With existing home sales and home prices in most regions of the country down, it makes sense for homeowners to think at least twice about investing in a renovation. • What projects make sense, given the state of economic affairs? What improvements will allow folks to live better now and make the house more saleable later — and offer a handsome return on investment? • We posed those questions to some home builders and remodeling contractors, as well as a senior researcher at the National Association of Home Builders and the editorial director of Remodeling magazine. • The short story: Small projects are "in"; big additions are "out.'' Projects that improve curb appeal are good. So is anything to do with energy efficiency. And the perennial favorites: kitchen and bath remodels. • Have a look at some of the projects our experts deemed attractive for 2009.
Siding and window replacement. Throughout the country, both projects ranked among the highest in terms of "cost recouped," according to Remodeling magazine. These projects tend to be relatively small ($10,000 to $20,000). New siding and windows are geared toward curb appeal and can make a house sparkle again. But more than that, they make a house easier to maintain, which resonates with homeowners and buyers. New windows, in particular, buy homeowners all sorts of energy efficiency, which is another hot button with Americans.
Energy efficiency and going green. Insulating, reinsulating, caulking, replacing windows or doors or adding more energy-efficient skylights are all viable projects. Other projects on the "green" list: low-flow faucets and toilets, high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters and other energy-efficient appliances.
Cosmetics. Painting, replacing carpeting, replacing tile with carpeting or hardwood floors. These are all good investments to make your house look current.
The pizzazz factor. Going one step beyond cosmetic changes are the "wow" projects, for instance, crown molding and faux painting.
Kitchen remodel. Minor kitchen remodels include: upgrading countertops, installing spiffier faucets, replacing appliances, perhaps refacing cabinets that are in good shape. Those who have a bigger budget might consider incorporating better lighting and at least one to-die-for gourmet appliance. It could be a built-in espresso machine, dishwasher drawers or a multipurpose drawer such as the CoolDrawer from Fisher & Paykel. It changes from a simple pantry drawer to freezer, refrigerator and wine chiller with the touch of a button.
Bathroom remodel. Like the kitchen, a house with good bathrooms is gads more saleable than one without. And no, the glorious master bedroom bath is not dead. It just looks a little different these days. Skip the giant tub and opt instead for a body spray shower and a smaller soaking tub. If your budget allows, go for mosaics or stone or fancy tilework in the shower area.
Teaching old rooms new tricks. Big additions are not the trend right now. But homeowners can get a "new" room without incurring construction costs by reinventing existing space. Consider turning an underused dining room into a study, library or in-law area.
Sources: Sal Alfano, editorial director of Remodeling magazine; Gopal Ahluwalia, National Association of Home Builders; builder/remodeling experts Scott Sevon, Don Van Cura, Michael Menn and Mike Nagel