10 most valuable home improvements

The best projects for 2014

We have some good news if a remodeling project is in your future: For the second consecutive year, the amount of money you're likely to recoup on home improvements in on the rise.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll boost your property's resale price by as much as those projects cost. The average return on home improvements is just 66.1%, but that’s up from 2013’s 60.6%.

This significant jump — the largest increase since 2005, when the average return rose to 86.7% from 80.5% — is credited to the rebounding real estate market more than decreasing construction costs, although both impact the return on renovations.

To determine which home improvement projects provide the best return, we consulted the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report (www.costvalue.com)..

We used that data to create our list of the best projects, based strictly on the percentage of the cost recouped at resale.

Before you decide your next renovation project, have a look at the 10 most valuable home improvements.

Front door replacement

Replacing your front door leads our list for the second year. A midrange steel door, specifically one with a glass panel and factory-finished paint, costs $1,162 and adds $1,122 to your home's value, 96.6% of the cost.

Keep in mind, that’s an average price — you can likely find a standard-size front door for substantially less that will still improve your home’s curb appeal as well as help improve its energy efficiency.

Metal doors are typically more affordable than fiberglass doors, which only recouped 70.8% of their cost in the survey.

Before you begin your door replacement project, check out our 10 smart moves to get top value.

Wooden deck addition

A wooden deck costs $9,539 and adds $8,334 in value, 87.4% of the cost, according to the Remodeling Magazine survey.

This project assumes a 16- by 20-foot addition.

Noteworthy here is that the projected percentage of the cost you'll recoup is better — and the renovation cheaper — than if you built a similar deck using composite materials.

Choose wood over composite, and you're picking value today over long-term upkeep since most decks constructed with recycled plastic and wood fibers are maintenance-free. Wood decks are not.

More than 80% of decks are built with pressure-treated wood, which should be retreated with water repellant annually, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association.

Of course, you can’t put a price tag on the enjoyment that most homeowners experience on their decks. For an estimated 30 million U.S. households, decks serve as an outdoor extension of their indoor living spaces during warmer months.

Siding replacement

Replacing your old wood or vinyl siding with fiber-cement siding, which is factory primed and painted, costs $13,378 and adds $11,645 to your home's value, 87% of the cost.

This project assumes you'll replace 1,250 square feet of existing siding, according the Remodeling Magazine survey.

James Savary, a remodeling consultant with Case Design/Remodeling Inc. of Bethesda, Md., says the product gives the high-end look of wood but with the maintenance of lower-end vinyl, which costs a comparable $11,475 but recoups only 78.2%.

"It’s almost the same as having granite versus laminate countertops," he says. "There’s just no comparison."

Savary says factory-primed and -painted fiber-cement siding should last 25 years. Some maintenance is necessary, like caulking, which should be done annually.

Converting an attic into a bedroom

The biggest mover in this year’s survey is renovating unused attic space into an additional bedroom. This renovation moved up three spots for 2014. The average cost is $49,438 and adds $41,656 in value — 84.3% of what you'll pay.

"The beauty of converting attic space to living space is you don’t have to then pay for foundation work," says Darren Vollmer, a partner with TrimCraft Builders of Madison, Wisc. This translates into being able to dedicate more of your budget toward finishing touches and furnishings.

Although some attics are large enough to be converted to a bedroom as is, others may require a dormer to achieve the needed space. To meet code requirements, you'll need a stairway, Vollmer says.

One of the biggest-ticket items is insulation, Vollmer says, since old attics are typically poorly insulated. But once the space is remodeled, your home will suffer less heat loss and, subsequently, fewer damaging ice dams on the roof.

Garage door replacement

A new midrange door — one that is uninsulated, with embossed steel — costs $1,534 and adds $1,283 to your home's value, or 83.7% of the cost.

Like an entry door, replacing a garage door can greatly increase your home’s attractiveness.

In fact, this project made one of our 8 smart moves to boost your curb appeal.

