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Home Renovations That Can Hurt (and Help) Property Value

If you’re into renovation projects, then updating and revamping your home can be a lot of fun. But before you get too excited about knocking down walls and setting up a custom movie room, you might want to consider resale value. Flashy renovations don’t always yield the best returns, so you’ll need to take care when picking projects.

To make things easier for you, here are four remodels to avoid and four to invest in.

Remodels to Avoid

Luxury Rooms
An indoor basketball court, wine cellar, sauna, or even a movie theater won’t often recoup the high building costs. Luxury add-on rooms are hard to pitch to buyers unless you’re living in an upscale housing market—the average homebuyer won’t be willing to pay for them. Further, rooms that depend heavily on wired electronics, like home theaters, are hard to keep current because TVs and speakers are constantly advancing.

Swimming Pool
The average cost to build a pool is $39,084, a hefty price tag that is seldom recovered once the home is sold. It’s widely accepted throughout the industry that a homeowner will lose money by adding a swimming pool. Homebuyers don’t want to deal with the maintenance cost of a pool (which can cost as much as $2,000 a year), the added insurance premiums, and—if they have young kids—the safety issues.

Gaudy Accents
Though gold-plated crown molding or mosaic-tile backsplashes may feature prominently in your ideal vision for your home, they often turn out to be the average homebuyer’s worst nightmare. Passing fads or niche trends rarely stick around long, so if you miss the brief window when your remodeling choices are in, you’ll end up paying for it later.

Changes Contrary to Area Standards
If you aren’t watching the trends common to your area, you could end up losing a lot of money. A home that totals $600,000 after all the renovations won’t sell in a neighborhood where homes are netting half that price. Likewise, knocking down the walls of extra bedrooms for an open layout won’t be appealing in a family-oriented neighborhood.

Remodels that Pay

Steel Doors
You don’t want to go cheap on a standard front door. At roughly $1,000, steel doors are comparatively affordable, durable, low maintenance and burglar resistant. As an added bonus, the National Association of Realtors® reports that steel door upgrades show the highest return on investment of any home remodel, at over 100 percent of the cost.

Solar Panels
As the price of solar panels continues to drop, the energy payback on installing them is becoming greater and greater. The average rooftop solar system is now paid off in seven and a half years. After that, panels are a big money-saving asset. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory notes that homebuyers “consistently have been willing to pay more for a property” with solar panels—a premium of around $4 per installed watt, on average.

Related: Will Your Homeowners Insurance Cover Solar Panels?

New Siding
The exterior of your house is the first thing potential homebuyers see when they come to your home, and you want to make the best first impression. This is part of the reason redoing your siding is so profitable. New siding recoups around 80 percent of the initial cost, according to the National Association of Realtors®, thanks largely to the increased curb appeal and improved energy efficiency it provides.

Broadband Access
Access to broadband speeds is considered an essential utility for today’s connected homebuyer. Research shows that faster internet speeds increase your home value by as much as 3 percent. Homeowners can prepare their homes for higher broadband connectivity by working with area providers to install requisite equipment and wiring. Building out wall ports and cable-hiding baseboards is a good move to attract buyers, too.

Even if you’re not considering selling your home just yet, keep potential selling benefits in mind. Intrepid homeowners know that the best remodels will increase both quality of life and listing price, so take care to invest in projects that will net the biggest returns.

 

By: Brooke Nally

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5 Steps to Take Before Shopping for Your First Home

When you’re considering buying your first home, you’re probably full of excitement about achieving the American dream. Unfortunately, this dream could turn into a nightmare if you haven’t made sure that you’re financially ready for the costs of becoming a homeowner. You don’t want to fall in love with a house before you’ve done the practical thing and made certain you’re prepared for homeownership. Before you call a realtor, take these five steps to get all your ducks in a row.

House for sale© Getty Images House for sale

1. Calculate what you can comfortably spend

The last thing you want to do is make yourself “house poor” by spending more of your income on a home purchase than you should. The “affordability standard” for housing is that you should spend no more than 30% of your income on housing costs (including insurance and property taxes), while many mortgage lenders prefer that your housing cost is no greater than 28% of your income.

