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Trends in remodeling gleaned from a chat with an expert

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Over at the Builder Blog, produced by the folks at our sister brand Integrity Windows and Doors, we recently interviewed Sal Alfano, the editorial director at Remodeling Magazine and the Journal of Light Construction. These titles may not be familiar to the average homeowner, but take it from us: they are very well-respected, widely read trade publications. If you’ve recently remodeled or renovated your home, your building professional probably read them to keep up with the industry.

Sal discussed many issues of importance to builders and remodelers, but there’s some valuable information in there for homeowners, as well. The following is an excerpt. To read the whole interview, please visit the Builder Blog.

What’s your favorite architectural style?
The American Four Square is one of my favorites, and I also like bungalows. And of course, working in New England, I saw a lot of Capes and Colonials. I spent a lot of time remodeling and adding on to classic Vermont farmhouses, many of which started out as post-and-beam Capes, and had at least two major additions by subsequent generations. In my experience, the original, which was built by grandpa, had the best bones, and it was all downhill from there. But during those years working for the design-build firm, which was operated by three architects, I built a lot of modern stuff, too.

Comparing cost to value, year after year, which remodeling projects stay near the top?
Replacements are always near the top. In fact, over the years, they have consistently outperformed additions and interior remodeling. That said, kitchens and baths are still the focus of a lot of remodeling activity, and they are the rooms that prospective buyers are most interested in.

Let’s talk footprint: Add on, bump out or work within the existing footprint?
The recession has really changed the way homeowners look at this issue. Big additions are simply too expensive, because they involve breaking ground, foundation work, and a lot of exterior matching to the existing home. Plus, permits are often harder to get. For the same money, you can often remodel within the existing footprint and end up with higher-quality finishes.

Do you think consumers are remodeling for function or style?
Back in 2005, homeowners were standing in line, waiting to get on the list for a major addition or whole-house remodel. Everybody wanted the best of everything and the sky was the limit. Those days are over. There’s more interest now in “need to do” projects than “want to do” projects. Even homeowners who have no intention of selling feel less wealthy because they are unsure of what their home is worth. So they are spending to repair and maintain, and postponing major makeovers. And credit is still hard to find.

I do believe, though, that there is a lot of pent-up demand out there. As soon as people feel comfortable about economic stability, they will start thinking about remodeling projects that create new space, different space, better space. That’s especially true if they aren’t planning to sell or aren’t sure they can get the value they want out of a sale. In that position, they’re likely to think, “Why not remodel?”

Is the formal living room dead?
That’s a more important question for a builder than a remodeler. One advantage remodelers have is that their clients have already spent some time living in the space and they know what works and what doesn’t, what they want to keep, what has to go, and what’s missing. They can’t always articulate it plainly, but a good remodeler who asks lots of questions and listens carefully to the answers eventually deciphers the message.

That said, in general I think spaces that are visually connected have been the norm for a while. Small, cozy spaces are still important, but there are ways to accomplish that without actually erecting walls between those spaces. Designers like Sarah Susanka have made those ideas accessible to the general public, but the design principles have been around for a long time.