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Good Deals on Remodeling

By Kelli B. Grant

IF YOU'RE YEARNING for an updated kitchen, or pining away for a new deck, don't hold your breath for"Trading Spaces"or another popular remodeling show to come calling. And while the TV stars always seem to get a lot done on a modest budget, in real life that's often not so easy. Staying within a budget is only one challenge. Homeowners should also take care to choose the renovations that will maximize the value of their property, says Sal Alfano, editorial director of Remodeling magazine. Whether you're hoping to accomplish major revisions or quick fixes, here are the keys to getting a good deal:

Profitable Renovations

Remodeling

Thinking about remodeling a room in your house? Take the guesswork out of where, how and why. We'll show you which jobs bring the biggest returns.

 

Planning
· Know your local market.
Your ability to eventually recoup a project's costs will depend on the direction of the local and national housing markets, says Alfano."If you have high housing values, that renovation will fare very differently than a market that's flat,"he says. It also depends on the project you choose. Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report compares the costs of various home renovation projects with their effect on the home's subsequent sale price.

For example, according to the 2005 survey, adding a family room to a home in San Diego is a good idea, allowing the homeowner to recoup 116.3% of the costs. But unless Burlington, Vt., residents really need the extra space, they may want to hold off a project that would only allow them to recoup 55.5% of the investment.


· Keep in step with your neighbors. Once you know which renovations fare well in your region, do some investigating in your own neighborhood, suggests Alfano. If yours is the only house on the block with a single full bath, or the only one without a deck, you could have problems selling your home."A lot of buyers won't even get out of their car,"he says. And if they do, they might insist on a substantial discount. But don't swing to the opposite extreme: Making your house the fanciest in the neighborhood won't help, says Stephanie Singer, spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors. You're less likely to recoup renovation costs when you eventually sell your home. To find out which renovations are hot in your neighborhood and which aren't, talk to a realtor, Singer suggests.
· Plan differently if you plan to sell immediately.
If you're hoping to sell within the next five years, don't make major renovations, advises Alfano. Instead of installing a skylight and a hot tub, he recommends anticipating what buyers would need to replace and turning your attention to those projects. Little changes can make a big impact, says Singer. Replacing your siding, at an average cost nationally of $7,239, is relatively inexpensive, but returns about 95.5%. Flowers, a fresh coat of interior paint and new cabinet hardware can also increase your home's appeal."Look out for things that might look to a buyer like the house is unkempt and uncared for,"says Singer.

· Make minor facelifts rather than major renovations. Some of the best deals are the renovations that don't alter the layout of a room, says Vince Butler, vice chairman of the National Association of Home Builders' Remodelors Council. Minor kitchen remodels, for example, return an average of 98.5% nationwide, according to the Remodeling magazine survey. So put in new appliances and a new floor, and resurface the counters and cabinets. You'll get a whole new look, but you won't have to spend a fortune.


· Consider the future.
No matter what kind of renovation you'd like, talk to your remodeler about so-called age-in-place renovations, advises Butler. These changes — from wider hallways and doorways to low stairs — won't add to your tab, but they will make future work easier (or unnecessary). Should aging or disabled relatives move in with you, you'll already have everything in place for wheelchair or walker accessibility. The concept isn't just for aging baby boomers, either, says Butler. You might consider how a space would change for young children growing into teenagers.

Getting Started

· Choose the right contractor.
"Absent the right remodeler, you'll spend more money and time and effort,"warns Paul Winans, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Don't automatically go with the lowest bid, our experts agreed. It's more important to find someone you like working with, and who can lead you through the process without running up extra costs, says Alfano. Winans recommends asking a contractor's references to tell you about a problem on the job, and how it was handled."A good remodeler will have a good solution,"he explains. You can look for a certified remodeler through NARI or the Remodelors Council at the NAHB.

· Read your contract carefully. Change orders from your contractor can add up quickly, so before you sign on the dotted line, get a clear picture of what's included, advises Winans."Make sure everything you think is part of the job actually is,"he says. Rather than ask what's included —"The list of items that are can be mind-numbingly broad,"he says — focus instead on the things that aren't covered. For example, a remodeler's contract rarely includes moving your belongings from the room to be renovated.

· Establish a budget — before you go shopping. With high-tech appliances, specialty tiles and designer everything, it's easy to fall into the kid-in-a-candy-store mentality, says Butler."There is a tremendous array of really cool things to do,"he says."As soon as you see it, you're hooked."Before you know it, you've decided to"spend a little more"on 10 items you need, and have gone way over budget.

· Don't change plans midrenovation."That's a classic mistake,"says Butler — and a costly one. Many items are not of a standard design, so changing your mind or simply procrastinating on a choice could cost you big if, say, that designer sink doesn't fit into the custom countertop you've already ordered. Make all your decisions before you begin a project, and stick to them.
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