Angie's List: Home Remodeling

You may have considered spending this year's tax refund on a home improvement project. So, which projects would be money well spent, and which would not?

Your home is your biggest asset, so it's important to keep it in good shape and make improvements that you can enjoy right away that will increase your home's value.

Angie Hicks, Founder of Angie's List, gives some advice on where to start home remodeling, "If you are considering updating your house this year, consider remodeling the kitchen or the bathroom. Those two rooms get the best return on your investment- about 85 percent. But the key here is not overdoing it, but keeping up with the Jones's. So if you're the only house in the neighborhood without granite countertops then it makes sense to add them, if you're not - skip out on that extra."

Remodeling those rooms can get pricey. If you're on a limited budget, you may want to think outdoors.

Phil Gettum, Gettum Associates, Inc., explains the type of home remodels they have been doing lately, "We are doing a lot more screened porches. Outside decks, pergolas, outdoor living spaces which brings more space into the house, but it's not as expensive, so those tend to kind of fall under that scale as well."

Projects with the lowest return on investment include swimming pools, home offices, sun room, master suite and third bay on your garage.

Regardless of what projects you choose, planning is key.

Angie explains why it is important to plan ahead, "To make sure your remodeling project goes smoothly, the plan is plan, plan, plan and communicate, communicate, communicate. Plan ahead, lay out your budget, have ideas ahead of time, and then communicate with your contractor regularly - that starts with the estimate, documenting in the contract, all the way through the entire project."

Other great remodeling projects that will add to your home's value and have a great return on investments are siding and new windows.

We all think about ways to improve or update our homes, but many of us don't know how to get beyond that wish list stage or can't afford big budget items.

Projects with a high return on investment: If you're going to invest in projects designed to improve your home's value, it makes sense to know what remodeling projects will give you the most return for your money
• Kitchens and baths
• Decks
• Siding
• Windows

Projects with the lowest return on investment: Unless your home is the only one on the block without these items, these projects could actually detract from your home's attractiveness.
• Pool
• Home office
• Sun room
• Master suite
• Adding a third bay to the garage.

There are a number of routes you can go when remodeling your kitchen and bathroom - from simple items such as replacing a fixture or floors - to a complete remodel that includes expanding the size of the room. Where you live, material selections, and the scope of the work are all factors that determine costs and can make a difference in your budget.
Angie's List tips: How to hire the right remodeling contractor :
Know what you want: Before you begin talking with contractors, read remodeling magazines, search the Internet for designs and materials and put your ideas on • paper to give potential contractors a better sense of your expectations.
• Get estimates: Get at least three written estimates to review. Make sure the estimates include the same things so you're comparing apples to apples. Never hire on price alone.
• Do your research: Check out contractors in your area using Angie's List and talking to your neighbors. Ask for references from your potential contractors and call those customers. Try to get a customer who's been in the remodeled home for several months so you can see how the work has held up.
• Require proof of proper license, certification and insurance - if your contractor can't show that, get another one no matter how nice he or she seems. If your home is older than 1978 your contractor must be certified in lead safe practices - ask for that documentation as well.
• Working with a General Contractor (GC): Get everything in writing from the GC, including the names of the subcontractors and suppliers. Ask your GC to provide lien waivers that show subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Stay in touch with the subcontractors and make sure they're being paid on time. If possible, make checks out to both the contractor and subcontractors or suppliers, requiring two signatures to cash.
• Read the contract BEFORE you sign: Make sure the job details, warranty, payment terms and penalties for not completing work are spelled out in your contract. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong.
• Paying for the project: Expect a minor kitchen remodel to cost about $20,000 and a minor bathroom remodel around $10,000. Never pay the full cost of a project up front. Your payment schedule should be clearly spelled out in your contract. Tie payment plans to the job's progress. Most contractors will ask you to pay a portion of the project upfront - which is OK - but you can negotiate that down payment. Hold back the final payment until you're satisfied with the work.
• Communicate with your contractor: Every project is going to have something unexpected pop up. To get the most cost-effective work out of your tradespeople, outline the scope of your project and establish a budget in advance. Make sure you are communicating your wants and needs directly with the contractor overseeing the project
• Prepare for the stress/mess of a remodel: Regardless of size, all projects will include unexpected issues that may cost more or delay completion. Be prepared for stress as the project stretches on, work crews enter your home, materials may pile up, or you might have a few days without a working kitchen/bathroom.

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