Updates that add value — to your home and your life in it

This knotty-pine-paneled porch had seen its day, and its owners hoped to work it into a plan to create a kitchen-greatroom area. Don Hruby says his challenge was to unite a 1970s enclosed kitchen with the porch and with a raised dining room. “We had to lower the floor of the dining room 16 inches, for a start.” (photos courtesy Rossbach Construction)

The classic ‘70s kitchen, complete with a harvest-gold stove, needed major surgery to open it up so the homeowners could host friends, neighbors and a growing family of kids and grandchildren without being cut off from the action.

Believe it or not, this is the same kitchen -- note the window location and curtains. Now, the kitchen is open to the dining room and has a high counter where helpers -- or eaters -- can interact with the cook. Instead of that classic earth-tone stove, the homeowners have an Advantium combination microwave-convection-conventional oven. Hruby notes that he and Rossbach crews joined neighbors, family and friends a la “This Old House” for a luncheon to celebrate the project’s completion. “I think the owners just couldn’t wait to use that new kitchen,” he says.

The blue cabinet fronts and worn counters in this kitchen scream “dated,” as does the dark backsplash with aging grout. From any viewpoint -- homeowner enjoying working in the kitchen or buyer deciding between houses -- it was past time for a change. The challenge: there was no way to expand the room.

Yes, this is the former “blue kitchen,” with the same footprint but a welcome new look. It now has quartersawn oak cabinets with inset doors, Mission-style drawer pulls and a decorative stone backsplash that reflect its 1906 heritage. Taking the cabinets up to the ceiling offered more storage and the opportunity to add a wide transom over an expanded window space. New fixtures include a combination microwave-convection-conventional oven, quartz countertops and, of course, a farmhouse sink.

This bungalow’s front porch had been converted into living space some years ago, with the addition of non-period picture windows and without changing the entryway. The result: an oddly anachronistic look and an indoor space divided by foot traffic. “We were able to change the entryway so it made sense, in part because the bricks were falling off the front of the house,” Don Hruby of Rossbach Construction quips.

Now, the homeowners can really take advantage of the space they gained by finishing the porch. An architect’s vision called for Pella three-over-one paned windows to reflect the period and a pergola to help define the entry. Hruby had to go on a search to find matching bricks, but the new, retucked with colored mortar next to the old, look fine. Crews also redashed all the stucco.

1980s gray vinyl siding as far as the eye can see. When it’s time to replace exterior finishes, it’s good to think “outside the box” and not just exchange one monotone color for another.

Surprisingly, the pavers on the porch and walk are original to the home; Hruby had to match the siding, trim and stone treatments to them. The result: a home that says quality, permanence and welcome without saying a word.

Now, the home has the depth and richness that make for instant curb appeal. The siding is new fibercement panels that won’t dent with the next hailstorm, and the trim is a combination of wood and resins that boasts woodgrain appearances and rot resistance. The garage and front entry columns were given solid quality appeal with cultured stone facings.

Where can homeowners invest in remodeling projects that pay back the most both in dollars and enjoyment?

Kitchens, bathrooms and exteriors, say the experts.

Both Pat Kinney, Keller-Williams real-estate agent, and Don Hruby, sales and design expert at Rossbach Construction, say those projects get the most bang for the buck, whether you hope to sell or plan to stay.

Either way, the advice is still the same: reflect on how you’d like to live and how much your outlay will translate into added value before embarking on a project.

Much of that depends on where your house is, and that’s where experienced real-estate agents can help. “People need to consider whether they’ll be ‘pricing the home out of the neighborhood’ if they pursue major upgrades,” Kinney explains. “After examining your home value and the surrounding values, if you’re OK with getting 20 cents back on the dollar because you want to stay there and like your neighbors, so be it. There’s other factors that may be more important than the dollars.”

According to Realtor.com, kitchen and bathroom updates can be big investments, but the returns range from 75 to 100 percent.

Right behind that are exterior upgrades -- things that add to curb appeal and make the house appear care-free to prospective buyers. No one jumps into a sale thinking “Oh good -- this gives us a chance to replace the roof the way we want it!”

‘If I could turn back time...’

The iconic Cher song highlights something both sellers and remodelers are realizing -- that given the chance to return to 1980s bathrooms, people won’t.

“The ‘80s homes are the ones really showing their age these days,” Hruby says. “Inside and out, a lot of the surfaces are original, and are just worn out.”

For instance, he says, “Marble doesn’t stand up to wear and stains like ceramic and granite do. Not only are granite counters popular, they’re pretty much going to last you a lifetime while being easy to care for.

“Those fiberglass tub surrounds are being replaced now with ceramic tile,” Hruby adds.

It’s not the square powder-blue or peach tile of yesterday, though. “People are going for large 15-inch ceramic or stone tiles or the smaller ‘subway tile.’”

“Bathrooms can be challenging, but you can make big changes in just modernizing or rethinking the space you have,” Kinney says. “If it’s a second bath, perhaps you can get rid of the tub entirely. A walk-in, glass-blocked shower saves space and updates the whole look.”

Kitchens: new ingredients

In both the bath and kitchen, vinyl flooring is being replaced by -- vinyl flooring. The large tiles, which are grouted in, resemble granite, but are much softer underfoot -- and more forgiving when Sonny or Granddaughter drops a glass.
Kitchens are still growing when they can.

“The ‘great room’ concept is still big -- any way to increase the flow and the space of the living area,” Hruby explains. “Most of the time, we’re converting tiny rooms into an all-purpose area where people can cook, eat and just gather.”

Although some footprints -- such as ramblers or ranches -- don’t lend themselves easily to major changes, Kinney suggests new finishes. “Kitchens can be the biggest giveaway to a home’s age and how it’s been maintained. You can go with high-end custom cabinetry or you can go to IKEA and put in a kitchen -- just so people can tell the surfaces have been updated.”

Overall, Kinney recommends taking care of the basics first. “It can be as simple as recarpeting and painting, refinishing floors and updating light fixtures. You can really go a long way.”

Be efficient

Over the 33 years he’s been in realty, Kinney has seen revolutions in energy-efficiency, from heating and cooling to fixtures. “Everything has gone high-performance.” Whether that means replacing a furnace or water heater or looking into geothermal heating, there’s a new attention to the energy details.

Speaking of energy savings, Hruby notes that thanks to the federal “Americans Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012,” homeowners thinking of replacing windows and doors may be able to receive tax credits of up to $200 for windows and $500 for doors, depending on the energy-efficiency of the models they choose. The rebate is available through the 2013 calendar year.

The top 10

The top 10 home improvement areas that pay back the most on investment, ranked from the top:
Exterior (curb appeal)
Home siding
Flooring (especially hardwood)
Room addition
Window replacements
Master bedroom

-- from Realtor.com

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