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Your outstanding debts can also impact the amount you can spend on a home. Most lenders want a total debt-to-income ratio — including your mortgage payments and other debts — to be around 36% or less, although you can still get a standard mortgage with a ratio as high as 43%.

This means if your income is $50,000, you could reasonably afford about $1,170 per month for your total housing costs if you stuck to the 28% rule — assuming you didn’t have a substantial amount of other debt that would push your total monthly payments above the recommended 36% of income. If we also assume you can pay 20% down and qualify for an interest rate of 4%, then you could potentially afford a home price of up to $250,000. That may or may not be a realistic price in your area, and you may want to aim lower if you have other sizable debts.

2. Save a down payment of 20%

In our example above, we factored in having a 20% down payment when calculating the price of the home you could afford. Paying at least 20% of the value of the home up front is vital, because it allows you to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI insures your lender in the event that you’re unable to make payments and the lender must foreclose on you. On a $200,000 loan, PMI could cost you $100 a month or more, depending on how much you paid up front — and you could be paying it for several years.

You’re stuck with PMI until you pay your loan down to 78% or less of the home’s original value. Once you prove to your lender that you’ve reached that milestone, your lender is required to drop the PMI requirement. .

If you don’t have a down payment, not only will you waste thousands of dollars on PMI and additional interest payments, but you’ll also put yourself at substantial risk. When you make a 20% down payment on a home, the value of the house would have to fall more than 20% for the home to be worth less than you owe on it. If you only make a tiny down payment, however, even a slight downturn in the market could mean you’re underwater — i.e., your home is worth less than you still owe the bank. This makes it difficult or impossible to sell unless you can bring cash to the real estate closing for the difference between what your house sells for and what you still owe.

3. Save an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of living expenses

When you’re a homeowner, you are responsible for everything that goes wrong in your house. Instead of calling a landlord when the furnace breaks or the pipes freeze, you have to call — and pay for — a repair man. If the problems are costly to fix, or can’t be fixed, you’re the one on the hook. If you don’t have money set aside to cover maintenance, repairs, and replacements, then you’ll have to use credit. You don’t want to be paying interest on your new fridge for the next 10 years, so make sure you have an emergency fund to cover the many costs of being a homeowner.

Not only can an emergency fund help you pay for surprise repairs, but it can also ensure that you don’t lose your home in the event that an illness, job loss, or other crisis puts a major strain on your household finances. If you cannot pay your mortgage because your income has taken a hit, you could be foreclosed on, lose your house, and end up with ruined credit. You don’t want this to happen, so save up enough money to pay the mortgage for several months in case something goes wrong.

4. Get pre-approved for a mortgage loan

When you have your financial house in order, it’s time to prove to the bank that you’re ready for the responsibility of taking on a mortgage. You want to get pre-approved by your chosen financial institution before you start shopping for a home. Getting pre-approved means you’ll have a clear idea of what the bank will lend you so you don’t shop outside of your price range. You’ll also be taken much more seriously by real estate agents and any potential sellers to whom you make an offer. Some sellers won’t even consider offers from someone who isn’t pre-approved, because there’s no way to know whether the financing will be available to complete the sale.

If you want your bids to be competitive and you want to know you’re shopping for houses that are priced right, provide your financial information to the bank before you start house shopping and get a pre-approval letter to take with you.

5. Find a buyer’s agent

Although you can technically buy a house without an agent, it’s usually a bad idea to try it — especially if it’s your first home. An agent can help you spot red flags that should send you running away from a prospective home. Agents know the market and can help you make a reasonable offer so you don’t overpay, and they can also guide you through the steps of the buying process, like getting a home inspection.

You’ll want to be sure you find a buyer’s agent, rather than letting the seller’s agent represent both you and the seller. A buyer’s agent is focused only on your interests and has lots of experience helping homebuyers find the house of their dreams. If you’ve already made sure you’re financially ready before calling a realtor, your agent can help you make the buying process low-stress and successful.

 

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