Know exactly what you want and stay with budget
By Noreen Seebacher for Gannett Newspaper

You may be too old for Santa, but if you have a home, you probably have a Christmas wish list.   Now is the time to get out the home renovation catalogs, plan your dream jobs and make your list.  Just make sure you check it.  At least twice.

Whether it’s a new kitchen, an updated bathroom or an extra bedroom, the cost of home remodeling can vary significantly from contractor to contractor.  Unless you know exactly what you want, down to the brand name, you won’t be able to determine if the higher priced bid reflects the quality of materials or the contractor’s level of profit.

The good news:  It’s never been easier to estimate the cost of uncomplicated kitchen and bath makeover.  “Kitchens are the easiest things to remodel, in the large part because of stores like Home Depot and IKEA,” said Christopher Brown, office manager at Prudential Riverside Homes in Hastings-on-Hudson.

Brown said buyers would jump at the chance to bid on homes that are perfect except for a deteriorated kitchen.  “The projects are so easy to do now, and it’s almost like they enjoy having the opportunity to put their mark on the house,” he said.

Bathrooms are almost as easy to estimate, as long as you aren’t getting into complicated changes that affect the water pipes or sewage lines.  Quick guesstimates from local contractors for projects of average size and scope:

·        Bathroom remodel: $8,000 to $13,000

·        Minor kitchen remodel, including new appliances: $12,000 to $20,000

·        Major kitchen remodel, including new appliances and cabinets and floors: $35,00 to $50,000

·        Adding a family room: $30,00 to $60,000

·        Building a deck: $8,000 to $12,000


Before you do any work, decide how much you’re willing to spend.  The National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and industry trade group, suggests you start by considering how much it would cost you to move.

Factor in the extra cost to get a house with features you want – assuming, in this market, that you could even find one – and miscellaneous moving costs.

Last year, both existing home sales and spending on home improvement reached record levels.   Home resale’s totaled $5.2 million, and home improvement expenditures increased 7 percent in 1999 to $142.9 billion, according to the U.S Department of Commerce.  Seventy percent of remodeling dollars went to improvements such as additions or kitchen and bath remodels.  The other 30 percent paid for maintenance and repair, such as painting or re-roofing.

Some people argue you should always remodel with future resale value in mind.  But a more important factor may be how long you’ll be living in the home you plan to remodel.

The consensus among real estate professionals: Spend as much as you can afford – for what ever project you dream of – if you plan to stay in the home for a long time, but scale back to stay within standards for the homes in your neighborhood if you plan to move in the near future.

Sylvain Côté, president of Absolute Remodeling Corp. in Yorktown Heights, said it’s essential to plan for emergencies – such as hidden termite damage or other structural flaws that may only be discovered once the walls start coming down.  “The older the house, the greater the likelihood is that there will be unexpected costs as the project progresses,” he said.

Savvy homeowners use this rule of thumb:  Once you determine how much you can afford to spend on a remodeling job, decrease that amount by 10 percent to 20 percent.  Keep that money in a reserve account to cover any change orders or incidental charges accrued along the way, which will prevent a frantic scramble for additional funds at the end of the project.

Change orders – the official result of those requests to add an extra electrical outlet or extend the countertop another few inches – can quickly destroy the budget.   Think of your home remodeling job in the same way you consider a trip to the mall: everything you put into your basket – and every request to add one thing or another – has a new additional cost attached to it.   If you stick to your budget, and tell your contractor not to exceed it, you’re less likely to overextend yourself.

A significant threat to a remodeling budget is the homeowner’s own uncertainty about what he wants.  Look at magazines, visit kitchen and bath showrooms, if that’s part of the project, tour model homes.  If you’re house hunting, do homework now to get at least a vague understanding of remodeling costs.

Real estate agents say prospective buyers will talk nonchalantly about bumping out the kitchen wall or adding a bath, often without knowing ballpark figures for the jobs they hope to do.  One of the best sources of information on home improvement costs is Remodeling Magazine’s annual nationwide survey, which estimates the cost 16 popular projects as well as the amount you’re likely to recoup when you sell.  According to the most recent survey, the most cost-effective improvements a homeowner in the Westchester County area can make are building a two-story addition,  adding a bathroom or doing a minor kitchen remodeling.

You can also compute the cost of several projects with estimators available through Improvenet (www.improvenet.com).   The Internet site, designed to match homeowners with contractors in their area, allows you to fine-tune your estimate.  In addition to entering your zip code, you can select specific types of cabinets flooring and fixtures for a more realistic estimate of cost.


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