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Homeowners choose to remodel, expect to recoup investments

Rochester Business Journal
February 28, 2014

With many homeowners choosing to remodel rather than relocate, experts say there are some investments that pay off and some that should be avoided altogether.

The top remodeling projects are kitchens, bathrooms and master bedrooms, where people spend most of their time, says Rick Herman, CEO of the Rochester Home Builders Association Inc., an organization of 113 builders and 30 remodeling companies.

“That’s 80 percent of the return on investment in cost versus value, according to Remodeling magazine,” Herman says.

Local remodelers say client requests are on track with the top projects Herman mentions, as well as some other hot sellers.

“The mud room is the best place to spend money,” says David Norbut, project developer at Norbut Renovations. “It’s the first place you come into the house. What most people do in a mud room is kick everything off and step over it.

“What we do is help a client organize it—provide a place to sit down, put things in their place, make it more functional and take the stress away.”

Norbut does many kitchen and mud room projects combined, and depending on the client, the layout and traffic flow may involve incorporating the laundry room as part of it. The average cost of a mud room component is $20,000 in conjunction with another project.

Norbut Renovations specializes in multiroom projects for residential customers, with most projects averaging between $50,000 and $100,000. To get optimal value in the home, both immediately and later, Norbut advises his clients, “Do not underfund your project.”

In some cases when homeowners are working with much smaller budgets, Norbut will refer them to his brother, Bradley Norbut, owner of Frontline Remodeling LLC, who works on medium to large residential projects with a current focus on kitchen, bath and basement projects.

“Bathroom projects are super-hot right now,” Bradley Norbut says. “They’re an affordable remodel, and the client gets to see a big improvement. The average bathroom costs between $8,000 and $13,000 for a complete redo.”

Some of Bradley Norbut’s high-end bathroom projects can cost up to $50,000, he says, and they include custom tub and shower seats, tile work and directional body sprays.

People are asking about improving the value of their homes, he says, not just for the resale value but also because they have a new awareness with the advent of HGTV and the home improvement shows they watch.

“Everyone is watching HGTV, and they want what they see there,” he says. “We’re doing more tile. They want extra splurges like stone seats, deco backsplash, brushed nickel, little touches.”

Basements are another major source of work for Frontline Remodeling, and Bradley Norbut says his clients are asking for living room quality, not just recreational space for the kids. He believes the additional living space is of extraordinary value when comparing the remodeling cost versus the cost to build an addition to the home.

“Remodeling is $35 a foot versus $125 a foot to build an addition (to put on a kitchen or add a bedroom) when you figure costs of excavating, roofing, siding and windows,” he explains. “New construction

depends on materials and products you use, but there could be a savings of $95 a square foot to put in a basement. You do lose storage, but most of that is junk anyway, right? And we do try to incorporate some storage.”

Longtime real estate sales agent Janice Fattaruso agrees. Basements can be a good investment for improving a home’s resale value, but the homeowners must consider some very important guidelines.

“Basements always help to sell a house, but people shouldn’t do it for that purpose. The remodeling of a basement should be related to height and light,” says Fattaruso, who has been an agent with Red Barn Properties Inc. for 20 years. “The return on the basement will be lower if you don’t have a walkout door or daylight windows.”

Fattaruso also notes the influence of HGTV.

“Rochester has been slow to come around, and agents haven’t pushed too hard. I’ve been more aggressive for years for sellers, but they have gotten away with it. But now style matters more,” she says.

Now that people have seen what decorating can do, their expectations are higher, Fattaruso says, and presenting a home for sale is no longer just a matter of making sure it’s clean and organized. In some cases, sellers need to do some upgrades to improve the value of their home.

The two main areas of focus, Fattaruso says, are the kitchen and the bathroom. In the kitchen, she says, updates and upgrades are of the utmost importance.

“New cabinets, new countertops, new appliances. Do the best quality you can afford and the best thing you can do. What buyers today really want at any age and any size home? Openness,” Fattaruso says. “Open up a wall halfway so there is a view from the kitchen into another room. Whatever can be done to open up a view on the first floor is worthwhile to do.”

Work in the bathroom can be more affordable if the budget is tight, she says. Any degree of cosmetic work is beneficial.

One of the main goals Fattaruso has as a sales agent is to minimize the time her clients’ homes spend on the market. To help homes sell as quickly as possible, she believes photographs are critical, and she advises clients to change certain light fixtures based on how they look in those photos. Details matter.

“People will decide today if they are even going to look at a property based on photos,” Fattaruso says. “Buyers are having a bad reaction to brass. Your eye goes to it in photos, and it looks dated. Changing light fixtures to brushed nickel or bronze updates the look of the home and can make a big difference.”

Upgrades to improve resale value do not have to be costly.

“With selling it’s the cosmetics,” says Karen Leonardi, executive vice president of Nothnagle Realtors. “Do more minor updates, cabinet doors, drawer faces. They don’t cost as much but give a fresh look. The cabinets themselves may still be in perfectly good shape, but the faces are banged up from use.

“It’s exterior projects, what people will see first, that’s No.1, along with energy efficiency.”

Clients ask about converting attic space to extra living space, along with decks on the back of the house, which are always less expensive than major renovation work and can offer a solid return on investment.

“You don’t want to do things that may only appeal to a small audience, like putting in a greenhouse or building a garden shed,” Leonardi says. “I’ve seen a musician with an in-home recording studio. That’s nice, but it may be useless to someone else. And a home office may be necessary, but if you’re going to put it in, make sure it can be easily converted.”

Another way to ensure the best value for renovation and resale is to consider the neighborhood, she says.

“If you have a ranch and want to make it a two-story home, it’s not a good idea if you live in a ranch neighborhood. Most buyers want a home that is similar to those around it,” Leonardi says. “So upgrading to a two-story home in this case may not be worth your investment.”

David Norbut finds it interesting that many renovations of Rochester homes are being done by people who do not live here yet.

“We get a lot of out-of-town calls from people who are moving into a home they bought here. Thirty percent of our business is people who come here from places like Washington, D.C., Colorado, Georgia,” Norbut says. “They like the location of Pittsford, Brighton, the canal path, so forth, but they don’t love the master bedroom. The house needs to be made the way they want it.”

When clients are looking to improve the value of their house as well as its livability, Norbut asks them to consider what he feels is a very important factor: “The value is in your family, and the best investment you can make is in your home,” he says.

Lori Gable is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

2/28/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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