The average American is said to move every five to seven years. As that statistic suggests, you would be wise to think carefully about how you spend your renovation dollars. The odds are that in the not-so-distant future, you will be trying to recoup your expenditure when you’re getting ready to move on to your next dwelling.
Not every home improvement or renovation will bring a healthy return on investment. So which will enhance the value of your house? Kitchen and bathroom renovations usually more than pay for themselves. Some experts believe that for every dollar well spent in bath or kitchen renovations, the value of the house increases by two dollars, though some studies are more conservative (one recent survey found that on average sellers recouped better than 90 percent of the dollars they had invested in kitchen remodeling). Painting, stripping, and such cosmetic work typically pay for themselves, but other work is less of a sure thing.
Remodeling the kitchen
Most of us, consciously or unconsciously, tend to think of the kitchen as an indicator of the quality of a house. A well-equipped, efficient, and attractive kitchen makes the potential buyer feel immediately at home. Conversely, an outdated kitchen will leave the buyer thinking it’s a problem to be solved. Thus, if you’re planning a kitchen renovation, consider both what you want and need and what will leave future buyers with the best impression.
Quality is important—both for you and them. Durable and attractive materials like stone counters, hardwood cabinets, and imported tile can help convey a sense of the well-made. Make sure you have ample storage and counter space. Good lighting is important, too, especially over cooking surfaces, the sink, and food preparation areas. In medium size or larger kitchen, eating areas, whether at tables or islands, add to the life of a house, involving other family members and guests with the cook’s activities. Brand-name appliances are another good way of conveying a sense of quality.
Bathrooms are second only to the kitchen in maximum benefit for the buck (according to one survey, better than 80 percent of remodeling costs are recouped on average in subsequent home sales). If you have no bath on the first floor of your multistory house, a half bath is an excellent investment—both for your comfort and the resale value of the house. Private baths off master bedrooms are also popular, but be wary of an overly large master suite. Some homeowners have discovered the hard way that too many square feet devoted to dressing areas, workout space, and bath-shower-whirlpool combinations can be an expensive waste of space and money. Good tile work and quality fixtures (new or antique) also add value. For a modest investment, handsome towel bars and other hardware can add considerably to the finish. The installation of two sinks can make the new bathroom twice as efficient on a workday morning.
Decks, window and siding replacement, home office installations
In terms of financial returns, these projects are next, recouping on average roughly 70 percent of the costs invested. Decks offer indoor-outdoor spaces that add significantly to living areas for minimum cost. Replacing windows and siding can offer considerable energy savings, as well as make the house more attractive. With more and more small businesses being run from home offices, a well-appointed office space can also be a selling point when it comes time to move on.
Floors, moldings, and woodwork
Whatever the nature of the job, the materials you choose will have an impact on the perceived value of the work. Hardwood floors are good investments. They’re durable, warm, and attractive. After the stripped-down starkness of the seventies, moldings, casework, and other woodwork have made a major comeback. Bold cornice moldings can add formality to a room. Chair and picture rails are practical and attractive additions that define surfaces and set off furnishings. Consult with your designer about appropriate profiles and scales for moldings, since they should reflect not only your tastes but the vintage and quality of the existing home.
Individual lighting fixtures can be surprisingly expensive, yet a few new light fixtures may be the most cost-effective way of “remodeling” a house. Without changing anything else, a new lighting design can add drama, convenience, and character to a house. Certain kinds of fixtures can draw attention to themselves, while others are almost invisible but emphasize other elements. Good light can also make your life in the house more comfortable. (See also The Lighting Designer)
Basement and attic conversions
If you’re going to remodel spaces downstairs, be sure that the space is light and dry enough. Your remodeling dollars won’t be well spent if the first impression people get is of darkness and damp. Sometimes designers can, however, design imaginative solutions to illuminate downstairs spaces, using a mix of natural and artificial light.
If you’re going upstairs, beware of too little headroom. Or of a narrow or steep stairway. If the place is going to feel cramped from day one, consider alternative approaches. Light and ventilation are crucially important, too. Roof windows and dormers can help.
Think about it: Have you ever heard anyone say they have too much closet space? Unless they intrude on other spaces, closets are always improvements.
In this era of fax machines and the Web, more than one phone line and plenty of phone jacks are a small but appealing selling point (and a convenience while you’re in residence). Modest landscaping involving shrubs, trees, foundation plantings, stonework, or small perennial beds almost always pay for themselves. Faux building materials like vinyl siding and fake brick make a house look plastic.
Keep in mind the delicate balance between what you want and what the next owner will need. That tension can sometimes be a tie-breaker in the decision making process.
Another way to save money may be to use architectural salvage.