Home Work

Looking to revamp your home? Think about a remodel or addition.

Photos: Before, top: the kitchen in Jamie Saul's 1927 colonial lacked functionality. After, bottom: Saul worked with Associcated Housewrights to open up and modernize.

The numbers don’t lie. Statistics show new home starts and sales of new and existing single-family homes fell—and kept falling—beginning in 2006-2007. With so many of us staying put (although early 2010 numbers are showing slight increases in housing starts), investing in your space has become a lot more important. We talked to experts for advice on two big trends: remodels and additions.

Fact #1: Jobs are Smaller in Scope

“In 2009 nearly all remodeling contractors with multiple employees saw their volumes drop anywhere from fifteen to fifty percent. The economic skittishness can most notably be seen in the decline of larger projects, projects beyond $150,000 in particular,” says Scott Shimanski, partner with Associated Housewrights.

Common smaller projects include kitchen and bath remodels, basement work, screened-in porches and decks. Andy Braman-Wanek of Ginkgo House Architecture says in the past clients would consider moving into a different home if the current space wasn’t working for them. Not anymore. “They don’t want to [wonder] if their house is going to sell—and it’s a lot easier to work with what you have.”

Fact #2: Homeowners are Smarter

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) says make a list: features you wish you could have, those you need, color swatches, who will use the room and for what. The more you plan, the easier it is to realize your vision.

Shimanski says that sometimes “moving a wall and dramatically improving the workspace is all that is needed. Other times it’s more complex such as, ‘We’d like another bedroom and bath but can’t imagine where they would go. Can you help show us some possibilities and provide us some financial guidance?’”

Braman-Wanek’s preferred path is to look first at working within the home’s footprint before suggesting an addition:
“I think what makes a wonderful house is that if the spaces work, it doesn’t matter how big they are,” he says.

Fact #3: Energy Efficiency is Big

Both Shimanski and Braman-Wanek say tax credits are a huge motivator to utilize energy-efficient materials. “These improvements help mitigate future ice damming and/or simply reduce the home’s heating and cooling expenses. The tax credits have helped spur window replacements as well,” says Shimanski.

Green home materials add value to the home, too, which fits in nicely with reinvesting in the home as well as being an environmental steward.

“This is definitely [an area] where people are spending money because they’re seeing a direct value from [these energy efficient materials]—the returns are quantifiable,” adds Braman-Wanek.

Check out energystar.gov, an invaluable resource on various ways to improve energy efficiency in the home.

Fact #4: You Get What You Pay For

Say you want to repurpose a room and breathe new life into it. Braman-Wanek thinks that even if you don’t recoup all
of your money, you should just do it.

“If a client is going to take on a remodel ultimately they need to anticipate living in the home five [or] ten years if they want to recoup their money. However, you should balance that with an emotional return, too,” he says. “Houses are an investment and you might want to also be OK if you don’t recoup all of the money if it’s worth having that space.”

The (slightly) improved economic conditions and stabilizing economy might mean that people won’t sock all of their money away in savings or just spend on the basics; they might consider a revamp to their home again.

“In my mind the biggest mistake is not being willing to pay for professional design and construction. We see additions we call ‘tumors or warts’ attached to the back or side of a home. Lacking architectural sensitivity/integrity can actually harm its value instead of helping,” says Shimanski.

Contractor Checklist
(courtesy of remodelingmadison.org)

Was the contractor/salesperson on time?
•Appearance neat and professional?
•Vehicle presentable?
•Did they listen to your ideas; ask questions?
•Did they suggest options/alternatives/ideas?
•Do they have liability and worker’s
comp insurance?
•Years in business?
•Members in any trade or other organizations?
•Are they certified? (If applicable)
•Do you feel comfortable with them?

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

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