We asked remodeling contractors, appraisers and real estate sales specialists to suggest home improvements that help, instead of hurt, the house's value.
1. Systems. Good investments in older homes include upgrading electrical, heating and plumbing systems, and windows and doors. "I find that customers have been consistently buying better-quality windows and doors because they are permanent in nature," says Victor Boehm, a remodeling specialist in Sparks.
2. Landscaping. Greenery sometimes aids energy savings while improving the view. Choose plantings that complement the architecture and need standard care.
3. Face lift. Painting, wallpapering and carpeting are among the most reasonably priced small-scale home improvements. These investments have short lives, about five years, before replacement is needed.
4. Bathrooms. Jacuzzis, saunas, fireplaces, and coffee/snack centers grace some of today's "superbaths" in high-end houses. "They are nice, but you are not going to get a high or quick return on them, especially in Baltimore, where it's not a ritz and glitz market," says Charles Chwastyk, of Custom Crafters Inc. in Kensington.
But bathroom projects can aid a more modest home's value. Old bathrooms benefit from modernization. "You are improving not only the aesthetics but the usability of the home," he says. Houses with multiple bedrooms but only one bath often benefit from the addition of a powder room or second bath.
As for style, the "norm" in bathroom projects in the Baltimore region is not marble or European style.
A National Kitchen and Bath Association survey has found that the average price paid for bathroom remodeling in the Northeast (including Maryland) was $9,930.
The two items chosen most often by customers are makeup and grooming centers and customized storage areas.
Oak or cherry cabinets are the most popular, followed by laminates. Most consumers choose laminate counters. Ceramic tile is the top choice for flooring, and wallpaper beats paint and tile. White, almond and pastels win out over brights.
Only about a quarter of the projects include a whirlpool tub, or a separate tub and shower, or more than one lavatory.
5. Kitchens. "People are selecting practicality over bells and whistles," says Mr. Boehm, whose Baltimore and Baltimore County clients own higher-end homes. They may select the latest technology, he says, but they'll buy white appliances and seek products of good quality.
Jay Christopher, of National Kitchen and Bath in Lutherville, says a good way to figure the cost of a remodeling project is to estimate 8 to 12 percent of the value of the house. The National Kitchen and Bath Association estimates that Northeast region consumers spend an average of $17,446 to remodel a kitchen. Its survey reveals:
*Pull-out shelves, lazy Susans and pantries are among the amenities most frequently installed. Microwave ovens and a table and chairs are included in almost all kitchen remodeling jobs. Thirty-five percent include a kitchen island, 14 percent a trash compactor, and 29 percent a planning center.
*Vinyl flooring, traditionally styled hardwood wall cabinets and wallpaper are the top decor selections, with white, almond and wood tones being the "colors" of choice.
Other factors that improve kitchen value: a good layout, ample counter space and adequate storage; a sense of openness; and flattering (non-fluorescent), bright light.