Homeowners can remodel themselves right out of the market with over-personalized and over-expensive improvements.

The days when homes automatically appreciated by 20 percent a year are over, according to an article in the current issue of House Beautiful. In the late 1980s the appreciation rate dropped to a mere 5 percent a year, which barely surpassed the inflation rate."Some sellers have priced themselves out of the market with their changes," said Dan Bready, a Washington, D.C., real estate agent with Dale Denton.

As of last year, a renovated kitchen, the most popular home improvement, returned an average of 88 percent of its value if the house was sold within a year. A bathroom returned 73 percent, replacement of an existing entry door with an insulated wood entry door carried a 42 percent payback.

Americans will continue to remodel. By year's end homeowners are projected to spend $105 billion on home improvements, more than double what was spent seven years ago, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But remodeling is not a guaranteed investment.

"The simpler the better," said Carol Lynch, a real estate broker in the Chicago firm of Helen Jaeger Roth Real Estate. "People don't like to pay for things that aren't their taste or to pay to have them undone."

Chicago architect Allan J. Grant advised homeowners to determine how long they plan to stay in their home in deciding if the disruption and expense of remodeling makes sense. A real estate agent or appraiser can value your home in comparison with improved houses of the same size in the neighborhood.

"Smart people buy small houses in wonderful neighborhoods," said Zoe Ann Fischer, a Los Angeles agent with King Realty who also remodels houses professionally. "These houses will appreciate because of high demand, and if owners are sensible about what they put in they should get their money out."

State-of-the-art kitchens, well-organized closet systems and plenty of natural light help sell your house. But stay away from putting color into permanent fixtures - it is too expensive for the next person to take out.

Here are some remodeling guidelines:

- Floors and walls: Fancy paint treatments and wallcoverings are for your enjoyment only. Carpeting will not necessarily add to the value of your home, even if it is in great condition. Wood floors are very popular, in medium rather than dark colors, with narrow rather than wide planks. Mirrored walls and ceilings can deter a prospective buyer and are expensive to rip out.

- The kitchen: White is best, beige a close contender. Put in high quality but not necessarily top-of-the-line cabinets with good hardware and hinges, well-fitted shelves.

Granite countertops are the current rage and are very durable. Solid surfacing materials such as Corian and Avonite last much longer than a laminate but may cost twice as much. If you choose a laminate, the new speckled and marbled ones show dirt less than solid white. Marble is expensive and stains.

Good quality appliances are acceptable. You do not need top-of-the-line.

- The bathroom: A powder room is important in a two-story house. White or a neutral color is best. Stay away from colored fixtures and tile. Whirlpools and steam showers in a master bathroom are still very popular, but do not give up needed closet or bedroom space to make room for them. A large house of four or more bedrooms should have three bathrooms and a powder room.

- General improvements: Anything that gives a house daylight, such as skylights and clerestory windows, appeals to buyers. So do light colors.

Landscaping and a uniform one-style facade add curb appeal.

Central air conditioning is considered a necessity in most parts of the country.

Closet organization systems are essential, especially in older houses. Add units with universal appeal.

Good burglar and fire alarms offer a high payback.