HOME IMPROVEMENT STILL DELIVERS A TRULY VALUABLE R.O.I.

The creation in recent years of entire television stations dedicated to home remodeling and design demonstrates how highly home improvement ranks with TV viewers. But there is another category where the home improvement industry ranks high and that is in consumer complaints. Each year the home improvement industry ranks at or near the top of the list for a number of reasons.

First, this is one of the easiest industries to start a business in. While there are some requirements such as a state builder’s license and insurance coverage, there is virtually no enforcement or other educational or skill training required and this allows a large sector of “back of the pickup truck” types to remain active for years without ramifications. This is the group that provides you with the infamous “tail light guarantee” which expires when his tail lights are no longer visible, that is if he ever actually shows up and finishes your project.

Second, the home improvement industry experiences a high influx of new players who have varying degrees of competence. There are a lot of people who have lost their job during this recession and, having spent hundreds of hours watching the HGTV network renovation shows, they now feel well qualified to remodel your home. With limited job opportunities available they find the ease of entry into the popular home improvement field very attractive. On the other more qualified end of this spectrum are the new homebuilders who have recently seen their industry come to a screeching halt. While many reputable new homebuilders are highly skilled and experienced in the construction of new homes when it comes to remodeling an occupied dwelling they sometimes end up feeling like your general family practice doctor attempting to perform open heart surgery.

Third, many of these recent entries into the home improvement business are still learning the numerous pitfalls and challenges that make remodeling costs higher than new construction. Their initial failure to charge enough to fully meet customer expectations is compounded as these new businesses use low price as their main competitive edge to attract customers. These factors will assure that the percentage of home improvement companies that go out of business each year will continue to be, as it always has been, astoundingly high. Open up the yellow pages of a phone book from say, 2004 and start calling home improvement contractors and you will see what I mean. While this can happen to companies of all skill and experience levels in a down economic cycle, quite often those that fail leave a trail of unfinished projects, dissatisfied customers and unpaid creditors in their wake.

Finally, the home owner must also bear some responsibility in this scenario. When faced with spending money on the repair or renovation of their home, our human nature that deludes us into hoping we can get something for nothing, coupled with the fear resulting from future economic uncertainty, leads us to shop diligently to find the “best price”.

But the lowest prices come from the unlicensed, uninsured, inexperienced and incompetent, and these are NOT the ones you want working on such a valuable asset as your home. The great price you found for that kitchen remodel or for finishing the basement might turn out to contain lower quality products that were improperly installed, didn’t quite meet code and ended up looking shabby and needing repair and replacement in just a few years. Upon resale “improvements” like these become a liability that potential buyers use against you in bargaining instead of an attractive asset that helps you sell your home for top dollar. Home renovation projects are too expensive to redo every few years and doing them wrong can actually detract dramatically from the market value of your home. Remember, there is no way to do the wrong thing the right way.

To greatly improve your chances of having a successful experience when remodeling your home you need to take a long term-view; focus on receiving top value for your money and try to ignore the allure of a low initial price.

This means hiring experienced, dedicated full-time professionals with a proven track record of successfully completed projects similar to the one you are planning. A good place to start is to call your local home builders and remodelers association for a list of their recommended remodelers or members who have Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR) or Certified Aging In Place (CAPS) certification from the National Association of Home Builders.

It means carefully designing and planning the scope of work that you want done while selecting the best quality products that will perform the functions you need now and in the future as your living situation changes.

With the air gone from the housing bubble and our economy showing signs of stabilizing, housing will continue in the future to be a safe, secure and necessary investment. It will always remain, along with food and clothing, among the big three primary needs of human life here on earth. Maybe not an investment that will show double digit annual appreciation any time soon, but one that should hold its value well into the future as it has in the past.

Beyond the financial investment aspect, improving your home can immensely enhance the quality of life for you and your family. Whether dreaming about a gourmet kitchen or an area to gather around the big screen TV, a barrier-free bathroom or a quiet space to read and meditate, what we are really trying to do is create comfort, health and happiness for the people we love and care about. It is in this intangible, that doesn’t appear on a balance sheet, where your home improvement investment will return the greatest riches.

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