Home improvement refers to the repair, maintenance or restoration of residential real property, such as a house, apartment or condominium. It includes such activities as replacing the roof, painting, resurfacing or repairing a driveway, remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, adding an addition to a home, building a deck or fence, and other similar projects. Home improvement can also include the installation of landscaping or other outdoor features such as a pool, fountain or garden.
Homeowners often undertake remodeling projects with the hope that they will pay off by increasing their property’s value when it comes time to sell. After all, who wouldn’t want a sparkling new bathroom or a state-of-the-art kitchen? But not all home improvements add value, and some renovations can even decrease a property’s marketability.
Despite high home prices and a low supply of homes for sale, homeowners are spending more than ever on home improvements. Last year alone, 24.5 million Americans made at least one such project, according to a Harvard University study. And with rock-bottom interest rates, it’s an especially appealing time to finance a renovation.
However, with construction costs on the rise and mortgage rates still fairly low, homeowners must weigh the pros and cons of each project carefully. If they make the wrong choices, they may wind up spending more than they’ll get back when it comes time to sell.
To help them make wise home improvements that will pay off, homeowners should talk to a realtor in their area before making any major renovations. A local real estate expert can help them decide what improvements will maximize their return on investment and which ones they should skip, said Sophia Bera Daigle, a financial planner who specializes in millennials.
Another important step is to thoroughly research contractors before hiring them for a project, she says. Obtain quotes from several different contractors and ask for detailed, itemized lists of all work to be performed along with costs and a timeline. This will help you negotiate with contractors, keep them from adding extras or doing work that isn’t necessary and will protect you against scams, like a contractor who demands an upfront payment and then does nothing or goes out of business before the project is completed.
It’s also important to make sure any contract for home improvement work you sign is in writing. New York law requires a written contract to be signed before any work begins, including a detailed description of all the work to be performed and a payment schedule. It must also list the name and contact information for the contractor; provide the contractor’s license number; disclose that mandatory arbitration is available; state whether or not the arbitration fee will be charged to the consumer; and describe any other applicable requirements, such as a requirement that the contractor obtain permits and comply with building codes.
Be wary of any contractor who does not offer a written contract, because it could violate New York state law, Bera Daigle says. Licensed contractors must pass a test on home improvement law and general business competency, and are screened for serious criminal convictions.