One of the best and most popular strategies is remodeling. Owners who remodel often know about high-value areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. But too many forget another value-added secret: high-quality materials.
"Homeowners might initially save money with cheaper materials," says Richard White, an architect who specializes in custom homes. "But in the long run, they are holding down the potential value of their home."
The difference can be significant, according to a study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. In houses that increased in value by at least 100 percent, the study found, owners spent 2.5 times more in improvements than in houses where the value increased by less than 50 percent.
Choose Traditionally Popular Materials
White recommends that homeowners choose traditionally popular materials to maintain a home's appeal to a wide range of buyers. "People trust building materials they know," he says. "If I grew up in a house with Western red cedar siding, I know the qualities of the wood and what it will do for my home."
Long a traditional favorite, Western red cedar has a number of qualities that make it a preferred material for decking, siding and the increasingly popular outdoor living spaces that can enhance a home's value, White says. Natural preservatives in the wood make it very durable for outdoor uses, even in severe climates, according to www.realcedar.org. Its texture and coloration give it a rich, natural beauty that also enhances interior paneling, vaulted ceilings, trim and boxed-in beams.
Improvements Counter Downturn
Such improvements are just one example of ways homeowners can counter the prolonged housing slump. Sales of previously owned homes fell to a five-year low by the end of the summer, according to the National Association of Realtors. Home prices dropped 3.9 percent over the past year, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index measuring 20 U.S. cities. The two surveys were released in late September.
That means there are more homes for sale, and they're staying on the market longer.
Fueling the situation, prospective buyers face higher costs and stiffer requirements to obtain loans. The trend is projected to last into 2008 and possibly 2009, according to both the Realtors and Moody's Investment Service.
Environmentally Friendly and Other Tips
Here are some additional tips for remodelers to counter the downturn, maximize their home values, and attract buyers:
-Use materials that reduce the impact on the environment. Consider all the steps a product took to reach you. Synthetic materials such as vinyl and plastic are manufactured with non-renewable materials. Minerals comprising cement, stucco and metal are mined from the earth and not replaced.
Woods such as pine, fir, and Western red cedar are a renewable resource, grown and harvested sustainably. The environmental cost of production is also much less in wood products than mineral or synthetic materials. Production of concrete requires 70 percent more energy than wood building products and releases 67 percent more pollution into the air. "That lifecycle is much less damaging to the environment," says Paul Mackie of the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association.
-Additions must fit your house to increase value. Avoid any addition that would create a sharp contrast to your home's design.
-Learn about different building styles, says Eric Schnell, design director at the architecture firm Alan Mascord Design Associates. Search online listings of homes for sale, visit real-estate agents' open houses, and study your neighbors' homes more carefully as you walk the dog. Whatever you do should be compatible with not only your house but also your neighborhood.
-Be skeptical of the ultra-popular design fads on the cover of home magazines. Today's hottest designs and materials won't necessarily be so hot tomorrow. That's why traditionally popular materials are the best choices for whatever project you choose.