Remodel for Comfort, Not for Show
Economic recessions come and go. The current one—purportedly over since 2009—is the fourth in the 34-year career of Duo Dickinson, an architect in Madison, Conn. But this time around, he notices a different attitude among homeowners toward remodeling their homes.
Before, the top concern was how a remodeling project would affect a home's resale value, Dickinson points out. But today, people aren't thinking first about resale value. Their prime motive in remodeling is to make the home more livable.
"We're back to the way people thought about their homes before the aftermath of World War II, when they began to see their homes as profit engines, rather than places to commit to," says Dickinson, author of "Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want."
In today's market, many people can't sell their existing homes or afford to buy new ones. A recent poll by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), Des Plaines, Ill., found that 26% of homeowners plan to stay an additional 16 years to 20 years in their homes because of decreased property values, while 23% say they'll stay an additional six years to 10 years.
"People are realizing that, for good or ill, they're stuck," Dickinson says, "and they want to be stuck in a better place. There are things they can do to make their home better."
Practicality rules the day
Home remodeling is experiencing an uptick, with 2012 predicted to be the strongest year since 2006, according to the remodeling futures program at Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, Cambridge, Mass.
Predictions are that 2012 will be the strongest year for remodeling since 2006.
Many homeowners are getting around to spending dollars on basic maintenance they've put off during the past couple of years, according to George "Geep" Moore, chair of the NAHB Remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders, Washington, D.C., and president of Moore-Built Construction & Restoration in Elm Grove, La. "We're also seeing more spruce-up and clean-up types of projects," Moore says.
Gone for the most part are the luxury and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses types of remodels that were prevalent during the housing gold rush. "People are being much more practical today. They're stretching their dollars as far as they can," says Shawnda Horn, immediate past president of the Oregon Remodelers Association, a NARI chapter, and co-owner of Double J Construction, Oregon City, Ore.
Horn is seeing bathroom remodels outnumber kitchen makeovers in her area. "Kitchens were more popular during the high economic times," she says, "but bathroom remodels are more affordable."
This shift in remodeling priority is playing out nationwide, according to NAHB's Remodeling Market Index (RMI). The RMI survey of remodeling contractors for the first quarter of 2012 found that 78% of respondents said bathroom remodeling was one of the most common jobs they did, compared with 69% for kitchens. Kitchens used to occupy the top spot, but bathroom remodels began to outstrip kitchens after 2009.
After bathrooms and kitchens, the next four most common remodeling jobs reported in the RMI survey for first quarter 2012 were:
Gone are the luxury and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses types of remodels that were prevalent during the housing gold rush.
- Window and door replacements (44%)
- Property damage repairs (36%)
- Whole-house remodels (35%)
- Room additions (33%)
Other remodeling trends
- Open design
When homeowners tackle more substantial makeovers these days, they like to adopt an open design plan, remodelers say. That means fewer walls and separated spaces, such as a formal dining room or living room where you place your "best" furniture; in the end, "you don't use it," Moore says. "By opening up the space, you make it more functional, more universal. You can live in it and enjoy it."
Along with opting for an open floor plan, many homeowners are adding mudrooms, or transition spaces that serve various functions. It may be a place to clean up and change after working in the garden, or to stash books and supplies upon return from school, or to drop off sports equipment after a game.
"Now that you have open design and don't have the formal/informal split in the interior of the house," Dickinson explains, "you want to remove as much of the background noise as possible. That's your stuff. You can leave your stuff in the mudroom so the open interior space will be uncluttered and livable."
- Connection to the outdoors
In remodeling projects of all sizes, Dickinson is witnessing a desire to connect with the outdoors from inside the home. "This is a sea change," he says, "and it's crescendoed in the last five or six years."
This trend stems from the fact that many of us spend our daytime hours staring at computer screens, Dickinson contends. When we get home, we want real reality, not virtual reality. "The most real things are the sounds, lighting, colors, shapes, and movements of the outdoor world," he says. Hence, people want the home interior to connect to garden areas and barbeque spots, for instance, and they want windows looking out on pleasant outdoor views.
Bathroom remodels now outnumber kitchen makeovers, a reversal of the trend before 2010.
- Energy efficiency
The days of green-building hype are gone, in Dickinson's view. "If you build a 6,000-square-foot house and put in bamboo flooring that comes from 5,000 miles away, that doesn't mean you're environmentally responsible," he says.
Now when homeowners remodel with the environment in mind, they're looking for real savings, Horn says. "People are making significant strides in cutting their energy bills," she says, "by insulating their attic, ductwork, floors, and walls, or changing out to more energy-efficient windows and doors."
- Aging in place
Many boomers are adding an extra room or suite to their homes so their parents can move in. They're also planning ahead for their own elder years. When they remodel, they pay attention to doorway widths, countertop heights, and so on. "They're looking at what they can do now so they'll be able to stay in their home if they need to use a walker or wheelchair someday," Horn says.
Whatever type of remodeling project you decide to do in your home, you'll want quality work and affordability. Look for those same features in your remodeling loan. Talk to the people at your credit union about your financing options.
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