First-time buyers can't wait to paint

Their new acquisition often needs a little work, sometimes a lot of it

November 09, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - No house is perfect. Just take a look at the typical home-inspection report.

"Most [first-time] buyers purchase homes that need some work, either cosmetic or a gut job," said Nella Genovese, a real estate agent with Plumer Associates. "They change the color of the walls, redo their floors or refinish, if the floors are wood."

They also do window treatments, and, if they have gardens, they replant, she said.

"Mostly during the first year, they are changing the house to their personality," Genovese said. "Those that purchase a new home or condo just decorate with new furnishings or add a few items to make it feel new."

Laura Pratt's first house was a "brand-new house in Yardley," Pa.

"All we did was paint. It just had cream-colored walls throughout, so we painted to add some color to the house," Pratt said. "In the seven years we lived there, we painted all three bedrooms, plus 2 1/2 bathrooms."

Her second house, in Paoli, Pa., was only 12 years old but "was in need of a lot of interior maintenance," she said.

"In the first year, we gutted and remodeled the kitchen, painted all the four bedrooms and wallpapered or painted the 2 1/2 bathrooms," she said.

For Don and Juli Vitello, the problems began before they even crossed the threshold of their first house, a stone twin in Philadelphia, on Valentine's Day 1985.

"The front porch was covered with ice, so I slipped and fell on the way in," said Juli Vitello.

"When we went to hang our coats up, we realized that there was not one closet on the whole first floor," she said. "The next morning, the pilot light on the water heater blew out, so there was no hot water."

The immediate reaction: "Buyer's remorse," she said. "I wanted to give the house back to the previous owners."

Painting is the No. 1 improvement by first-timers. Of course, that can be motivated more by taste than by necessity. A lot of buyers, first-time or otherwise, may purchase a house despite the color of the walls, then head to the store as soon as the papers are signed.

Next on that to-do list: the water heater.

"In the first year, we repainted the master bedroom and kitchen and replaced the hot-water heater," said Robert Collela of Cherry Hill, N.J.

More storage is high on the list, as the Vitellos' experience indicates.

"In Year One, Don built a gigantic closet in our mudroom," Juli Vitello said. "Two years later, we added a large bathroom to our third floor and turned two rooms into a master suite."

Remodeling surveys by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University and by the National Association of Home Builders show how much first-timers spend. The figure is $2,070 a year for first-time homebuyers under age 35, according to the Joint Center.

The amount spent by first-time buyers rises with income level, starting at $2,050 for those earning less than $40,000 and increasing to $4,820 annually for people making $120,000 or more.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Alexandria, Va., has identified some common mistakes made by homeowners.

These include hiring the wrong contractor, selecting inferior products to save money, overextending on a do-it-yourself project, improper planning, not taking all choices into consideration, starting the project at the wrong time, not managing the budget and overimproving for the neighborhood.

Another mistake is "the domino effect" - installing a new kitchen, for instance, then deciding the living room looks shabby, and so on, until you break the budget.

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