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Remodeling Reality Check

Rising house valuations, an expanding economy, and low interest rates are combining to encourage many Kentuckians to add a room or expand their kitchen.

But before you start any home improvement, do a reality check: there’s only so much money and so much space. The trick is fitting your dreams into reality.

Best return on dollars
Kitchen fix-ups, the most common remodeling project, typically yield the highest return when a house is sold. So if your kitchen still sports appliances and décor from decades past, now may be the time to make it current.

Matching kitchen cabinets, floors, and furnishings is “out,” while mix’n match is “in,” says the American Hardwood Information Center, an industry trade group.

Mismatches can make small kitchens look larger, especially using darker floors with light-toned cabinetry. Think maple cabinets paired with oak, hickory, or cherry underfoot.

Sometimes a home improvement project grows out of an immediate need to replace broken or inefficient fixtures. If the sink, tub, or toilet has to be replaced, consider refurbishing the entire bathroom. New toilets use less water, but give second thoughts to that $10,000 hot tub, because if you decide to sell someday you may have a tough time convincing buyers to pay extra for the amenity you found so important.

Also, keep in mind that it may not pay to expand your house beyond the norms of the neighborhood. For example, you may not be able to recover the costs of adding a “grandparent” or “baby-sitter” suite with a separate entrance in a subdivision of small houses.

Reasons to remodel
But if the kids have married and moved out, it may be time to remodel for ambience, fun, and ease of use later in life by installing a gourmet kitchen or elevator to the second floor before it becomes a necessity.

These changes don’t have to look clinical, says a spokesman for the AARP.

No 50-year-old thinks he or she needs help in the bathroom, but reinforcing the wall during a remodel means that a towel rack can later be used as a grab bar.

When renovating, make your house a safer place to live. Install peepholes that rotate and mirrors to see in all directions to know who’s knocking at the front door.

Also, keep energy efficiency in mind. You may wish to switch to double-pane windows or add insulation to help reduce heating and cooling bills. Check with your local electric cooperative to see if it offers low-interest loans or cash rebates, for example, on a new water heater or furnace to encourage energy conservation.

Remodeling projects can be expensive, and you may be tempted to tackle them yourself as a way to save money.

Unless you’re particularly handy, however, large home improvement projects are better left to the pros. If you’re remodeling the kitchen, ask yourself if you can handle the plumbing, electrical, and carpentry work. Keep in mind also that you’re responsible for obtaining the necessary permits and inspections on do-it-yourself jobs.

Hiring people who have experience can save you money and time. For example, these professionals can help get a custom look using stock products, and that can be a significant savings.

If you and your family can’t do the job, make sure to get at least three bids from reputable contractors in order to assess costs accurately.

Make certain everyone is in agreement about design, schedule, and budget. Get the details in writing in a signed contract.

And keep in mind that good contractors tend to be continually busy. If it takes a month or two, or even longer, to schedule them, be patient. It will be worth the wait to get the job done right.

The average household spends $19,704 on remodeling a kitchen, the most common remodeling project, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Bathrooms run second, at $10,724.

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