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Finding Value in Remodeling

Finding Value in Remodeling

One of the biggest obstacles to remodeling for many folks is the expense. Unfortunately, the alternatives can be even more expensive, both short term and long term.

Moving vs. remodeling: Leaving the memories behind

Many of our prospective clients are trying to decide between remodeling and moving to a house that better matches their wants and needs. Remember that the soft costs of moving, as well as the hard costs of moving, can be exorbitant.

Have you seen the cost of moving lately? You might be surprised at what it takes to move a household today even to another neighborhood in College Station or Bryan. Of course, there are other major hard costs involved in moving to a new home. Don’t just think of the closing costs. Remember the costs for refreshes on your current home like new interior paint and landscaping, staging, inspection-related repairs and cleaning. It all adds up.

The soft costs—your time and energy—can be even higher. If you don’t hire a moving company, the cost in your time to pack, unpack, and market your current home for sale is hefty. Add to that the considerable cost of your precious evenings and weekends spent trying to find that “just right” home and your valuable time can be monopolized for many months. Perhaps the largest soft cost, though, is the sentimental cost of leaving a space with so many memories connected to it. Those memories have a significant, yet unquantifiable, value to most people.

DIY vs. remodeling: Everything in moderation

Another alternative is to “do it yourself” (DIY). This is a good alternative if employed in moderation. Just don’t neglect to do a soul-searching reality check on your construction abilities before you begin.

DIY shows on TV are very popular. Those shows and their sponsors (like Lowes and Home Depot) would have you believe that you can remodel virtually anything without any prior experience. Not surprisingly, the big box home improvement stores sell massive amounts of products that are never used because unsuspecting homeowners bite off more than they can chew. Worse than the materials that are never installed are those that are installed poorly. For example, if you have never used a circular saw it might not be a good idea for you to build a multi-level deck. DIY jobs can put safety—not just aesthetics—in jeopardy.

That is not to say that a motivated homeowner with the right attitude, good training, and ample free time can’t do good work. But there is more involved than just craftsmanship. Building science is more complicated than is depicted in home makeover programs and requires knowledge and skills that range from architecture to engineering, from electrical to plumbing, and from heat to moisture management.

 DIY remodeling: a cautionary tale

We are called in to fix DIY project fails frequently. Sally, a client we worked with not long ago, spent much of her time between her college studies refurbishing an old house she had inherited. Sally was a wonderful woman. She was very laid back and patient—just the sort of personality that is often associated with great attention to detail that is the hallmark of good craftsmanship. In fact, Sally had done some beautifully detailed woodwork and we were impressed with her trim work. Sally hired us a few years after college because she noticed a few soft spots in her floor. Sadly, while Sally’s craftsmanship with trim was top quality, she did not understand building science and had made a few errors in moisture-proofing the structures. The rot was not limited to the floor joists, either. This DIY project stands out because Sally was a gifted woodworker.

Very often it is the DIY work of a previous homeowner – or so we are told – that is the cause of our homeowner’s headaches. I’m not sure what it is that makes men feel like they must have competence with construction tools and knowledge of building science without ever having taken a course. Even brilliant men with PhDs express self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy because they cannot build a deck. Few carpenters feel that way if they cannot lecture on differential equations. My advice: Be real with yourself—and your family—about your abilities. Avoid a future headache and the cost of re-doing a DIY project gone bad.

Low-balling your remodeling project: buyer beware

Another alternative to reduce the cost of remodeling is to hire the low bid “contractor.” This is fraught with risk. In Texas, you have to have a license to sell a house or cut hair but not to build or remodel a house. The cost of entry into the construction field is low. Let the buyer beware.

Low-balling your remodeling: another cautionary tale

Mark was like many of our potential clients: He had his bathroom remodeled the year before he called us and now there was mold on the walls, the cabinet drawers were hard to open and shut, and the paint was peeling. He had done what he thought he was supposed to. He had solicited bids from three different remodeling contractors and accepted the low bid. The contractor stopped taking his calls after the second time he called to have the problems fixed. Mark did not hire us but hired someone else to try to fix the problems. After tearing out the tile and opening the walls, his second “contractor” moved to California. Last we heard, Mark had put his house on the market.

