Judging a home by its siding

In today's real estate market, anxious home sellers -- or those merely thinking about selling -- might well heed a finding of the latest annual remodeling study: It's what's outside that counts.

Each year Remodeling magazine, a trade journal, studies typical projects in various cost brackets to calculate which ones have the greatest rate of return when a house is sold. This year, the top projects were those that ostensibly contributed to the homes' curb appeal.

Face it, sellers: In this market, choosy buyers can -- and do -- keep driving if they don't like what they see from the street. So, the magazine's survey says an "upscale" siding replacement could provide the best return at the closing table.

In the study, such a project about 1,250 square feet of fiber-cement siding would average $13,212, nationwide; the magazine estimates a homeowner would recoup 88 percent of that if the house were sold one year later. Mid-range siding (vinyl, costing about $9,900) would return 83 percent, the magazine said.

Those numbers are even stronger here: The mid-range siding replacement (at a cost in Chicago of $11,759) and the upscale version (costing about $14,000) each would bring back about 100 percent, the magazine said.

Other top paybacks went to new decks (returning 81 to 94 percent in the Chicago market, depending on material and cost) and wooden replacement windows (returning 90 to 94 percent of the cost in Chicago), the magazine said.

The jobs that did the least, nationwide and in the Chicago area, were back-up power generators, sunroom additions and remodeled home offices, the magazine said. Those returned 62 to 66 percent on investment, depending on the job.

This was the 20th Remodeling study, which it calls "Cost vs. Value Report." In recent years it seems to have improved significantly in its sophistication and depth. Nine years ago, the magazine began a partnership with the National Association of Realtors, whose members put in their 2 cents on local rates of return.

The bottom line of this bottom-line survey, its editors report, is that the marketplace seems to be trending toward practical and maintenance-oriented projects -- the stuff that needs to be done, as opposed to the things that might make your heart sing.

On the other hand, it could all be in the execution. That sunroom that the magazine suggests you might want to skip is the thing that made me want to buy my house two years ago.

The study's complete findings regarding 29 remodeling projects are available at costvsvalue.com/ index.html.

Pretty good deal, eh?

Canadians have long flocked south in the winter to escape the cold. Now they have a big incentive to invest here -- the Canadian dollar is so strong that more are buying second homes in U.S. resort areas.

This is a huge turnabout for the long-suffering Canadian loonie, as the nation's dollar is nicknamed. A few years ago, the loonie was getting tromped by the greenback, but now, real estate agents in such places as Palm Springs, Calif., say they're seeing fewer Canadians renting vacation homes -- they're buying, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It reports that California real estate agents scrambling for business in the market downturn have taken to advertising in Canadian newspapers. "Park your loonies, play some golf," one ad reads.


Hear Mary Umberger on WBBM Newsradio 780 at 6:21 p.m. and 10:22 p.m. each Thursday and Friday and 7:20 a.m. each Saturday and Sunday.


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