Decorating for your own enjoyment and decorating to sell are two completely different exercises. Too many home sellers muddle the two and waste their money. The perceived "added value" of a costly and emotionally draining renovation isn't the reality.

Adding a new kitchen, completely repainting, carpeting, or building an extension rarely pays for itself, if you're honest about the true investment in time, materials and money.

If money is your motivator -- and it should be when you're selling -- you'll never get your money back on these big capital expenses.

The ultimate goal of decorating to sell is just that: to sell your house. Your personal taste simply isn't important. Sure, some buyers won't buy your home if the kitchen is dated. But just as many will buy it because they want to stamp their own mark on the property.

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On the other hand, speed decorating is money well spent. It's about spending money on simple, functional improvements.

The first thing to do is invite a real estate agent to estimate the value of the property and find out how much it's likely to sell "as is" on the current market, says Sharon Trafford of Renovate to Profit.

Then create a budget for decorating using a spreadsheet and ask your real estate agent how much each item will add to the sale price. If you have to spend $50,000 to up the sale price by $10,000, then your answer is clear.

Trafford's clients are often investors, who judge decoration by the return on investment. An investor, says Trafford, will calculate that the return is greater from replacing a kitchen bench than the entire kitchen. The latter would cost them money.

A flash new bench and some up-to-date drawer handles are often all it needs to woo buyers, who aren't necessarily thinking about the age of the underlying cabinets.

Likewise in a bathroom, an investor who wants to maximise investment in decorating might clean and paint mouldy areas and have the grout and sealant replaced, but wouldn't buy new fixtures and fittings or replace tiles, she says.

Painting the entire interior isn't essential to sell and won't pay its way. Typically, property investors who are buying, renovating, and selling are the canniest at not over-capitalising on decoration.

Other touch ups investors will make, says Trafford, include:

• Painting or staining fences and other woodwork that is looking tired. Charcoal or black can really create an impact.

• Repainting the front door in an eye-catching colour -- after seeking advice.

• Buying simple things such as a new door mat.

If you're convinced that only a feature wall in designer wallpaper will sell the home, stop in your tracks. Buyers aren't going to turn their nose up at a house based simply on the brand of wallpaper. If they do, they'll probably be too fussy to buy anywhere anyway. A painted feature wall with decals might do the trick at a fraction of the price.

Interior decorator and home stager Julie Rees of Sojo Design says homeowners need to remove themselves emotionally from the redecoration.

"You need to present (the property) for the market," Rees says.

"It's worth it for the end result."

Small cost-effective projects, says Rees, include:

• Dealing with peeling paint, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

• Touching up the hallway skirting boards if needed

• Painting the rooms that will appeal to female buyers -- such as the master bedroom.

• Removing old drapes in favour of venetian blinds.

• Replacing dated light fittings with something more modern.

• Using mirrors to create an impression of light and space in rooms.

• Buying or hiring some artwork.

• Adding modern rugs to cover up old (but clean) carpets and other defects.

Vendors can get a lot of free advice from real estate agents who see day in-day out what impresses buyers. It's also worth asking questions at painting and decorating stores to find out what is "in".

An hour or two's advice from a colour consultant or interior designer will almost always pay for itself and give you a starting point for what does and doesn't need to be done.

These professionals offer a fresh set of eyes over the home, says Rees. You may be in love with red velvet curtains, as a client was recently, but potential buyers may not be.

Finally, if your house isn't perfectly decorated, one of the best ways to draw attention away from this is to have your home dressed.

Store your own furniture and personal items and let the experts choose the perfect furniture and dressings from their warehouses.

That really does add value to a home at sale time.