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Home Improvement 2006  

Planning it out

  The success of any remodeling or improving project may depend on planning from start to finish.
Take it to the limit
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Long and short of it
How long one intends to live in the house makes a big difference in terms of how many improvements should be made.

Nelson sees two groups: homeowners with no regard to neighborhood or community environment because they can't imagine selling, and homeowners who make improvements based only on neighborhood/community environment so they can sell within five years.

"There is nothing you can do to a house that is immediately going to get you back dollar for dollar what you spent," says Don Zeman, builder, contractor and host of the radio show "Homefront." Take a kitchen remodel, for example. "If you enjoy it for 10 years and it appreciates, maybe you've made a little money on that investment. If you sell the house tomorrow, you're not going to get money back."

Or, say you're in the market for a new furnace. A sky-high efficiency rating is going to cost more upfront, but over the years you'll save more. Planning to sell within the next year? Then a lower-efficiency furnace may be best.

For those planning to stay put, craftsman Bruce Johnson, author of "Fifty Ways to Save Your House," points out that one never really knows what may happen. "We're a rather mobile society these days. Job transfers come, we move, nothing is certain. I, myself, would be very careful about not overimproving my house to the point where it would be impossible to get the money back out of it."

That's precisely why experts recommend sitting down with a real estate agent before doing costly home improvements. Which projects will increase the resale value? Which ones would make the house tough to sell?

For homeowners uncertain about whether moving would be more cost-effective than taking on improvement projects at all, check the free online calculator at

If selling seems most logical, think in terms of what improvements are necessary for resale (i.e. correcting water, mold or pet damage) and what will help prospective buyers see the house in the best light (i.e. repairing a squeaky door hinge), says Jim Rocchetta, national marketing director of Handyman Connection, which maintains a network of more than 4,000 independent craftsmen.

Regardless of whether staying or moving is the plan, licensed contractor James Carey, who hosts the nationally syndicated radio program "On the House" with his brother Morris, advises a safety-first approach to ensure that selected improvements are worth it.

"You don't go out and remodel your kitchen if the exterior of your home is cracking, if your lights are flickering, if you have evidence of termites, if your roof is leaking," Carey says. "You take care of the maintenance aspect of it first. Protect your family, then protect your pocketbook."

That includes knowing when to stop adding extras to your home. "The bottom line is, you can overbuild a house," Zeman says. "You don't ever want to end up with the biggest, most expensive home in whatever area of the city you live in."

Melissa Ezarik is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.

-- Posted: April 12, 2006
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