Cost to remodel vs. cost to build new

Remodeling often seems expensive when it is compared to the cost per square foot of new home construction. That is not an apples-to-apples or even an apples-to-oranges comparison.

New homes are often built en masse in an assembly line process that results in significant economies of scale. By contrast, remodeling is done to meet a homeowner’s exacting needs and wants within an existing structure. It is much more time consuming but, in the end, the homeowner gets a very personalized and professional product.

So, yes, professional remodeling can be expensive. But it’s much more expensive to move, to try to do it yourself, or to employ a lowball “contractor” to remodel your home—the keeper of so many precious memories.

9 questions to ask yourself before remodeling your home

Should we stay or should we go?

Many people ask us, “Should we remodel or should we move?”  Our answer is always, “Well, that depends.” There is no doubt that remodeling is a larger out-of-pocket expense than buying an existing home that doesn’t need remodeling or even building new. So it’s a good question and the answer depends on many factors. Here are a few questions to guide your decision-making process:

1. How long do you plan to stay in your house?

You will recoup less of your remodeling investment if you plan to move within two years. Here is a good resource for the return on investment for home remodeling projects.

2. What are you trying to achieve?

It’s important to consider whether you can achieve the aesthetic and functional results you’re looking for in your current home. There are some limiting factors for remodeling projects—including lot dimensions and your home’s “bones” or the foundation, heating, plumbing and electrical systems—that are more difficult to overcome no matter how creative and professional your contractor is.

3. How much do you love your home?

Homeowners with a strong attachment to their current homes should factor that into the decision-making process. Your home can be the keeper of many pleasant memories that are difficult to replace.

4. How much do you value your lot?

Often our clients’ motivation to not relocate is as much about their lot as it is about their house. You may not be able to replicate a corner lot with an ancient shade tree in the backyard even if you find a house with that perfect kitchen.

5. How much do you love your neighborhood?

A desire to remain in a neighborhood is also a frequent motivating factor for remodeling. There is significant value in having neighbors you like or even just know—unfortunately, something that is missing in many of today’s neighborhoods. You may also value the neighborhood’s amenities or its proximity to schools and stores.

6. What is your remodeling budget?

If the amount you can spend is less than the cost of moving, then choosing to remodel rather than move is a no-brainer. Even a modest remodeling budget can begin to make your home more current and comfortable.

7. Where does your home’s value fall in your neighborhood?

If you own the most expensive home in the neighborhood, the return on your remodeling investment will be lower. However, if you plan to stay in your home for an extended period of time, your decision may be more about maximizing enjoyment than finances.

8. How likely are you to find a home that you wouldn’t remodel?

It is not uncommon for us to have a client decide to move and then call us a year later for a remodeling project on the new home. Because homes are so personal, it is very difficult to find one that is just right. If you’ve already invested in a larger mortgage, it may be more difficult to afford a remodel.

9. How much do kids factor into your decision?

The quality of nearby schools is a major consideration for most families with school-age kids and may even be the reason you bought in your current neighborhood. Disrupting the children’s school and social lives may be another key consideration. Even if you have not made close friends on your block, the kids usually have made connections in the neighborhood and at school.

Deciding whether to move or remodel is complicated because it involves so many considerations outside of just the wood, wiring and windows that make up the building that houses your life. Remember that both remodeling and moving can be fun and exciting or stressful and harrowing. Taking the time up front to evaluate all of the factors will help you weather the experience, come what may.

The next blog will share trends in home valuations within a few College Station and Bryan neighborhoods to provide more context for your home renovation decision-making process.

Investing in Your Home Part 2: Daily Savings and Aging in Place

Investing in Your Home Part 2: Daily Savings and Aging in Place

Your home is a great source of joy. It brings you warmth and safety and allows you to express yourself. For most of us it is also one of our most significant investments and ongoing costs. By paying attention to short-term maintenance costs and planning for the long-term potential to remain in your home, you will enjoy your home even more.

Here are a few tips for how to save money every day, safeguard your home’s value and prepare to age in place.

Do It Right: The Cost to Maintain

Most people have a mortgage, but there are also other ongoing costs associated with owning your home that you may not think about as much as your mortgage payment. These costs include such things as insurance, utility costs, and maintenance. Reducing these costs will save you money every month and be almost as good as refinancing that mortgage at a lower interest rate.

