When to Renovate

  |  By   |  Illustrations by Kaitlin Van Pelt

The relationship between a homeowner and a contractor is a delicate one, warns Jim Bruyn , the designer for Hudson Valley Kitchen Designs in New Hampton. That’s why he believes the first step toward efficient and cost-effective home renovation is finding a contractor that you get along well with.

“You really want to be comfortable with the people that you’re dealing with,” he says. He cautions that if you’re not comfortable with the people you have working in your home, your home improvement project can quickly become a mess, and he’s not talking about spilled paint or scraped-off siding.

“Remodeling of any nature is disturbing to personal space, so you have to be very comfortable,” he says. “People are going to be in your personal space, and you’re going to be dealing with them on a regular basis for at least a week.”

To find the right contractor Bruyn says you’ll want to use references and check with your local chamber of commerce, as well as with remodeling trade organizations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

He adds that references are only half the battle; you’re also going to have to trust your instincts.

“Trust your gut,” he says. “If you’re not crazy about the contractor on the first day, on day 45 it’s not going to be any better. I’m a big believer in walking away if it’s not a good match.”

Finding the right contractor is only one of the many challenges faced by homeowners who are hoping to renovate in a cost-effective manner that adds value to their home without devaluing their wallets. New trends and advances in cabinetry, countertops, sinks, and bathrooms have added to the options available to homeowners, but more options can also mean more confusion and more potential pitfalls. Any renovation you do that brings you enjoyment obviously has intrinsic value, but if you decide to sell the house there are certain renovations that experts say will add to the resale value of your home— and others that probably will not.

“My feeling is that a well-thought-out, well-designed, well-executed project will hold its value better than an inexpensive face-lift,” Bruyn says. “I’ve gone into kitchens that are 10 years old and they look absolutely horrible, and I’ve gone into kitchens that are 35 or 40 years old that are standing the test of time.”

Bruyn says that he always advises customers to address what he calls “foundation items” first. For instance, if a customer is renovating their kitchen and taking the cabinets out, it is important to look at structural improvements to the house that can be made before new cabinets are put in. These improvements include plumbing, electrical, and insulation upgrades to the walls and windows behind the cabinets. Upgrading your electrical system and insulation can make your house more energy efficient and save money in the long run. Bruyn explains that if insulation upgrades end up costing an extra $1,000, you’re better off spending that money and cutting corners elsewhere.

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For homeowners renovating on a budget, Bruyn says adding a tile backsplash to old countertops can make a huge difference. He says that today most homeowners are looking for granite or engineered stone countertops, as well as under cabinet lighting systems. He adds that there are constantly new products on the market, and that homeowners should do research and meet with an experienced designer.

“A good designer should be up on all of the new products that are out there and the applications of the new products,” he says.

Homeowners should be aware that modern appliances and designs do not automatically increase the value of a home and in some cases they can hurt it. If you own a historic home, modernizing it would probably be a mistake, says Peggy Lampman of Peggy Lampman Real Estate, which is based in Claverack.

“If you have an 1800s farmhouse, a super-modern kitchen will limit your market,” she says. “In general, the most important renovations for a seller are essentially maintenance. Painting, for example, or roof repair, repair of any rotting wood, broken steps—all things that could scare away a potential buyer. Clean up and clean out as much as one can.”

“I don’t generally advise renovations to kitchen and baths, unless they are in poor condition,” she adds. “In that case I’d recommend renovating simply, as a buyer may want to make changes. Don’t put in new kitchen cabinets and granite counters, as buyers will not want to pay for a renovation that is not to their personal taste. Buyers want kitchens and baths to be clean and functional, and expect a standard in keeping with the house and its price point. In a basic house you should paint old cabinets and change the hardware. Be sure it’s all functioning well, and it should be clean. In a more upscale property, these areas should reflect the character of the property.”

Lampman advises doing renovations that increase your quality of life but she says that you should not expect to get a return on your investment if you make extravagant renovations.

“Do the renovations that you want to live with, but don’t go crazy and expect to get the money back,” she says. “Add windows to bring in light, and upgrade doors and hardware. If there’s viable space in the basement,  specially if it’s a walkout or attic, renovate it for multi use. Keep outbuildings in good shape and usable. Buyers love space.”

Outdoor renovations that your kids really want, such as a pool, can be a lot of fun in the summer, but you may not get a return on your investment.

“In general, a pool does not add value,” says Lampman. “But in some cases an upscale house will sell better and faster with a beautifully landscaped pool. I have recommended adding a pool in specific circumstances, but not without first seeing the property.”

Evelyn Gennodie, the kitchen and bath designer for Millbrook Cabinetry and Design, says that smart renovations to kitchens and baths always pay dividends for homeowners.

“You do not have to buy the most expensive cabinets and fixtures,” she says. “However, having clean, updated, and well-designed kitchens and bathrooms is very appealing to a potential buyer. Adding crown moldings, decorative door and window moldings, and larger baseboard molding are also easy ways to give your house character.”

In general, Gennodie advises homeowners to make doing renovations an annual tradition rather than a once-in-a-decade endeavor.

“Do a small project each year to maintain the home,” she says. “Keep the paint fresh and the windows and appliances updated. Fix any damage or potential problems. For those operating on a tight budget, it’s best to give a room a face-lift. It’s amazing what a new coat of paint can do to a room. Replacing the vanity or light fixtures in a bathroom or just replacing countertops and cabinet knobs in a kitchen can make a world of difference without breaking the bank.”

For those homeowners for whom money is not a concern, the possibilities are endless.

“There are so many different options available, depending on your style,” says Gennodie. “It’s best to work with a designer and use environmentally responsible products, to make your home energy efficient. But most important is to make it a place you can’t wait to come home to. Always remember: A good design will save you time and money in the long run.”

Gennodie says that working in the Hudson Valley has given her a chance to work on a variety of projects.

“In Millbrook, we have the opportunity to renovate houses hundreds of years old,” she says. “It is always interesting to mix old and new, and challenging to make these homes energy efficient. We’ve renovated homes built in the 1720s and converted old barns into homes.”

Experts advise that when you’re working on home renovation it’s important to have an open mind and consider the opinion of the professionals you’ve hired to work with you. “As the homeowner, you’re in the forest all the time,” says Bruyn. “Sometimes you need somebody outside the forest to take a step back and look at the big picture.”

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