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Remodeling trend: Aging in place, with style

Ask experts what types of home-remodeling projects are hot now, and they wax philosophical.

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Sure, these architects, decorators and self-help gurus will get around to telling you that outdoor living spaces are all the rage right now. But they would rather talk about why people renovate. It's not to enhance property values. That motive garners nary a mention.

Instead, these experts say that home renovators are driven by the desire to connect. Homeowners want to commune, not to cocoon -- to welcome visitors into open spaces, not to retreat into private places. Remember the movie "Panic Room," which ignited a brief flame of fascination with interior refuges? That fad burned out quickly. Safe rooms are so 2002.

As the years advance, people grow older. Aging is another driver of home renovations, and not only to make houses more accessible. Older people want to make room to accommodate visits from their grandchildren and their grandchildren's parents.

Spending big for better homes
Remodeling is a big industry, accounting for an estimated $176 billion in 2003 for owner-occupied units, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. About 80 percent of that is spent on improvements and the rest is spent on maintenance and repairs. The line between those two categories can be arbitrary; a roof replacement is considered an improvement, not maintenance or repair.

In a recently published report, the Joint Center said that almost half of homeowners had accomplished "significant" upgrades in the last decade. A significant upgrade is defined as a project that cost at least 10 percent of the home's value in 1995.

People are still upgrading kitchens and bathrooms. Those projects always will be popular. But lately the buzz has been about outdoor remodeling -- decks, patios, outdoor kitchens, backyard fireplaces, spas, sitting areas. These amenities enable homeowners to entertain family, friends and neighbors.

Inside-out lifestyle
"Living inside-out," is what Steven Kleber calls it. Kleber is an advertising exec who smoothly drops the brand names of his clients while describing what people aspire to in their home makeovers. One is WeatherBest, an "upscale flooring product" used in outdoor decks that's "guaranteed not to rot."

Kleber says his company conducted an ethnographic study -- that's when you visit people's homes and, like an anthropologist, observe and ask questions to find out what makes individuals and families tick -- "and we uncovered what people were looking for in their deck. What we found is that people wanted their deck to be an extension to their indoor living space, as opposed to what's typically considered as an add-on to the house."

-- Posted: May 5, 2005




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