- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Flooring is the foundation of every room in a home and, just like the paint on the walls, if it is dirty, stained or poorly maintained, it will not inspire potential buyers.

Options for replacing your floors are numerous and wide-ranging — from the traditional hardwood floor or Berber carpet to the newer trends favoring bamboo and laminates.

While area Realtors say some homeowners are opting to go with hardwood floors, area flooring experts are noticing that their customers also are exploring less traditional options, such as bamboo and cork, depending on their needs and priorities.

Wendy Singer of Weichert Realtors in Virginia says she always gets a “wow” out of her buyers when she shows them homes with hardwood floors, particularly when hardwood covers the main-level floor.

“It’s the classic beauty of wood,” she says. “It has an air of class.”

If the sellers want to replace their flooring but balk at the price, Ms. Singer recommends laminate flooring, such as Pergo, which she says is lower in price and easier to maintain.

Ms. Singer says many of her buyers are turned off by wall-to-wall carpet, which can be worn and dirty and can lead to allergic reactions, especially if the owners have pets.

“I just showed three or four homes to a woman with bad allergies,” Ms. Singer says. “We finally found her something, and the first thing she did was to replace the flooring with hardwood.”

In the current market, Ms. Singer says sellers dramatically increase their chances of attracting multiple contracts on their home and can add to their asking price if they replace lackluster flooring.

Sellers often attempt to offer interested buyers an allowance to replace or repair the floors, but Ms. Singer says she believes this is doing them a disservice.

“People will still refer to it as the house with the nasty carpet,” Ms. Singer says. “You’re doing the buyer an injustice. You can find something better.”

Buyers shopping for their dream home prefer the easy cleanup and the gleaming appeal of the hardwood floors, says Bill Wootan, a Realtor with Century 21 H.T. Brown Real Estate in Waldorf.

Mr. Wootan says he also is showing more residences with hardwood floors. “They can just use the Swiffer to clean them up instead of vacuuming,” he says.

Mr. Wootan believes that if floors are in disrepair or carpets are stained and in bad shape, sellers would be wise to replace them.

“I believe they’d get 75 percent of their money back,” he estimates.

Michael Lukacs, a Realtor with Avery Hess Realtors in Springfield, says flooring and the paint on the walls are two essential focal points of a home that create that important first impression.

Although he still works with buyers who enjoy carpeting under their feet, Mr. Lukacs says he also is seeing more clients interested in homes with hardwood floors. “It just adds a lot to the appeal” of the home, he says.

Mr. Lukacs points out that his buyers notice the type of floor coverings offered in other homes and expect similar flooring. “If most homes in the neighborhood have hardwood and yours doesn’t, it makes a difference,” Mr. Lukacs says.

Area flooring dealers say they have seen an increase in hardwood sales. And, they say, their customers are more savvy about their flooring options and are trying new styles.

Jeff Puryear, president of Rick’s Carpet and Flooring Showcase south of Alexandria, says it’s a great time for the flooring business.

“Homeowners are utilizing it as part of the decor for each individual room to give each room a certain look,” he says. “People are having fun and enjoying making things beautiful.”

Mr. Puryear says his customers are interested in woods from all of the coastal areas of the world.

“They are looking for African hardwood and exotics — not just oak anymore,” he says. “It’s the same with carpet. Before, everyone just wanted wall-to-wall carpeting.”

Mr. Puryear points out that he still sells carpet but that even his carpeting customers are ordering designer carpet instead of the customary Berber designs.

Scott Weaver, owner of Design Expo Flooring Center in Bowie, says hardwood sales have flourished during the past five years and now comprise 60 percent of his business. Prices for oak flooring at his flooring center range from $9 to $10 a square foot installed; prices can go as high as $18 to $20 for exotic wood.

Mr. Weaver believes carpet is becoming less popular as a flooring selection: “It just wears out and doesn’t do anything to the value of the home,” he says.

As an example, Mr. Weaver says his business partner recently sold his house for much more than an identical neighboring house because his partner had installed hardwood on all three levels of the house.

“You really get the value from it in the long term,” Mr. Weaver says.

Paul Misleh, owner of Legends Flooring Resources in Vienna, has a different perspective: His customers select carpet as their first choice, but he says they are gravitating toward larger, fluffier carpet shag, which he calls a “semishag.”

Mr. Misleh explains that this is popular because of the pliable yarn and smaller fiber, which creates a softer carpet. He says mills have been producing this semishag in abundance.

“I think that’s where we’re going,” he says. “It has to do with fashion. That look is popular on the West Coast.”

Another growing trend is natural products that are environmental alternatives to traditional hardwoods.

Karen Swarthout, sales manager for Georgetown Floor Coverings in the District, says her customers favor products that are environmentally responsible.

“Our trends are more with cork, which was popular in the ‘50s … and with bamboo, which is natural and replenishable,” Ms. Swarthout says. “All-natural is the big thing,” she says.

Ms. Swarthout says her less conventional floor coverings often are promoted by word of mouth to homeowners who previously were unaware of those options. “Usually someone goes to someone else’s home and says, ‘What is that on your floor?’” she says. “It’s completely different.”

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