Not all remodeling pays off when you sell your house

Family prepared to remodel homeWith the housing market still on pause and the kids about to head back to school, some owners are thinking about fall home-improvement projects. May as well enjoy a spruce-up and add value to my home, right? The answer is: it depends.

Home buyer attitudes have changed since the recession hit, agents say, with an emphasis on utility, rather than opulence. Buyers in some regions can get such good buys on new homes or foreclosures that they don't care about that all-granite, professional-kitchen remodel.

West Coast homeowners fare best with their return on investment, or ROI. Residents of the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Central Plains regions get the least ROI, according to Remodeling magazine's 2009-2010 Cost vs. Value report.

Nationally, the biggest return on your buck comes from replacing the front door, which sees a whopping 129% ROI, according to the survey. And it costs only about $1,172. The least return for your investment dollar is for a home-office remodel, which costs about $28,375, and gives you only a 48.1% return.

Homeowners who don't want to buy a bigger home, so are thinking of adding a second story instead, take note: it costs about $156,000, and you can expect a 68.6% return on your investment. Mid-range kitchens -- often the most popular remodel job -- nationally cost about $57,215, for which you get a 72.1% return.

"I'm still doing second-story additions and kitchens, which cost more, but many of the requests right now are for deck additions and bathroom remodels," says Alan Samuels, a Los Angeles contractor who's been in business for 25 years. "Customers want to make their homes more energy efficient, too. I've been doing a lot of door and window replacements."

Wood window replacements, which nationally average about $13,084, see an 88.2% ROI. Lower-end vinyl windows, at $12,760, get a nearly 90% return.

In California, where owners get a bigger bang for their remodel buck, an upscale bathroom remodel can expect to bring a 66.7% ROI, whereas a mid-range bathroom redo -- which costs about $14,500 -- will bring a return of 77%.

"Keep it simple," says Ronald Marks, a Los Angeles real estate agent. "Don't buy the high-end fixtures. Most buyers don't care about that today. They want low-flush toilets and modern-looking sinks. It's not necessary to break the bank with a high-end Toto toilet."

If you live anywhere on the West Coast, a deck addition is smart, contractors and agents say. At a cost of about $11,744, you can recoup 91.5% of the value, according to the Remodeling survey. "They are really worth it in California," Samuels says, "because people spend so much time outdoors. And keeping it maintained isn't too costly either."

Replacements often are more cost-effective than remodeling. A fiber-cement roofing replacement, for example, costs about $13,000; you get an 83.6% ROI.

"When I was getting ready to put my house on the market, my agent told me to replace roof tiles, replace toilets, and paint," says Terry McGeorge, a Burbank, Calif., seller. "It didn't cost much, and we were able to list our house for a higher price."

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