  •          Schedule an energy audit: Investing in an energy audit can save you money. Many fixes can pay off in as little as two years.  Others will take longer but once the investment is paid off it is money in the bank every month thereafter.
  •          Purchase quality fixtures and appliances: You have probably heard the expression “builder grade.”  That simply means the lowest cost option.  Builders are motivated to use builder grade fixtures and appliances because it lowers the cost per square foot of a home. Price per square foot is the primary measure that most homebuyers use to evaluate a home purchase. This is a bad way to calculate value. To get the cost per square foot down, quality is compromised. A quality fixture or appliance will last longer, work better, and reduce operating costs. Quality options, not price per square foot, is where the real value in a home is found.
  •          Consider your climate: The approach to building is, or should be, largely dictated by the environment your home is in.  There have been many costly mistakes made by well-meaning builders who applied building techniques meant for a cold, dry climate to a hot, humid climate.  Here in College Station and Bryan, Texas, for example, we avoid using wood on the exterior of our homes. It just does not endure well, nor does it hold paint well. Luckily, there are great alternatives such as fiber content that work very well for our climate.

Make It Last: Aging in Place

Most people do not see the prospect of aging in place as a factor influencing the value of their home asset. But it is. The longer a person can stay out of assisted living, the better their quality of life and the more savings they will retain either for unexpected expenses or to leave to heirs. Here are a few aspects of aging in place to consider in a new home or a home remolding project:

  •          Avoid or remove stairs and steps: One of the first things that we notice as we age is how much more difficult stairs become.  If you can find a single-story home with very few or no steps, you will be better prepared to age in place.
  •          Create the framework for an accessible bathroom: Bathing difficulties often necessitate a move to assisted living.  Even if a person is not in a wheelchair, a roll-in shower without a curb is much easier to navigate. Also, placing blocking in the walls of showers and baths can make grab bars easier to install later. With a little planning, using the facilities as we age can be made much safer.
  •          Prepare to install wider doors: Narrow doors, especially in bathrooms, are a barrier to wheelchairs and walkers and an impediment to aging in place.  Wherever possible, request framing for large doors, even if a smaller door is preferred. The small door can be removed later and, with a slight modification, a larger door can be installed.
  •          Improve the lighting: As most of us over 45 years old know, our vision degrades as we age.  Luckily, there is a lot that we can do with light to improve our ability to age in place.  The average 50-year-old needs twice as much light as the average 30-year-old.  Light is an important factor in aging. Unfortunately, it is a factor that few designers take into consideration. Request that your remodeling company conduct a lighting study for each room they remodel. Contrast is also a big factor in assisting aging vision and is particularly important in kitchen remodels. When counter tops are of a hue that contrasts with the flooring, orientation and vision are greatly aided.

Your home is more than just where you eat and sleep. It is also a significant investment. With just a little care, that investment can be wisely managed and maximized and bring you joy for a lifetime.

Investing in Your Home Part 1: Protecting and Growing Your Asset

For most folks, their home is their biggest investment. But few people think of their home that way, which can be a costly mistake.

That is not to say that you should only look at your home as an investment.  Your home is many things, including a sanctuary and an expression of who you are.  We encourage you to keep those priorities front and center as they bring meaning and happiness to your life.

Luckily, these purposes are not mutually exclusive. You can have a home that is a safe and comfortable refuge, an expression of your unique identity, and a well-maintained investment.

Tending to the investment variable in this value equation involves some straightforward strategies. To do so, it is first helpful to separate the investment in your home into three broad categories.

First, your home is an asset that will be depreciated for taxes yet, in most cases, increase in value.  For most Americans, their home is part of how they fund their later, non-income producing years and provide an inheritance to their heirs.  Protecting and growing this asset requires maintenance and development through home remodeling.

The second investment category of home investment is the monthly costs paid to keep your home. This can be further divided into operational and maintenance costs.

A third and more complicated category that all homeowners would be wise to consider is lifecycle or how long you plan to stay in the home. This becomes especially important if we are thinking of aging in place.

