $36,704 48.50%
SOURCE: Remodeling Magazine 2015 Cost vs. Value Report

A better strategy: Stick to small maintenance and repair projects. "Pretend you're the buyer," said Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for review site Angie's List, which helps its members find contractors and other service professionals. "Walk around your house and think about things you would reject in a home." Peeling paint, a leaky faucet, scraggly landscaping and crumbling concrete steps to the front porch might all make the list.

Read MoreWorried about an audit? No need, if you do this

If you're in an area where curb appeal is limited because said curb (and everything else) is still buried under snow, focus on the inside of the home. A few good photographs of your home in other seasons can show off landscaping and other outdoor features that Mother Nature is currently keeping hidden.

Call in licensed professionals for plumbing and electrical work, along with any structural problems spotted, said Reed. Much of the rest could be done by a handyman or with your own elbow grease.