Written By Arlene Karidis

Stuck in the ongoing economic and housing market downturn, more people who might otherwise have thought about moving are staying put and remodeling their homes instead.

And considering the cost of land and other expenses associated with uprooting, consumers who remodel get just what they want, in the neighborhoods where they want to be; they also typically spend less than if they bought a new home.

So it is no wonder that home renovation has become a growing trend, including in Carroll County.

From Fiscal Year 2006 to February 2009, as housing sales plummeted, the Carroll County Bureau of Permits and Inspections issued nearly 9,000 residential building improvement permits for projects ranging from decks or garages to two-story additions complete with kitchens, family rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms.

“When you opt to renovate, what you decide to invest in should depend on what you want and how long you plan to be in your home,” said Matt LeFaivre, president of J.R. LeFaivre Construction Company in Taneytown.

“People with no plans to move are more apt to invest exclusively in what will suit their individual needs and preferences. They are more likely to make big investments up front for eventual savings, like purchasing solar energy panels.

“But those who plan to move in a couple of years typically plan updates that will sell and bring a good return on their investment. They will usually spend $15,000 to $25,000 on a job for better space planning or to make a kitchen more functional.”

Contractors advise consumers not to pour so much cash into a project that they exceed its resale value. But sometimes a bold endeavor is a smart business move. If your home is more modest than most of the others on your block, a major expansion of livable floor space should increase the home’s value beyond what you shelled out.

Jennifer and Brent Johnson’s four-bedroom Finksburg colonial is as close to their ultimate dream house as they figure they’ll ever get; at least since they finished a portion of their basement for much-needed storage space and added a sun room affording a view of the pond that their property overlooks.

The family looked at magazine pictures for ideas to relay to their builder, James Contracting in Reisterstown. That was how they came up with such graceful touches as arched windows and a stone fireplace, as well as opening the sun room up to the front porch.

In the process , the Johnsons developed advice for homeowners who are thinking about renovating their homes:

“Make sure the contractor offers an installment payment structure so that you have more control of the quality of work,” said Jennifer. “In other words, if you are not expected to pay before you see the product, you can see as you go that you are getting what you were expecting.

“Be sure your contractor commits to a time frame. And reputation is everything. We’d heard a lot of good things about the company, including from other builders. That went a long way.”

The Johnsons felt that their project was well worthwhile. A recent appraisal indicated that the Johnsons would get a full return on their $130,000 addition.

Kitchen and bathroom jobs are keeping LeFaivre busy lately. His clients are going for more open looks, a contemporary flair, and better space planning.

“We are moving walls in separate dining areas to create more of an eat-in style, said LeFaivre. “We are designing islands, wraparound bars, or peninsulas to replace formal dining room tables.”

For a functional kitchen layout, LeFaivre builds such amenities as Lazy Susans, pullout storage drawers and spice racks into the cabinets.

In renovating or enlarging bathrooms, the trick is to leave the old plumbing layout as nearly intact as possible. Otherwise you are talking $35,000 to $40,000, or more.

If you can avoid a major plumbing change, you can make $10,000 go a long way. Granite and quartz countertops, double sinks, and built-in framed mirrors matching the cabinetry are options that carry fairly moderate price tags.

And speaking of bathrooms, many homeowners are swapping out soaking tubs for tile and corian showers with built-in benches. Some are opting for more drama. For instance, they are gravitating toward Spanish designs featuring spacious showers with ceramic tile surrounds that fit into an alcove. Usually equipped with multiple shower heads, the enclosures have no doors, only a half wall with tempered glass above it.

Basement remodels have surged in popularity. Averaging about $100 per square foot in Maryland, a high-end basement project costs about half the price of an addition to the first or second floor.

A new home with comparable features will average about $175 and up per square foot, not including the lot, said Bill James, president of James Contracting, Inc.

Some of James’ clients who are building down rather than out are putting in kitchens, bars with entertainment centers, bathrooms, bedrooms, and play areas.

To make the big jobs more affordable, James, like numerous other contractors, designs jobs in stages. Although he creates a long-range plan from the start, he might build one area one year and do another part later.

When building a new addition, the homeowner should address construction issues that affect utility bills, advises Larry Tennant, owner of High Performance Home in New Windsor.

“It’s the perfect time to make sure air sealing, insulation, and doors are done right,” said Tennant. “Also, make sure your heating and cooling systems have enough capacity to handle the additional load created by the extra footage.”

Tennant reports that he has had clients who save hundreds of dollars a month by upgrading their heating and cooling systems and converting to dual flush toilets and water-saving shower heads and faucets. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $1,500 as an incentive for making energy efficient improvements.

For region-specific information on cost and resale value of specific home renovations (based on 2008-2009) figures, visit: www.remodeling.hw.net/2008/costvsvalue/division/south-atlantic.aspx

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