Say you're a homeowner who's sick and tired of your ugly, old first-floor bathroom. You'd love to have it remodeled, but how much will it cost? How will you pay for it? And will you get your money's worth?
New York attorney Stephen Pollan realized that millions of Americans ask such questions every year. With the aid of freelance writer Mark Levine, Mr. Pollan authored "The Big Fix-Up," a remodeling guide for the perplexed homeowner.
Early on, Mr. Pollan offers sobering advice to do-it-yourselfers -- don't.
Mr. Pollan recommends hiring an expert to plan the job. "You really need the advice of an architect . . . to really protect the character of the house," he said.
But can you afford to have professionals do the work? Mr. Pollan's book helps you find out in advance, by listing prices for many common home improvement jobs. For instance, it can cost $4,500 to $21,000 to renovate a bathroom, depending on how creative you get.
The book even includes a table that adjusts the price of the job to different regions of the country. Say the "base price" of a remodeling job is $10,000. In Detroit, you can expect to pay about $900 more for the work, but in Saginaw, Mich., the job should cost about $900 less.
Another resource, the R.S. Means guides, estimates the total cost of a job, complete with detailed price lists of the materials you should need. They even include estimates of the time needed to do the work.
The Means guides don't include estimates on how much the remodeling will add to the value of your home. But Mr. Pollan offers some opinions that he says are based on industry surveys and his own experience.
For example, Mr. Pollan, who appears on cable TV's CNBC network every week to discuss money management, says a swimming pool is usually a poor investment. "If you built a swimming pool in Detroit in the back of your house," said Mr. Pollan, "the chances of your getting the money back on that swimming pool when you sold are very, very remote."
The same often goes for basement renovations.
"What the buyer looks for . . . is above ground living space," Mr. Pollan says. Finished basements usually make sense as an investment only when the other houses in the neighborhood have them.
For more information on remodeling costs, check out "Home Improvement Costs for Interior Projects" and "Home Improvement Costs for Exterior Projects," published by the R.S. Means Co. of Kingston, Mass. They cost $29.95 each and can be ordered by calling 1-800-448-8182, 8-5 weekdays.
"The Big Fix-Up" costs $11 and is published by Simon and Schuster.