It's time to reroof your average-looking three-bedroom rancher. Roofers have been scaling ladders to measure your roof and estimate costs. But one question remains. Should you select the standard charcoal gray asphalt shingle guaranteed for 20 years? Or, would it be wiser to pay $700 more and get a 25-year asphalt shingle that gives your house a unique, slate-like look?
Pass up the fancy shingle, realty experts suggest. Unless you plan to stay in the home indefinitely, you live in a wealthy neighborhood or you are enthralled with the slate-like look, your investment won't be returned. When it comes time to sell, you're likely to get only a fraction of your $700 back.
"Quality without excess should be the byword of the smart seller who may not have a permanent anchor," says Dorcas Helfant, who becomes president of the National Association of Realtors in 1992.
Many homeowners with an eye to selling in the near future are confused about home improvements, real estate experts say. Too often they waste money on decorative improvements -- custom wallpaper, imported ceramic tile or extraordinary carpeting -- that may appeal only to a small number of home shoppers. Or they improve their homes beyond the standard for the community.
"It's a mistake for sellers to overimprove their property above and beyond comparable properties in the neighborhood. They simply aren't going to get their money back," says Joan Pittroff, assistant manager for Coldwell Banker's Howard County real estate office.
Still, realty experts say it's only prudent to improve a home that no longer meets contemporary standards. It could be smart to spend $1,000 for new kitchen floor tile and cabinet doors but wasteful to invest $30,000 in a kitchen make-over with computer-controlled appliances and marble counter tops.
"You need common sense and lots of it when you invest money in a house you're planning to sell in the future," Ms. Helfant says.
To be sure, you must replace a leaky roof, a non-functioning water heater or a refrigerator that drools rather than cools. Spending money on necessities simply brings your home up to prevailing standards and allows you to present your property in a marketable condition. Without these changes, you may not be ** able to sell your home at all.
By the same token, you'll be rewarded for relatively inexpensive cosmetic improvements. The cost in time, money and energy to paint your property or make landscaping improvement should pay off at the settlement table.
Real estate specialists offer these pointers:
* Remember that the payback potential of any improvement depends on the price range of your property and the standard of your neighborhood.
Buyers of low- to medium-priced housing are typically much more interested in the basics than in architectural detail, points out Joseph Zick, general sales manager for four Century 21 realty offices in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
He says an upgraded shingle will probably be far less impressive to the buyer of an average, three-bedroom rancher than the addition of a family room would be. On the other hand, a family buying at the upper end of the market assumes its new home will have three to four bedrooms and a family room. In this case, an amenity such as a handsome, long-lasting shingle may be the neighborhood standard.
* Focus on the basics for improvements to a small house.
If your property has 1,500 to 1,700 square feet and is in good cosmetic condition, Mr. Zick says your money will be best invested in the addition of a second or third bathroom or a third or fourth bedroom. Also advisable: converting a carport to a family room. That's because the buyer of a small home is more concerned about adequate space than about where he keeps his car.
* Move beyond the basics to improve a medium-sized home in the 2,000- to 2,300-square-foot range.
Consider adding a carport, garage or extra landscaping to an average-size home that already has at least three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a family room. In this size range, buyers begin thinking about such modest upgrades, Mr. Zick says.
* Begin adding amenities to an upper-end home with 2,500 square feet or more.
Buyers of homes in affluent communities have come to expect many luxury upgrades -- including spacious and well-appointed bathrooms, large master bedrooms with a sitting room off to the side; and kitchens with extraordinary appliances, Mr. Zick says.
A home that doesn't meet the neighborhood standards could sell at a discount -- especially in a buyer's market, Mr. Zick cautions.
* Stay away from the exotic or dramatic, regardless of the price range of your home. You may love an exotic, imported wallpaper, a carpet with an unusual design, or bright paint. But the odds are that your tastes will not be shared by most of the strangers who ultimately consider your home as their home.
"If your house is wildly imaginative or extreme in the decoration, you've gone too far in the wrong direction. Instead, you should stay with furnishings and accessories that are soft and neutral," Ms. Helfant suggests.