Home Improvement Basics

Home improvement, also known as remodeling or renovation, refers to any type of change or upgrade made to a residential home. The improvements may be interior or exterior. The reasons for home improvement projects vary from personal taste and comfort to adding value and boosting resale potential. Other reasons include addressing safety concerns, replacing worn items, and making the home more energy efficient.

A home is an expensive asset and, therefore, any improvements that can be made to it should be done so with care and consideration. The cost of renovating a house can be offset by the increased value added and the lower mortgage rates often available for houses that have been updated. Aging homeowners have accounted for much of the recent growth in home improvement spending, and that trend is expected to continue as baby boomers move into the retirement age and need to make their homes more comfortable.

The most popular home improvements tend to be those that add living space. Adding a bedroom, bath, or family room increases the usable square footage of the house and can significantly raise its resale value. Kitchen upgrades are another top choice, with new appliances, cabinets, and countertops adding both style and function. The addition of a deck or patio can also be an excellent way to improve the look of the home and create a relaxing outdoor retreat.

Depending on the scope of the work, some types of home improvements can be performed by a competent DIY (do-it-yourself) homeowner, while others require the services of a professional contractor. Many reputable contractors are licensed and insured, and their work is guaranteed. Those hiring contractors should always obtain written estimates and contracts before any work begins. The contract should detail all costs and specify the time frame for completion of the project, along with a detailed description of the work to be performed and any materials that will be used. It should also contain a mandatory arbitration clause and the name of the arbitrator, any fees that will be charged to both parties, whether the cost of arbitration will be shared, and a disclosure that a claim against the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund may be stayed until the mandatory arbitration process is completed.

For major renovations, it is usually best to consult with a design expert before beginning the work. The services of a design consultant can be costly, but they can save time and money in the long run by avoiding mistakes that could be costly to correct. They can also help the homeowner navigate the sometimes confusing maze of permits required by local governments to conduct renovation work on a house.

In the past few years, rock-bottom interest rates have helped to fuel the housing recovery and home improvement activity. Other contributing factors include a shortage of new construction and the need to update older homes. The cost of certain upgrades, such as a new master suite with a bathroom and walk-in closet, can be recouped during a sale or by increasing the rental rate for the property.