Painting a House Inside and Out - colors... colors... colors... Remember... we told you how important just painting a house could be? Well, this is what a fresh paint does and why: Makes the home appear clean and fresh Eliminates "old house" odors Cover patches and imperfections in walls Makes a room addition appear larger and brighter Plus, remember... Try to choose exterior colors that complement the neighborhood and the period flavor of the house. Avoid interior colors that are too wild or bright. Allow accent pieces in the house to provide the bright colors. Landscaping - make your landscape an improvement, not an investment! No true exterior face-lift can be successful without an attractive yard. Many older houses are overgrown with large ragged foliage that obscures the house and may provide a dark and dreary atmosphere. Trim back large plants to expose the house. Adding small accent plants around the yard can make the yard appear "more groomed". If your lawn suffers from poor upkeep or bare Spots, consider rock or foliage gardens to cover the affected areas. Don't overspend on your landscaping. A few landscaping dollars can go a long way. Excessive landscaping will not increase the home value significantly. In fact, it can reduce home value if the buyer perceives hours spent in the yard grooming, cutting and pruning. The Kitchen and Renovation The kitchen has become one of the most popular renovation projects. Almost all kitchens in older homes are small and ill equipped for modern lifestyles. Minor kitchen remodeling can be quite cost efficient and entail as little as new floor coverings and painting of the cabinets. Many manufacturers now offer refinishing kits that replace only the face and doors of the cabinets, leaving the old shelving intact. Minor facelifts can brighten up a kitchen, but will do little to solve major space or functional problems. Typically, a major kitchen overhaul will bring a greater return on investment than a minor face-lift. A major overhaul will allow you to add new and more spacious cabinets, solve traffic flow problems and lighten up the kitchen with replacement windows. If you are concerned a full face-lift is too expensive and may not return the full value of the investment, arrange with your contractor for you to do as much of the work as is possible. If your existing kitchen is out of date, consider the remodeling project a necessity. Bathroom Remodeling Recent trends are toward lavish and spacious baths. The two-bath house has become a standard. Adding a second bath to a home may not return its full value, but it eliminates a major obstacle if you ever decide to sell your home. This is true because buyers will be comparing your bath features to the ones present in new construction. Because of the high cost of tearing out old fixtures and installing new ones, consider doing some of the work yourself. Tasteful decorating and a wise choice of fixtures will also add to the general value of your home without costing a small fortune. Whenever possible, consider adding a bathroom to the master bedroom if it does not already have one. Room Additions - Worth the Investment, but be Careful The value of a room addition will vary, depending on its use and the need for space. Look closely at the utility an addition can provide. If the addition adds a much-needed bathroom or bedroom, it can add significantly to the value of the house. Just make sure that YOU are not overbuilding for the neighborhood. Your addition may make your home the largest in the neighborhood. Sometimes a better choice is to open up the existing space by knocking out walls. Consult with a knowledgeable and professional contractor before attempting this conversion yourself because walls are load-bearing and cannot be easily removed.; New Roof or Roofing Repair Nothing will scare a prospective buyer away faster than an unattractive, leaking roof. If the roof is in poor condition, you may have no choice but to replace the roof. But don't expect re-roofing it to add much value to your house. The roof is one of those must do maintenance items. If you are not planning to stay in your house and are doing the remodeling only for a sale, then a stained or unattractive roof can sometimes be improved enough with a good steam cleaning. The same applies to gutters -- if they are in bad shape, their very appearance will hurt the value of your home. Swimming Pool - ONLY if you plan to stay in your house for a while! A pool is one popular home improvement that seldom returns the investment. Obviously, people are installing pools for reasons other than investment return. Don't consider the addition of a swimming pool unless your home is in a high-price bracket or you plan to be around for a while. Same applies to expensive spas and hot tubs -- you should add these for YOU... not for the buyer. Foundations - Foundation Repair Must be Done! The most important structural component of a house is the foundation. Structural problems here will be difficult and expensive to repair. Look for general deterioration - this may suggest that moisture Or water has entered the basement or sub-floor. It is expensive to repair this damage and difficult to prevent from becoming a recurring problem. Check for uneven settlement in your home, which can distort or even pull apart the house frame. Uneven settling may have caused your windows and door frames to be pulled out of square, or it may have loosened the interior finish and siding, creating cracks that can cause drafts and heat loss. A minor settling problem can sometimes be corrected by re-leveling beams or floor joists. Widespread uneven settlement, however, may require a new foundation or, more critically, may make the house unsuitable for renovation. Be sure to check the joint between the foundation and the wood frame construction. If you find gaps of an inch or more, this may be an indication of significant settling - a danger signal that more severe problems exist. Further investigation is needed to determine how much remodeling may be necessary. If a prospective buyer catches wind of a foundation problem, they are likely to turn and run! So, if you have a foundation problem, get it looked at by a professional renovation contractor. Furthermore, selling your home or not, if you have a foundation problem -- get it repaired... They only grow worse with time. Appraisal - Appraisers Can Tell You How Much Remodeling You Can Do You should confirm that the appraised value of the property matches the selling price and supports any remodeling costs. Houses in older neighborhoods are notoriously hard to price because of the many variables created by their age. What is a fair price? Often, the fair price is one that satisfies to a reasonable degree both the needs of the buyer and the needs of the