The Value of Remodeling

May is designated as Remodeling Month by the National Association of Home Builders, so it seems only appropriate to take a look at remodeling trends across the country—and how that plays out right here in Iowa.

According to Remodeling magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value report, published in the January issue, the five most cost-effective home remodeling projects are the following:

  • Installing a steel entry door
  • Adding a wood deck
  • Turning an attic into a bedroom
  • Replacing a garage door
  • Completing a minor kitchen remodel

In past years, top projects have included replacing windows, re-siding with fiber cement or vinyl, updating a bathroom, and finishing a basement.

Each of this year’s top-five projects nets more than an 80 percent return on investment immediately, according to the editors at Remodeling.

Local remodelers tell a slightly different story, noting that many of the projects on that top-five list are more a matter of maintenance than remodeling.

“We don’t do many projects where the homeowner just wants to turn around and sell the house,” says Zak Fleming of Fleming Construction. “Our clients are remodeling to stay and see it as an investment that pays off over the long haul.”

Because of this, Fleming says the majority of his clients are looking either to increase their home’s livable space or to improve the quality of the finished space they currently have.

“We do a lot of basement finishes because that’s a great way to take advantage of unused square footage without disrupting the rest of the house,” he says.

Devan Kaufman of Kaufman Construction and KC Handyman Services sees both aspects of the remodeling business, from maintenance and repair projects to major remodeling jobs.

“Because we do remodeling and new construction at Kaufman Construction, the client who’s buying one of our new or remodeled homes will often also hire KC Handyman to take care of some updating projects in order to sell their existing home, so we do see some of those types of projects,” he says.

Kaufman, like Fleming, says more homeowners are putting their remodeling dollars into projects that will make their current home more livable for their own families. And this seems to be a trend nationally as well, not just for the resale value highlighted in Remodeling magazine’s list.

For the past five years, surveys have indicated that homeowners who remodel are choosing to do so to make their current home suitable to their needs. Fewer are remodeling in order to resell the home.

Both Fleming and Kaufman note that the most common remodeling projects they quote, year in and year out, are kitchen remodels and bath upgrades.

“An updated kitchen transforms a house because it’s the most frequently used room in the house and the main entertaining space,” Kaufman says.

This can mean a minor remodel, as Remodeling magazine defined it—replacing countertops and cabinet facings, updating appliances, and replacing flooring—or a major transformation, changing the room’s layout and completely updating the design. By far the most popular remodeling project for Kaufman and Fleming clients, a kitchen remodel consistently offers the highest homeowner satisfaction as well.

Fleming adds that master baths and master suites are also popular remodeling projects.

“Especially in older homes, we’ll remodel a second-floor bedroom and incorporate it into a master suite,” he says. “Converting a spare bedroom into a bath for the master bedroom creates more livable space for homeowners who want to stay in their current home and make it more convenient.”

Kaufman agrees, adding that an updated bath, like an updated kitchen, can offer homeowners more satisfaction with their current home.

Remodeling’s top-five projects make good financial sense—you’d be hard-pressed to get an 80 percent return on most investments—if the homeowners’ objective is to sell the home. But for those remodeling for the long haul, as Fleming says, the goal is to show them how to put their money where their life is, to make the home fit them, not some potential buyer.

“The same things that attract a buyer to a home are the things that make a homeowner want to stay in a house,” Kaufman says. “And that’s what remodeling is all about: creating a space that homeowners are happy with, that fits their life and their needs.”