Your home doesn't have to stay in the past

Renovating a 30-Year-Old Home

by Gary Foreman


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Your 30-year-old home is beginning to show its age. The kitchen cabinets are worn and the bathrooms could use an update. Should you renovate your old home? And, if you do, could you recover the costs if you sell?

To help us answer those questions, we contacted Kathi Fleck. Ms. Fleck is a whole-house designer who specializes in design and build, universal design, and aging in place. She's the co-founder of the Dallas-Fort Worth based design-build firm LoneStar Property Solutions and her book Renovate, Remodel...Relax! Take Your Home Improvement From "How" to "Wow" is available in paperback and e-book formats on her website KathiFleck.com.

What part of a 30-year-old home is usually the most in need of remodeling?

Ms. Fleck: Often an older home may be in need of many items in order to bring it up to date and this may feel overwhelming to the homeowner. I usually suggest starting with the most bothersome areas to my clients. The answers also depend on the owner's budget. Of course, the entire home can stand a "facelift" or complete remodel, but this may not be feasible to the owner.

Here are a few examples:

Kitchen:

  • Depending on the condition of the cabinets, they may decide to keep or replace them. If the cabinets remain, maybe a refreshing of the cabinets with stain or paint is in order.
  • Replace the countertops and backsplash.
  • Update the appliances.
  • Paint the room.
  • Possibly replace the flooring.

Flooring:

  • If there is carpet in the main living areas, it is probably worn and dirty. New carpet will be the most economical and best "bang for the buck." Wood flooring is very popular along with tile in some locations.

Paint:

  • Refreshing and updating the colors in the home make a big impact and uplift for the owners. It can be completed in just the main areas of the home where everyone spends the most time.

If all of the main areas of the home impact the owner's budget or give a sense of overwhelm, I suggest picking one of the above areas. Other areas to consider:

  • The master suite is a popular area for many homeowners, as the bathroom is often dated and in need of repair. The room could be gutted and started fresh with an open plan. New cabinets, shower, tub, flooring and updated plumbing fixtures will enhance the room and mood of the owner as this is another heavily used area of the home.
  • Exterior maintenance and a fresh coat of paint is usually a good area for an older home. Replacing the doors and windows are usually considered for an update along with higher energy efficiency.

Can you recover your costs on a kitchen or bath renovation?

Ms. Fleck: Kitchens and bathrooms provide a very solid return to the home. The Hanley Wood Cost vs Value report is published annually, giving typical costs and their values, which I recommend to my clients as we review their projects (www.costvsvalue.com). Most do not want to overspend for the value of their home. However, if selling a home is in the near future, many homes' values are actually decreased or may not sell without renovations. Kitchens and Master Bathrooms usually recoup around 70-80%, as long as the remodel fits the value of the home.

Should DIYers jump in? Or do you need to hire help to get absolutely perfect renovation work?

Ms. Fleck: I receive calls from homeowners who do attempt the DIY approach. Some are talented and can handle their own remodels. Most need additional help. When I am called to meet with my clients, it is because they attempted the project and were not successful, or it is taking way too long (sometimes years) for them to complete the job.

To answer the question about DIYers completing the "perfect" renovation is difficult for me, as I don't meet with those owners.

I do know that those who called me after their attempt would not have been able to complete a satisfactory job without professional help. Usually, the DIY homeowner who is willing to remodel has some talent. However, the specialty trades work in their field on a professional level and the difference is clear to me as a remodeler. I see the difference in paint lines, how tile is laid, and the products chosen.

Related: Is It a DIY Job? Or Should You Hire a Pro?

Most 30-year-old homes didn't anticipate all the technology that we expect today. What can be done to an older home to make it more compatible with today's technology?

Ms. Fleck: With all of the advances in technology, expert audio-visual teams can create systems that fit with the older homes. Updated and additional electrical may be needed, and some increased amperage in the service panels will assist with higher-end appliances. We work on many 30-year-old homes, and I find that new technology can work very well with the older homes.

Should I use a HELOC for home remodeling and repairs?

Are there some renovation projects that are best left undone?

Ms. Fleck: I would suggest renovating the areas of most importance to the value of the home. Those renovations that don't fit with the space or value of the home should be forgotten. For example, I met with a young couple who wanted to enclose a patio for a fourth bedroom. The location just didn't make sense and the cost would exceed the value of the home, as well as the couple's budget. At this point, it would make more sense to sell the house and move to one with four bedrooms.

Although your home may be 30 years old doesn't mean that you have to live in the past! When renovating an old home, choose a renovation project that meets your desires, your budget, and DIY ability.


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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