If you’ve been putting off home improvements, now may be the time to call the contractor.
Sluggish home-building demand is pushing down the cost of construction materials, such as lumber, and spurring contractors to take on smaller projects and sometimes cut fees. Custom and speculative builders are also starting to take on renovation jobs, picking up work they might have passed over a year ago.
“It’s good news for the consumer if you’ve got a lot more people seeking projects,” says Gopal Ahluwalia, a vice president of research for the Association of Home Builders.
Framing lumber, gypsum, and construction plastics are lower than a year ago, and these lower material costs could save homeowners an estimated 5 to 10 percent on additions, say economists.
The falloff is largely due to slowing new home construction. Growth in spending on remodeling has also slowed recently, a result of rising interest rates and homeowners who have postponed selling.
Economists caution that people should invest in their home only if they are planning to stay awhile and enjoy it.
Think kitchens first
Home-improvement dollars should first go toward equipment that makes your house more livable, with kitchen makeovers at the top of the list. Appraisers and real estate agents agree that a new kitchen adds more value to a house than any other project—an average of $43,660 according to Money magazine.
A renovation that includes new countertops, refurbished cabinets, an island, a walk-in pantry, and the latest appliances can be done for about $15,000. You can plan on recouping at sale about 90 cents on the dollar for major kitchen work.
Dark kitchens are the rage—dark flooring, dark stone countertops, dark wood cabinets, and dark-colored appliances to match. However, dark kitchens may be passé in a few years and depress the resale value of the house.
While fads are one trap, turning your house into a personal design statement can be another. If you’ll actually enjoy a wine cellar or a spare bedroom turned into a library, go ahead and add them, but be aware they’ll limit the market for your home. Better to install personalized features that let future owners convert them back into more traditional use; consider stand-alone cabinets that would be easy to remove by a new owner.
A new front door can create a lasting first impression on a visitor. The new generation of fiberglass doors is the first to look realistic enough to fool a carpenter. They will never crack, split, or rot and require little maintenance, says Bill Keith, host of the Home Tips Show on Chicago TV. He favors the Therma-Tru brand, which sells at about the same price as wood.
Also consider on-demand opaque glass for the living room to reduce sun glare and air-conditioning bills. Andersen Windows displayed a prototype at last year’s International Builders’ Show. SageGlass has a similar product.
Outside the house, consider carriage-house style doors that still open and close like traditional garage doors. Wayne Dalton offers doors that start at $700, plus installation. Get the distinctive look of slate shingles without the weight or cost with the rubber-imitation Majestic slate from EcoStar. They cost about half what you’d pay for a real slate roof.
And consider using pull-down screens to turn the garage into open-air exercise rooms, workshops, and entertainment spaces while keeping bugs and leaves out.
When remodeling, look for energy-saving appliances, such as water heaters. Consider replacing your old washing machine. Energy Star models use 50 percent less water.
REMODELING RESOURCES ONLINE
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Andersen on-demand opaque windows
Wood-like fiberglass front doors
Imitation slate shingles