Remember, remodelers: Stop while you're ahead


The sounds of excavating, hammering and sawing fill the summer air in America's neighborhoods. It's home remodeling season, and a $125 billion annual business is in full bloom.

One word of advice to some of you happy homeowners out there: Remember to stop while you're ahead.

Unless you have a well-crafted plan and the improvements will increase the value of your dwelling, you may simply be throwing good money away. In fact, some overzealous remodeling may decrease a home's value.

For example, experts point out that putting down unusual tile flooring can sometimes kill a potential home sale. Prospective buyers who may not like it will consider it permanent and too costly to rip up and replace.

A swimming pool can also scare buyers away, based upon potential upkeep and liability.

Basement remodeling often isn't fruitful, either.

Building an addition that isn't in sync with your home or neighborhood, or putting too much money into changes are common errors.

"Because home sale markets are flat, owners are becoming cautious about the possibility of overimproving their home," noted Peter Werwath, author of "A Consumer's Guide to Home Improvements, Innovations and Repair" (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994). "The No. 1 thing people should do is a very basic face-lift of the home about six months before resale."

Popular remodeling trends in 1995 include the "great room," a combined kitchen, dining and family room; the home office; a security system; an exercise room; and a lighting control system.

Here's the percentage of cost recouped from various projects if the home is sold within a year of the work being done, according to the National Association of Home Builders: minor kitchen remodeling, 104 percent; bathroom addition, 98 percent; major kitchen remodeling, 95; master bedroom suite conversion, 91; family room addition, 88; bathroom remodeling, 82; deck addition, 72; and home office addition, 59.

"Homeowners are decorating in neutral colors and spending a lot less on built-in items, instead choosing to accessorize with items that can be taken with them to their next home," pointed out Norm Carlson, owner of Home Improvements, a remodeling firm in Charlevoix, Mich.

The best change people can make to increase the value of their homes is a new paint job, Carlson has found, and the best way for an owner to keep costs down on any work is to do the preparation and demolition work him or herself.

Never take remodeling lightly. Even a seemingly small job requires time, money and patience.

"We had a bedroom and bath added to our home, which included demolition of an old, small bedroom," said Sherri Lynn of Kirkland, Wash.

"Since work does take a lot of time -- 2 1/2 months in our case -- you need patience and must carefully research the firm you use in advance," she said.

Your entire family is required to make a commitment.

"Major remodeling will be disruptive and dirty, much like having a factory in your house," added Sandy McAdams, owner of the McAdams Co. remodeling firm in Kirkland, which did the work on the Lynn home. "Advance planning and good communication are crucial to the process."

Word-of-mouth is still the primary means of finding remodeling professionals. "More than 90 percent of home remodeling jobs are awarded based on references, so it's important to weigh all factors and interview the prospective contractors carefully," counseled William Asdal, vice chairman of the Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders.

Besides the project's price, examine professional references and affiliations of several contractors, the proposed start and completion dates, the payment schedule and the list of materials to be used, he said.

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