seller. You, as the buyer or the seller, will want to bring to the bargaining table as much cost information as possible. Although subjective, a reasonable and fair price can be calculated by a professional home appraiser. Heating and Air Conditioning Systems Heating and air condition systems should be inspected, repaired and installed by licensed contractors. Their systems are complex and closely regulated. A mistake here could be very expensive. Older heating systems might need to be upgraded to handle the load of new additions to the structure of your home. Old furnaces without integral air conditioning systems can lower the value of your home, even after a renovation. Upgrading to a new energy efficient heating and air conditioning system can increase comfort and save big on energy bills. Replacement WindowsYour windows should be in good repair and freshly painted. If you need to replace any windows, make sure you buy ones that suit the architecture of your house. As the price of oil goes up and up, consider ones made out of vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) because they are durable, energy efficient and maintenance free � two qualities that rank high with homebuyers. Realtors estimate that you will get back 85% of the cost of your vinyl replacement windows when you sell your home. Estimating Remodeling Costs Jumping into your first remodeling project without a realistic estimate of the costs involved could spell financial disaster. The single biggest cause of failed remodeling projects is poor or nonexistent estimating. Many do-it-yourselfers (and professional contractors for that matter) fail to complete even a rudimentary estimate of the costs associated with their project. Why? Partly because estimating is time consuming and requires a good knowledge of construction and accounting. Another reason is bad habits. On a large remodeling project, an accurate estimate is essential. The nickels and dimes will start to run away with the entire budget until the overall project is hopelessly deadlocked, and several projects will have to be canceled for lack of money. This is especially true in remodeling, since many costs are hidden and can't be calculated accurately until the project is started. Therefore, make sure that the rest of your estimate is totally accurate and that you add in extra for the unseen costs. Estimating a remodeling project can be a real challenge, since many necessary repairs may be hidden behind walls and floor coverings. Inspect your project rigorously using the some type of checklist -- one can be obtained from home inspectors. If you are remodeling a room such as the bath, you will need to make a checklist of each item you intend to replace. If you are building a room addition, you will actually be estimating a small construction project that has all the expenses associated with a full-scale construction project. If you are working with a professional remodeling contractor, that person should complete a takeoff before bidding the job. Contractors usually include a hidden costs clause in their contracts to insure them against unexpected problems that may be invisible until the project is started. This is especially true when a sub-contractor is bidding a fixed price for the job. Examine this clause carefully to make sure that it can't be used to tack on additional bonuses. Your contract should describe the remodeling project in detail. Ask that the contractor's estimate be attached to the contract with the costs removed. This will help to define the project. If the contractor is working on a cost plus basis, demand that the estimate be included. Contracts Used by Sub-Contractors Sub-contractor contracts, like affidavits, protect you from surprises. All arrangements must be in writing, no matter how good anyone's memory, reputation or integrity. Subs often develop contract amnesia if a problem arises. Your contract should include job specifications, time frame for completion and a payment schedule. To avoid having to pay for rushed, below standard work, it is wise to include a statement such as "Final payment will be made when work is satisfactorily completed. Working with Remodeling Contractors The remodeling contractor falls into the category of a general contractor. The general contractor serves as the project manager and hires (and pays) all the other subcontractors used on the job. If you decide to hire and control the subcontractors on your own remodeling project, you become the remodeling contractor (with all the responsibilities). If you decide to hire a remodeling contractor for most of your remodeling, you will avoid many hassles of working with subcontractors, controlling records, purchasing and so on. This can be the main reason to use a professional. You may be more than happy to incur the extra expense of a remodeling contractor if you do not have the time or the motivation to manage the project effectively. One other factor to consider is the complexity of the remodeling project. If you are adding rooms, making massive structural changes, or framing stairways to finished attics, the expertise of the remodeling contractor might be a blessing. A compromise financial arrangement might be to allow the remodeling contractor to take care of the major structural changes while you look after the smaller remodeling projects. Living with the Remodeling Project -- Projects never go as smoothly as expected and invariably encounter delays -- plan for this and learn to live with it! Regardless of whether you do the work yourself or hire a professional, remodeling an occupied home can be challenging and dangerous. Be prepared for dirt, sawdust, interruptions of electrical and water service, noise and general inconvenience. Don't underestimate the psychological toll this will take on your personal life. Use the following techniques to ease the burden: Keep children and pets away from workers during the project. Encourage children to sleep over with their friends during the most intense part of the job. Isolate pets in a secure area such as a fenced yard or basement. Barking dogs will make subcontractors nervous and cranky. Cover all exposed furniture fully, using bedspreads or preferably plastic sheeting. Seal off other parts of the house from any construction area with plastic. This will prevent construction dust from entering the rest of the house. Gypsum dust created when sanding drywall is extremely fine and will work its way into everything in the house, including clothes in closets, stereo equipment, and computers. Provide a protected alley for construction foot traffic. Put up signs to direct the subcontractors. Cover the floor with strips of vinyl carpet protector. Arrange with friends or neighbors to use their facilities if water or electrical services must be turned off.