Below are a few tips for how to make the most out of your home as an asset. Please also see (link to other blog, Investing in Your Home Part 2: Daily Savings and Aging in Place)

Fix It First: Protecting Your Home Asset

Your home is like your car and most other physical assets; the better you take care of it, the better it will take care of you.  Taking good care of your home requires a plan, diligence, and—for most of us—outside help. Here are some suggestions for good home care:

  •          Regularly schedule mechanical maintenance: Having your air conditioning and heater serviced twice a year will reduce utility bills, increase the life of your equipment, and avoid the frustration unexpected failures. It is also important to change your filters.
  •          Fix things as soon as you notice they need to be fixed: Letting things go can lead to worse damage.  Getting it taken care of will avoid added cost and give you peace of mind.
  •          Check the envelope of your house twice a year: The envelope of your house is the outside surfaces. This is where unattended repairs can lead to big costs. Don’t wait until you are getting water in your home to fix your roof. Don’t wait until rot has reached the frame of your house to have the wood replaced, and don’t wait until the paint has peeled to paint your home. Here is a home envelope inspection checklist

Make It Work: Home Remodeling

While it is true that home remodeling seldom returns 100% of the financial investment, it is nonetheless a primary way that families create their desired sanctuary and expression of themselves.  Home remodeling returns an increasing value with age.  Here is a good resource for the return on investment for home remodeling projects. Here are some guidelines to help get the most out of your remodeling investments:

  •         Pay attention to design: A poorly designed addition that looks like an add-on rather than an integrated part of the home could even devalue a home asset.  Also, make sure that the new space is wisely configured to complement the existing floorplan, creating flow and continuity.
  •          Mind your budget: If your budget is too tight to get what you want, consider waiting until you can afford to do it right. Cutting corners to fit a budget is a good way to create long-lasting regrets. This does not mean that you need to get your every wish or that you should be overly extravagant, but make sure that you don’t have to make so many sacrifices along the way that you are unhappy with the outcome.
  •          Avoid trends: This is harder to do than it sounds.  Home design tends to be very trendy. You can usually date a house by its finishes. Colors, countertops, and floor coverings are fashion elements that change with each season. Imagine walking into your remodeled home 10 years from now. Will it seem classic or dated?  To keep your home classic, consider reflecting today’s trends in easily changed elements such as paint. Also, use natural materials whenever possible. Carpet fashion changes over time but hardwood stays stylish.  It’s the same with countertops. Artificial countertop materials have come and gone but granite has remained a solid choice.
  •          Hire quality professionals: Quality remodeling professionals will be able to help you articulate and achieve your goals.  While remodeling is expensive and you may be inclined to go with a less experienced company that offers a lower price, think twice. Most of the savings will come at the cost of quality and durability, both of which will diminish your home investment.

Biting the bullet to take preventative measures to protect your asset and to get a quality remodeling job done by professionals may feel hard at the time, but you will reap the benefits of your decisions for years to come.

The Dangers of Heating Elements

 Image credit: Goodhousekeeping.com

Image credit: Goodhousekeeping.com

Recently, Remodeling Magazine wrote a piece on how to build a drawer with a built in plug so that hair dryers could stay plugged in.  They received a storm of responses from good contractors letting them know how unsafe it is to leave appliances with heating elements plugged in.  Here is just one.

Just read your email about the idea of putting a hair dryer in a drawer and you don’t even have to unplug it. As a Fire Damage Restoration contractor I have done many restorations, if the house was restorable at all, where the fire was caused by a heat producing appliance that its electrical circuit has somehow failed.

I use a toaster as an example when I suggest to people to unplug when not in use. You can buy a toaster on sale for $14.99. It consists of a cabinet, feet, cord with plug, heating element, thermostat, and many other items. A quality thermostat alone would probably cost $100.00. Now, would you trust the quality of this thing to not start when it shouldn’t?

A hair dryer is in the same category. This also applies to battery chargers that home owners and contractors use. A heat producing appliance of any type, left plugged in, cannot be trusted with the safety of your home.

“Plug it in, turn it on, turn it off, unplug it.” That is the motto that should be used with any electrical device. Period!”

We hope that you keep your home safe from fire by unplugging appliances with heating elements.  In most cases this will also save money by reducing phantom loads.