- - Thursday, November 8, 2012

As the year comes to a close, many homeowners are thinking of home-improvement projects for the new year. Industry experts warn, however, that owners should think ahead and realize that renovation costs don’t always translate to value when it comes time to sell their home.

Kitchen and bathroom enhancements continue to take the top spot for home projects. Realtors say those rooms often are the first to attract a prospective buyer’s attention.

“From pricey to frugal, kitchen and bathroom improvements give a seller the most bang for the buck,” said Camilla Mayo, a Realtor with Weichert, Realtors in Upper Marlboro.

While a complete kitchen overhaul may be in order if the kitchen is severely dated, including new cabinetry and counters or the addition of a center island, Realtors say simpler things can make a big difference.

Valerie Blake, associate broker with Prudential PenFed Realty in the District, explained that adding a glass or tile backsplash, updating cabinet hardware and changing to stainless steel appliances can create instant value.

She said the same goes for bathrooms; owners can change from brass to stainless and chrome accessories and also update the vanities, tiles and vanity lighting.

Ms. Blake also said curb appeal is just as important to entice prospective owners into the home. She suggested refreshing the landscaping in the front by adding colorful flowers and bushes plus new exterior lighting and patching any cracks in the walkways.

“While most owners tend to focus on remodeling the interior areas such as kitchens and baths, it’s important not to overlook a home’s outside appearance,” said Brenda Small, branch manager and associate broker with Prudential PenFed. “Simple changes can make a big difference. Replacements can be more cost-efficient than remodels.”

She suggests replacing worn roofing, entry doors and siding as well as installing energy-efficient windows, changing garage doors or adding a carport for off-street parking.

However, Ms. Mayo said that while exterior upgrades such as concrete driveways, stamped-concrete walkways and brick flower beds are attractive additions to a home, homeowners should not overdo it if they are looking to recoup that investment once it comes time to put their home on the market.

“Although concrete driveways are nice, they are an expensive upgrade, and no one cares especially if all of the neighbors have asphalt driveways,” she said.

The value of improvements also can vary depending on where the home is located. In some areas, outdoor living space is considered essential, meaning upgrades such as a pool and deck could add to a home’s resale value. Those same items may be considered discretionary improvements in other neighborhoods, Ms. Small said.

“A rule of thumb is for owners to know their market area and not ‘overimprove’ for the neighborhood,” she said.

The same goes for some interior improvements. Ms. Blake said some homeowners invest a lot of money in specialty rooms, such as home gyms and theater rooms, but they don’t necessarily recoup the money invested in those spaces when selling the house.

“More costly items or items you can add to a very large house are not as popular, as people focus on purchasing smaller homes and paying down the mortgage or keeping the foreclosure wolf from the door,” she said.

The Appraisal Institute noted that while kitchen, bathroom and curb-appeal improvements are most noticeable, basic upgrades, including painting the walls neutral colors and installing new fixtures, offer the largest returns.

When it comes to the worst yield on returns, the institute said projects that take a home significantly beyond the community’s norms often are not worth the price they cost in a resale situation.

Ms. Small added that especially with today’s fluctuating economy, budget-conscious homeowners look for more economical ways to maximize their home space needs.

Television shows focusing on home improvements have become mainstream as sources of advice for homeowners, and they often focus on inexpensive or less ostentatious improvements, Ms. Blake said. However, many real estate experts agree that in some instances, the shows have inspired owners to take on projects they aren’t necessarily qualified to do.

“This can result in an unpleasant, costly and disastrous home-improvement experience, making the improvements less functional or desirable and even unsafe in some circumstances,” Ms. Small noted.

Other mistakes homeowners may make include choosing trendy items “that are ‘in’ today without thinking about how they may be perceived in five or 10 years,” Ms. Blake said. She advised homeowners to be careful when adding items that are more personal than utilitarian, such as saunas and steam showers.