What to watch for around the house as fix-up time arrives

Spring is fix-up time around the house. No matter where you live, it's a good time to peel your eyes at the roof, side walls, windows, and doors. Does something need to be done to bring them up to grade? Or maybe you want to add a new bathroom, an up-to-date kitchen, a garage, another room, or maybe new wall-to-wall carpeting in some of the rooms.

With the cost of new housing in the stratosphere, upgrading your present house could make good sense.

Warning: Do not overimprove! A neighborhood can support just so much value. If you put $300,000 into improving a house for which you paid $40,000 five years ago, and other houses in the neighborhood now sell for $55,000, you'll never get your money back when you want to sell.

A swimming pool, for example, won't return any more than half its cost at resale. But there is another side to the equation. You also should put a price on the pleasure you and your family will get out of the pool -- or the remodeling job, for that matter.

In 1979 a grand total of $41 billion -- the equivalent cost of building some 600,000 single-family houses -- was spent to maintain, repair, add to, alter, and make major home improvements.

"The economics of home ownership is not confined merely to buying and selling homes," says Dr. Jack Carlson, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, "but the daily upkeep and improvement of property impacts heavily on this nation's economic well-being. The level of expenditures last year marked a gain of 9.3 percent from 1978 and is triple the amount spent just 10 years ago."

The figure for 1980 could run even higher than last year as even more inflation-weary homeowners look at the choices and opt to upgrade.

There are about 83 million housing units in the US today.

Homeowners are spending more than $16 billion today on additions and alterations to existing homes, the equivalent cost of 250,000 new single-family houses.

"What makes the total even more spectacular," asserts Dr. Carlson, "is that the figures greatly underestimate the actual level of activity because there is a tremendous amount of do-it-yourself labor on these projects, which is not measured in the Commerce Department statistics."

National Family Opinion Organization interviewed 582 homeowners for Professional Builder magazine and found out that 46.6 percent had done remodeling within the last five years.

Nearly 10 percent put in an automatic garage door opener, for instance; while a new countertop was installed in the kitchen by 12.5 percent. Of the 12.5 percent, 35.6 percent did the job themselves while 41.1 percent called for a professional to do the work.

Six percent put in a fireplace and 7 percent added new exterior siding to the house. An intercom system was installed by 1.5 percent while 7.9 percent put in central airconditioning. Only 15.2 percent did the job themselves. More than 23 percent put new faucets in the kitchen and/or bathroom.

thus, the field is huge and more and more homeowners are upgrading their homes.

Indeed, holding on to your existing home has many economic advantages considering the continuing increase in real-estate values and the high level of mortgage interest rates today.

Obviously, if you have a home with a unique and desirable characteristic or it was built in the 17th or 18th century, you may want to hold on to it. It could have a rich and enviable architectural heritage.

However, every existing house isn't worth remodeling, warns Gerald E. Sherwood, an engineer in the Forest Products Laboratory, US Forest Service, Madison, Wis.

Writing in the 1978 Yearbook of Agriculture, he says:

"Determining whether a home is worth remodeling requires a thorough inspection and analysis. Besides your own observations, professional help is usually necessary in some respects."

Regardless of who performs the actual evaluation, these points should be useful to the homeowner:

* Foundation -- "The foundation is vital because it supports the entire structure," asserts Mr. Sherwood. Obviously, the Foundation should be sound and not require a huge outlay of cash.

* Standard wood frame --damaged or badly cracked, it may have distorted the building frame itself. Also, check for decay from moisture or insects.

* Siding, windows, roof -- Check thoroughly for any signs of major deterioration because of structural decay, wood rot, etc.

* Interior -- Check all surfaces for wear, distortion, or the presence of moisture. Are the floors in good shape or are they cupping or buckling to a severe degree? Are there large cracks in the ceilings and walls? If so, the damage could be structural.

* Decay and insect damage -- Look for decay in any part of the house where wood has remained wet for a long time. If you suspect termites, have a professional exterminator check the site.

* Moisture control -- Is it hard to keep paint on the clapboards or shingles?

* Utilities and heating -- Is the heating system in reasonable working order or will you have to spend a substantial sum in the near-term future to replace it?

* Plumbing and electricity -- Is the water service sufficient? Also, is the wiring out of date and will it have to be replaced to handle the demands of modern living? If so, it could run into a lot of money?

Perhaps the most important items are the foundation and framing. Assuming they're in good shape, your house could be worth upgrading, including major repairs to the structure itself.

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