Whether you’re seeking to tackle your first project on the fixer-upper you just bought or pursue a remodel to get the home ready for selling, your biggest concern may be what will yield the biggest payoff.

Should you construct an upscale kitchen with high-tech appliances and glitzy countertops and backsplash? Should you create a home theater in that dark and neglected basement? Or should you knock down walls on the first floor of your Arts and Crafts-era bungalow and create a contemporary open-space layout?

If you’re seeking the most return on investment, the answer to all three questions is no. According to an annual ranking of projects in Remodeling Magazine, you might be better off this year spending your money on improving exterior features. Only one of the top five projects is interior. The rankings are used by many remodelers and real estate agents to help guide homeowners on which improvements yield the most value.

For nearly 20 years, Remodeling Magazine has conducted a comprehensive study of 22 remodeling projects, ranking them by highest return. The list is based on several factors, including interviews with agents, existing-home sales, local gross domestic product and housing starts. The database ranks the projects nationally as well as by region, city and Zip code in 150 metropolitan areas.

Here are the five remodeling projects, ranked nationally, that will bring you the most recoupment of investment:

1. Garage door replacement

A new 16-by-7-foot garage door costs an average of $3,907, with a 93.8 percent return.

You may be wondering why, of all projects, would a new garage door yield the best return. Well, a two-car garage door can be quite large, helping color buyers’ initial impression of the home when they first drive up.

“ 'Curb appeal’ and ‘first impressions’ are strong concepts in real estate because they have a big impact on how much money prospective home buyers are willing to pay for a home,” according to Remodeling Magazine. “If they start out thinking the house looks good — is in good shape, has ‘good bones’ — they begin to fit all the new information they learn once they walk through the front door around these positive impressions.”

Conversely, a ratty garage door can sour their view of the home, thereby reducing the amount they’d be willing to pay, even if the interior is fabulous.

When tinkering with the elements that make up curb appeal, try to zero in on problem areas.

“Even if you’re not a professional you can tell what isn’t working or doesn’t look right to you,” says Damian Trostinetzky, architect-partner with RT Studio, based in North Bethesda, Md. “It’s usually easier to figure out what doesn’t work. Try to respect the existing house and your neighbors. The cheapest way is to enhance the features of the house that are already there, rather than change it.”

2. Manufactured stone veneer

Adding a layer of manufactured stone veneer to your exterior costs an average of $10,386 with a return of 92.1 percent. The numbers consider removing a 300 square foot continuous band of existing vinyl siding and replacing it with adhered manufactured stone veneer. The total includes 36 linear feet of sills, 40 linear feet of corners and one address block.

Trostinetzky says he believes that even when taking on fairly simple, straightforward exterior projects it’s good to consult a pro. “DIY culture is great, but when you’re making an investment, and you’re making an investment no matter what, hire a professional. Everything you do is going to be expensive.”

3. Minor kitchen remodel

A major remodel to create an upscale kitchen costs an average of $149,049 and yields a 53.9 percent return, according to Remodeling Magazine. However, a minor kitchen renovation comes in at $26,214 with a 72.2 percent return.

The minor kitchen renovation includes replacing cabinet fronts with shaker-style wood panels, drawers and hardware, as well as new appliances and countertops.

Ileana Schinder, an architect based in D.C., has designed and built a number of accessory dwelling units in the D.C. area. The experience requires working in small spaces and within tight budgets.

When analyzing what will get her clients the biggest return in the kitchen, she starts with the basics. “I look for things that are already there and free, like natural light,” she says. “Then the circulation, how does the space connect to adjoining spaces. How do you get in and out of the kitchen? From that you can organize how the kitchen works.”

Tweaking a kitchen starts with analyzing the relationship between the sink, refrigerator and stove, which should form a “work triangle” with each leg measuring between four and nine feet. From there, examine prep space, cabinets and appliances.

“Consider the working surfaces, quality of the equipment and storage capacity,” says Schinder. “Don’t start backward by saying I want an island. If you don’t know where the island will go, it will become a problem. Start with what is good and free then start paying for solutions that are not there.”

If an island doesn’t fit, she recommends a stainless-steel chef’s table as a movable solution for creating prep space. To improve circulation, Schinder searches for non-load bearing walls that can be removed or room openings that can be widened.

Consider turning doors into windows or vice versa. Changing wall colors or texture is always the easiest fix. “Paint is cheap, or you can apply wallpaper, a backsplash or a light fixture, all those things you can do yourself,” she says.

Staying on budget is especially tough in kitchens and bathrooms due to all the home’s systems coming together into one relatively small space. Trying to stage the work properly is especially tough for amateur remodelers.

“Every piece of the kitchen is crucial,” says Schinder. “It’s a weird conga line where everything has to be done correctly and in the right order. The stuff is cheap, the connections are what’s actually expensive.”

4. Siding replacement

With an average cost of $19,626 and a return of 69.4 percent, the process examines the replacement of 1,250 square feet of existing siding with factory-primed and painted fiber-cement siding. The numbers include all 4-by-4 (one inch) and 5-by-4 (1¼ inches) trim pieces also made of fiber-cement or PVC.

Fiber cement is also known as cementitious siding and is sold under a number of well-known brand names. It’s become quite popular because it requires no maintenance and it’s nearly indestructible.

“It won’t warp, cut, rot, or [separate]. I don’t know what the life expectancy is but technically it should last forever because it’s really made from cement,” says Chris Landis, architect and co-owner of Landis Architects/Builders based in D.C. The material can do anything that wood can do and mimics its grainy appearance even upon close inspection. It comes from the factory primed or already painted with a baked on finish.

5. Window replacement

Replacing windows with new vinyl ones comes in at an average cost of $19,385 and a 68.6 percent return. The figures include replacing 10 3-by-5-foot double-hung windows, with insulated, low-emissivity, simulated-divided-light units.

Window frames can be made from wood, vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass. Vinyl offers a number of advantages, including low cost and low maintenance. It also comes in a variety of colors and it can be painted.

Window replacement helps your house look better, makes windows more usable and can greatly reduce energy usage especially if you’re comparing against old-style, double-hung, single-pane units.

“You get better insulation with the window itself but also old windows where there’s a sash cord on the side, that’s really just an air pocket with two layers of wood with a cast-iron weight inside it,” says Landis. “In a full tear-out all that gets insulated too.”

If your home is in a designated historic area, keep in mind that replacing existing wood-frame windows with vinyl may not be permitted. “There are a number of manufacturers with preapproved windows for historic areas,” says Landis. “It’s a process and your window installer needs to get a permit and go through it.”

For more home improvement ideas, check out these websites: Houzz.com, Ibby.com and Build.com.