Home improvement survey shows America's penchant for remodeling

Homes don't have to be born with character, say the editors of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Even the most lackluster places, they claim, can be ``enriched.''

These editors in the know suggested adding character via the addition of architectural elements, beveled glass doors, stock moldings and wainscoting, ceramic or marble tile floors, and decorative columns.

The publication recently tabulated results of its last Home Improvement Contest, which drew 7,135 contestant entries describing individual remodeling projects completed last year.

The following are some of the facts to emerge:

The contestants spent a total of $122,522,220 on fixing up and enhancing their residences.

The mean cost of a project (nine areas of home improvement were undertaken) was $17,172, with kitchens and additions making up the top two categories.

Median value of an entrant's home before the project was $78,571, and after the project was completed it was $106,833.

The large majority of contestants designed their projects themselves or worked with a relative or friend.

About 12 percent used either an architect or a designer, and 11 percent used a contractor.

More than 60 percent said their project took three or more months to complete, while 1 in 5 the project took more than a year to finish.

Kitchens were often remodeled, says building editor Joan McCloskey, to allow more than one person to cook at a time.

Almond or white laminate cabinets with wood edging presented the most common look of the remodeled kitchens.

Additions to the home often included lap pools, indoor and outdoor spas, and swimming pools.

Many entries made space for a formal dining room or a formal entry and foyer. Both these additions reflect a growing trend to more elegance and formality.

Many entries were from young couples who had purchased turn-of-the-century Victorian homes and took from one to five years to renovate them. There was an even split between those who renovated and those who restored the outside but made the inside contemporary.

Some families gained a spacious bath by combining two back-to-back bathrooms or by annexing a small unused bedroom or closet.

Main floor interior improvements involved opening up small, dark rooms to allow in more sunshine and to help the traffic flow.

Outdoor decks, Ms. McCloskey found, have become fancier and include tiered, angled, or octagonal versions, some with built-in planter boxes and mini-kitchens as well as built-in banquettes and spas.

The majority financed their projects with personal savings and pay-as-you-go plans. Only about 10 percent financed their projects with bank loans, and 10 percent managed by refinancing their mortgages.

About half the participants were small-business owners or administrative personnel of large concerns.

About 15 percent were top executives.

Nineteen percent were skilled and semiskilled workers.

Ninety-one percent were married.

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