So even if you don't recoup as much cash as you'd like from replacing your garage door, the boost in curb appeal could help you sell your home faster.

For homeowners looking for a fancier front, perhaps because their garage is a prominent feature of their home, an upscale garage door — insulated, factory painted, with windows — costs $2,791 but recoups nearly the same amount of the cost, 82.9%.

Minor kitchen remodeling

A minor kitchen remodel typically includes new cabinet faces and hardware, as well as new counter tops, flooring and appliances. According to the Cost vs. Value home improvement survey, it costs $18,856 and adds $15,585 in value, 82.7% of the cost.

Such a minimal approach only works when a kitchen is configured well but is out of date, says Don Van Cura Sr., owner and president of Don Van Cura Construction in Chicago. In such a case, updates like stainless-steel appliances, fresh paint and modern surface light fixtures "will change the character of the room."

There’s a fine line between a minor and major kitchen remodel, Van Cura points out. "Changing the cabinetry is the tipping point."

A major remodeling project can really hit your wallet. The average price is $54,909, according to Remodeling Magazine, and you'll recoup just 74.2% of the cost.

Window replacement

Replacing your windows with midrange wood windows, exterior-clad in vinyl or aluminum will cost $10,926 and add $8,662 in value, 79.3% of the cost.

This project assumes you'll replace 10 windows. Choosing wood over all vinyl windows will cost you about $1,000 more, but the return is also a bit better.

You’ll also see some difference in heating and cooling bills, but the savings — up to 25% a year — will likely add up more slowly than you think. For that reason, don’t replace windows if you think you’ll recoup the cost quickly by gaining energy efficiency.

Consider new windows if yours are drafty, warped, won’t open or won’t stay open.

Finishing a basement

Like converting an attic space into a bedroom, finishing a basement has the advantage of utilizing a space that is already part of your home’s footprint, so you eliminate structural costs.

Finishing a basement costs $62,834 and adds $48,777 in value, 77.6% of the cost.

While most unfinished basements are used for storage and laundry, Darren Vollmer of Madison, Wisc.-based TrimCraft Builders sees clients finishing their basements to add entertainment space as well as bathrooms and bedrooms.

A home theater is his favorite, since most TV screens benefit from the lack of natural light, a trademark of many basements.

"It’s surprising with an old house what you can get done," he says, adding that floor joists can be moved to provide more headroom. Also, like an attic renovation, refinishing a basement often requires properly insulating the space to provide the necessary warmth in the winter while still remaining cool in the summer.

Midrange bathroom remodeling

A midrange remodeling adds new vanities and countertops, mirrors, medicine chest and maybe pulling the toilet and doing a new tub surround. It costs $16,128 and adds $11,688 in value, 72.5% of the cost.

Once again, this project — like all of the projects on our list — includes average costs.

Averaging can skew the typical cost. For example, three people remodeled their kitchens at a cost of $10,000, $15,000 and $100,000. The median price would be $15,000, because half of the projects cost more and half cost less. But the average price would be $41,666.

Prices include professional labor, which is about 30% of the cost. There are also substantial regional variations in home values, materials and labor costs.

We suspect do-it-yourselfers are capable of doing much of a bathroom update themselves, saving thousands of dollars while still adding a few luxuries found in higher-end bathrooms.

Before you begin your bathroom remodel, check out our 8 premium bathroom upgrades.

Adding a second story

Essentially doubling your home’s square footage costs $155,365 and adds $111,579 in value, 71.8% of the cost.

Adding a second floor is definitely a hefty home renovation, but for homeowners who are attached to their location, property or home itself, it’s a viable option, says Jim Stull, project coordinator with Surpass Renovations in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He recommends first researching whether the home, especially the first floor’s walls, are capable of supporting a second floor. Then, preferably, move out so the professionals can rip off the roof and get the job done.

"Dollar-wise, it’s not a bad thing to think about," he says. "Typically, people who are doing these types of renovations are staying awhile."

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