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Home Improvement

Home Improvements: How to Get Started

From simply replacing the front door to constructing a second story, home improvement projects can change the way you look at your home. The right home improvements can also increase your home’s value. Find out how to select smart projects, secure financing and choose the right contractor below.

Where do I start my home improvement project?

The two main factors you should consider when deciding which home improvements to tackle are the return on investment and your lifestyle. Return on investment is a more important factor if you’re looking to sell your home soon, and lifestyle should carry more weight if you plan on being in the home for many years. For example, putting in a pool right before you sell could limit your range of potential buyers, but it would be worth the investment if you plan on your family enjoying it for 10 years before selling.

Based on 2015 estimates from, a free source of information and tools from National Association of Realtors, the top projects for return on investment are entry door, siding, window, and garage door replacements, as well as kitchen, attic and bathroom remodels and deck additions. While these are all solid choices for increasing your home value, be sure to also keep the following in mind when choosing a home improvement project:

  • Bathroom and kitchen remodels earn higher return on investment in older homes. Remodeling a five-year old kitchen isn’t likely to generate a high rate of return.
  • Remodels should match the existing home style. Modernist bathrooms in a Victorian home will make the rest of the house look outdated.
  • Research other home values in the neighborhood to ensure you don’t price your home out of the market by adding a second story.

Who should I contact to begin a home renovation?

Once you’ve decided on a home improvement project how do you get started? The first step is determining the project budget. Lowe’s, and both have project calculators that can help you determine a ballpark figure.

This is also a good time to start looking for contractors and gathering estimates if you aren’t planning on doing the work yourself. Find trustworthy residential contractors by talking with friends and local building inspectors. Your friends and acquaintances can give you unbiased leads and city inspectors know which contractors always produce quality work that meets code. Then check that each contractor on your list is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau, has a valid license from the state contractor licensing board and holds liability insurance. Discuss the details of the project with these contractors and request bids.

For many people putting in a new roof or remodeling a kitchen requires some sort of financing. A home equity loan is an excellent way to use the equity you have already built to reinvest in your property. Home equity loans typically have much lower interest rates than credit cards and in many cases the interest payments can be tax deductible. Talk to your tax advisor to see if you qualify. Contact your personal banker to explore the options for this type of home improvement financing.

What should I look for when evaluating contractors?

With financing secured you can move on to choosing a contractor. The price at the bottom of the bid shouldn’t be the only factor you consider in this important decision. Ask for references from past clients and talk with these individuals about their experience with the company. Find out how many other projects the contractor will be working on at the same time, and how long they have worked with any subcontractors. Be on the lookout for any of the following red flags:

  • A contractor’s unwillingness to provide any of the above information.
  • A down payment greater than 10% of the bid. This may signal the contractor is having financial trouble. In some instances the down payment may be higher to cover materials costs, but in general be wary of high up-front costs.
  • Verbal agreements. Every aspect of the project must be detailed in the written contract.
  • Lump-sum pricing. An estimate should break down the project budget into labor and materials so you can understand where your money is going.

Once you’ve made your choice be certain the details of the contract include the work schedule, payment schedule and materials list.

Beginning a home improvement project can seem daunting, but with thorough research, proper financing and a reliable contractor you can make an exciting change that improves your home value and makes you smile every time you walk in the door.


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