Investments That Pay Off

What improvements are not necessary? Which add value now? Which add value later? Look here…

We’re waking up in master suites with built-in coffee bars, taking baths in luxury and thinking about ways to grow old gracefully—and at home.
Finding ways to improve our homes is a job that’s never done.
It’s a balancing act, deciding which investments will add the most value to the property over time and which upgrades enhance a family’s lifestyle in the here and now.
“There’s a pleasure factor in updating a home, just like going on a great vacation or buying a super car,” says Gary Munch, president of Boss Enterprises in Wilmington. “In this market, you can’t assume you’ll get your money back, especially if you’ll be living in the most expensive house in the neighborhood.”
Here are some improvements that are top scorers:
Aging-in-place features: Wider doorways, grab bars in the shower, first-floor master suites and lever door handles help owners to age gracefully in their homes.
SUPER-SIZED CLOSETS Specialized storage for clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories and such niceties as a bench where you can sit down and put on your socks (and watch TV while you’re at it) are making closets an integral element of a well-appointed master suite.
CUSTOM MILLWORK High-end moldings are the crowning touch in any room. Elegant staircases, arched entryways, wainscoting, paneling, built-in shelving and beefed-up baseboards also add grandeur.
Spa-like baths Steam showers, air tubs, saunas and heated floors are turning bathrooms into luxury retreats. And don’t forget the audio system and flat-screen TV.
FIBER CEMENT SIDING Unlike vinyl and aluminum siding, fiber cement actually looks like wood. Unlike the genuine item, the product stands up to the elements. And unlike painted wood, the color goes all the way through the board.
LANDSCAPING AND HARDSCAPING Manicured grounds create instant curb appeal. Take the exterior of a home to a whole new level with such stately elements as driveways edged or paved with cobblestones, iron gates, and exterior lighting that highlights such features as the front door, a cupola or large trees.
GOING GREEN Save energy and the environment with such infrastructure as a tankless hot water system, solar panels and geothermal heat. Explore opportunities to use reclaimed materials such as wood and stone. Folks who are planning on sticking around a while are diving into luxury baths that integrate elements you once had to go to a spa to enjoy. Steam showers are big, figuratively and literally, with multiple heads and a variety of settings.
Air tubs are soaring in popularity because muds, oils and salts used in body treatments won’t damage the works. They’re also quieter than traditional whirlpool tubs, enhancing that soothing feeling.
“You can do incredible spa-like treatments at home with an air tub that you could never do in a whirlpool tub,” Munch says.
Other indulgences include floors in natural limestone, marble, slate or onyx and radiant heat to keep them warm underfoot. Heated racks keep towels toasty.
Saunas also are making a comeback, both in the master bath and in designated exercise rooms and home spas, says Tim Dewson, president of Dewson Construction Company in Wilmington.
“You can have a changing area, a sauna or steamroom, whatever you wish,” he says. “In the exercise area, mirrored walls and a rubberized floor work really well. And people like to have music throughout the space, even in the steam room.”
Whole-house audio systems are a staple of upscale entertaining. Smart technology enables the host to choose mixes of tunes. The same mix can be played throughout the public spaces of the home for parties, or mixes can be individualized to suit each family member.
“Music is so important in people’s lives,” Dewson says. “It makes them happy after a stressful day.”
Opulent moldings and plaster work give rooms a sense of grandeur. Ceilings can be enhanced with plaster medallions, custom moldings or coffers.
“We’ve done coffers with hand-hewn, reclaimed beams and wonderful lighting details,” Dewson says. “We like to upgrade the baseboards and casings around doors and windows by giving them a nice shape and dramatically increasing their size.”
You can’t go wrong with a supersized closet that provides specialized storage for clothes, shoes, etc.Master bedrooms are evolving into sumptuous retreats with such amenities as coffee bars and pullout refrigerator drawers to keep the juice chilled. Closets are approaching the size of apartments, with such highly specialized storage as drawers for sunglasses. A niche with a laptop computer is ideal for discretely checking e-mail—or for organizing your inventory of shoes by style and color.
Dave Stevenson, who owns One Call Service in Lewes, says forward-thinking homeowners are interested in features that will enable them to age gracefully with their houses, such as 3-foot-wide doorways that can readily accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.
“It costs about $25 to build a wider doorway,” Stevenson says. “To go back and widen an existing doorway would cost $500.”
A certified aging-in-place specialist and a member of the green council of the Homebuilders Association of Delaware, Stevenson integrated 3-foot-wide passageways and such other aging-in-place features as lever door knobs into the home he built for his family in Milford.
Stevenson also chose such energy-efficient features as a radiant hot water system, which requires one-third the oil a traditional system consumes. He installed a tankless hot water system, which saves energy because it heats water as it’s needed.
“It pays for itself in three years,” he says.
Outside, fiber cement siding, which looks amazingly like cedar clapboards, is surging in popularity. In fact, spiffing up a home’s look with fiber cement siding returned 88 cents on the dollar at resale, more than any other renovation project, according to a 2007 survey by the National Association of Realtors. (The least profitable projects were a back-up power generator, sunroom addition and home office remodel.)
“It looks authentic, but it resists insects and rot—and it looks better and performs better that any aluminum or vinyl ever would,” Munch says. “It’s also significantly less expensive than vertical-grain cedar.”
Never underestimate the value of curb appeal. There’s true flower power in colorful plantings. A manicured lawn creates the aura of a property that is well maintained inside and out.
“Landscaping can make a huge difference in creating a first impression,” Munch says. “It’s also cost effective, especially if you like to do things yourself.”
An existing driveway will get a touch of class by adding borders of cobblestones or bluestone and brick. Or start over with a driveway of pavers that are reminiscent of a European courtyard. Hand-forged gates can be personalized with motifs of vines or animals or the homeowner’s monogram.
“It creates a formal estate appearance,” Dewson says. “We did one that was powder-coated white to replicate a gate on an English estate.”
Give the exterior a glow with uplighting that defines a few important elements on the property, such as a handsome front door or stately trees.
“It has to be done subtly and shouldn’t look like daylight,” he says. “But when it’s done right, it brings the exterior of a home alive.”

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