Once upon a time, and not too long ago, your house might have been appreciating somewhere between 10% and 15% annually. Those were the days when you could pull a little equity out of your house and send a kid to college. Or, even better, finance a pretty great retirement. It seems like only yesterday when most Americans sat comfortably in their living rooms knowing that their home was a stable, sound investment.
Needless to say, times have changed. Property values have plummeted, and more and more homeowners find themselves faced with an upside-down mortgage – a loan with a balance that exceeds the value of the home.
But all’s not lost: with home values so low, it’s never been a better time to improve your property. When prices start to rise in the coming years, your home will be that much more valuable when you decide it’s time to move on. Think of your home as your investment portfolio; with prices low, now is the perfect time to add some gems to the mix, which will only increase your portfolio’s performance once the market surges again.
More is definitely not better for many people, a house is the single most expensive item they’ll ever purchase, and a remodel or improvement is, in and of itself, a smart way to protect the investment they’ve already made in their home. But exercise restraint with your plan. Very often, people who decide to undertake a major renovation of their home think more is better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over-developing your property so that it no longer seems to fit in with the neighborhood profile is a huge – and avoidable – mistake. If your finished renovation makes your house look like a 19th-century Bavarian castle, and your neighborhood is filled with adorable, postwar Cape Cods, you’ll probably have lots of problems recouping the investment you’ve already made.
Okay, let’s renovate. Now what?
You’ve decided to take the plunge and renovate. A key step to this process is soliciting and then comparing bids from several contractors. Contractors compete directly for your business, but you have to be careful. Under no circumstances should you automatically accept the lowest bid; even though that contractor might be offering you the cheapest deal, your renovation might be done with correspondingly cheap materials, which will ultimately create expensive problems down the road. Never forget that what a contractor is offering you is a service, not a product. If your contractor wants to do a quick job on the cheap, you’ll be sorry.
Just like you should never pour thousands of dollars into a mutual fund you haven’t researched thoroughly, you shouldn’t invest a dime in a renovation without researching your contractor and his bid from stem to stern. When you feel like you have enough information to make an informed decision about the contractor’s bid, start your research from scratch and make sure you haven’t missed anything. This is the single most important step in protecting your investment during a renovation.
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