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Home remodeling: Pick renovations that pay off
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Getting it right

Try as they might, the hardware superstores have thus far failed to teach what architects and designers have to offer: taste. Your return on your remodel will likely depend as much on how well it fits the period and scale of your house as how much it adds to its functionality.

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"Anything that is sensitive to the character of the house should have the same sense of proportion and materials," says Kay Miller Boehr, an interior design professor at Park University near Kansas City. "If the house originally had molding, it should be there. If it didn't, it won't help to go out and do it at Home Depot."

Boehr says the things that most grate on her are faux replacement windows, kitchens where "miles and miles" of cabinetry have run amok, and rooms that "scream '70s or '80s."

Her advice: Refinish all hardwood floors, don't scrimp on the details that define the house's style, and hire a designer if you don't know a Cape Cod from an English Tudor.

"I believe in doing a house for yourself, not just for resale. But then I like those things that are consistent with the character of the house," she says. "Older houses where the owners have done a good job remodeling them sell quickly, even in neighborhoods where there's still a lot of rehab to be done."

Johnson agrees. "People can see past the decorating a lot of times, but if they see that a house hasn't been taken care of, they wonder what else is wrong that they can't see."

Don't go crazy

A final word of caution: To properly recoup all that sweat equity, keep one eye to your neighborhood. No matter how spectacular your results, don't plan on pushing your home's value beyond 25 percent of its current selling price; even in the best market, you probably won't get it.

Best bet: If the market is lukewarm or you reside in a neighborhood with widely varied property values, set your sights just under the most expensive home on the block. That way, the showcase homes will tend to reinforce your potential asking price.

Yes, you've noticed pools, gazebos, mazes, musical fountains and exotic animal enclosures didn't make the list. If you absolutely have to have one, so be it, but don't expect the next buyer to pay for your fancies.

Jay MacDonald is a freelance writer based in Mississippi.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Feb. 2, 2005
More stories by Jay MacDonald
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