May 26, 2013

Motivated to remodel? You've got company

If you're looking for the greatest return on your investment, experts say, start at your front door.

By SUSAN STRAIGHT/Special to the Washington Post

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"These numbers are useful to help you understand what you're spending and to help [homeowners] set priorities," he added. "But most people improve [their homes based on their lifestyle needs], and they do not focus on resale."

Clearly, it's not necessary to spend a ton of money on a remodeling job if the owner is willing to put in a little work. About 37 percent of these projects are done by the homeowners instead of professionals, according to the American Housing Survey issued by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sometimes the work is a hybrid of professional and do-it-yourself work. Homeowners Luke and Juliet Armerding decided to gut and remodel two bedrooms in their 1890 four-bedroom, two-bath Washington townhouse. The work was "a combination of hiring folks and my own blood, sweat and tears," said Luke Armerding. "It was livable, but it was pretty ugly," he said.

While the temptation was strong to hire someone to do the whole job, "I wanted to learn how to do this myself," said Luke Armerding. However, he didn't want to have to learn the more "specialized aspects," such as electrical work. By doing all of the demolition and drywall himself, he kept the cost of both projects under $7,500.

"Anyone can demo. You just have to learn," he said. He also installed batt insulation and leveled the ceiling by sistering new joists. He and his wife hired professionals to do the framing and electrical work and lay the hardwood flooring.

Doing your own renovation work -- even if you hire professionals for part of it -- requires patience.

"It took Luke roughly seven months to complete the work, due to having limited free time after work and needing help from friends to do some of the work such as hanging the ceiling joists," said Juliet Armerding.

If you are hiring a contractor, it's important to make sure he or she is licensed in your jurisdiction, is following code and is obtaining the necessary permits required to do the work.

The American Housing Survey found that, from 2009 to 2011, owners spent a median of $3,200 on home repairs. Other studies show this number increasing -- welcome news to the remodeling industry after a long downturn. During the recession, home building and improvement spending plunged to 2.8 percent of gross domestic product from 5.2 percent before the downturn.

Now the industry is surging as people are either opting to renovate homes they have just bought or to remodel their old homes instead of moving.

Timing was everything to O'Grady, who owns the Virginia rambler. The last time she did any major renovations was in the early 2000s when she remodeled her kitchen and built an addition to her house.

"I waited for the time I could do this without a loan. I'm in my 50s, so I'm looking to reduce my debt," she said.


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