Remodeling for All Ages

There’s a lot in the news about what various age groups want in a home. Millennials want to be close to transit and amenities. Young families want space and good schools. Baby boomers want community and accessibility in case of diminished physical condition.

What does all this mean if you plan to remodel? Several things:

  1. Keep in Mind Who You Were Several Years Ago and Who You’ll Be Several Years Hence.
  • If you are a Millennial (born between 1980 and 2000), you’ll likely move to the ‘burbs once the kids come (that’s where all your friends will be.) Don’t over-improve. Your home’s buyer will be 5–10 years younger than you and unable to afford a purchase price that recoups those expensive upgrades.
  • If you are an empty-nester, resist the temptation to replace all your bathroom tubs with showers, as your likely buyer will be a family with kids who need that tub, but do put a walk-in shower in the master bath for easy navigation if you plan to age in place.
  1. Today’s Trends Could Be Tomorrow’s Trash. While the younger generation will always want the latest and greatest, you can take things too far. Wiring for a great sound system will play well (pun intended) to 20- and 30-somethings so it is worth adding to your townhouse or condo. However, don’t have today’s best speakers built into your walls (something detachable is better) or a dock that fits the latest version of the iPod installed in every room. Those things will just need to be ripped out when the next “best” thing comes along. Anyone who grew up in one of those 1970s homes with an intercom system knows what I’m talking about.
  1. Lean Toward Classic and Clean. You can display your college colors or favorite pro football team’s logo in accessories, but don’t have them built into the pattern of your kitchen floor tile. The cleaner and more classic the lines, the better, especially for today’s younger buyers who tend to like things streamlined. Even if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, remember that you may not love that bold choice as much 10 years from now as you thought you did when you had it installed. (What about that wedding china you chose in the 1980s, hmmm? Still think a southwestern pattern in hunter green and mauve is your style?)

Wise choices about how to spend remodeling dollars now will make  your home right for people who want to live there in the future (even if that person is you).

Tax Breaks For Accessibility Remodeling

For those of you preparing your Virginia state tax returns, or planning remodeling and looking to maximize tax credits for next year – – here’s how to get up to $5,000 back if you do accessibility remodeling to accommodate aging in place or other physical challenges. Sadly, the federal bill referenced in this blog, originally posted last September, died before coming to a vote. But, Virginians, you’re good.

Read on . . .

With advances in medical care and increased awareness and implementation of healthy lifestyle choices, aging is a lot more fun than it used to be. Here’s another advantage for 21st-century seniors: tax breaks for fixing up your home so you can stay comfortably as you age.

Virginia offers homeowners a Livable Home Tax Credit equal to 50% of what they spend to retrofit a home to add accessibility features (like ramps, grab bars, and widened doorways), with a $5000 cap.

Alternatively, Virginia homeowners can receive as much as $5000 in credits if they purchase or build a home with accessibility features.

While there is no age limit on who can use the tax credit in Virginia, seniors wanting to make their homes aging-in-place-friendly are one of the largest groups that will find this credit useful.

Maryland considered an accessibility tax credit this year but it was ultimately rejected.

A proposal for a similar credit for federal income tax payers is wending its way through Congress now. House Ways & Means is considering a bipartisan-sponsored bill – – H.R. 5254, The Senior Accessible Housing Act – – to provide up to a $30,000 tax credit over a senior’s lifetime for expenses incurred in making aging in place modifications.  Unlike Virginia’s tax credit, the proposed federal credit would be limited to persons 60 years and older. The federal bill is in the early stages but, if it passes, it could be a real boost to the home improvement industry and a great help to seniors.

For more information about state tax credits for accessibility modifications, see this August 24, 2016, article by Jenni Bergal for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For details about the federal Senior Accessible Housing Act, see this Sept. 20, 2016, article from National Review.

Wise homeowners consider all financial consequences before remodeling or relocating. Now, go forth and age frugally – – in place if you want to!

Image courtesy of “hywards” at

Smart Remodeling Tips for 2017


This coming year promises to be a great one for homeowners and contractors alike. Smart homeowners should plan ahead to take advantage of favorable conditions.

Sure, interest rates are likely to go up, but they’re not expected to soar, and property values will almost certainly rise as well. This, coupled with an increasingly stronger economy and lower unemployment, means consumers will be feeling more confident, and those who own homes will once again have the discretionary income to improve them.

What should you do to make sure you get the most out of your home improvement efforts this year? Here are three tips:

  1. No Lollygagging! Good contractors will become busy quickly as more and more homeowners seek their services. Don’t wait until the last minute to get bids for your projects then choose your contractor and lock down a start date on their calendar. If you want a new kitchen or bathrooms for the holidays, now’s not too soon to start talking with licensed professionals.
  1. Pay as You Go. Debt is never a good idea, and it certainly isn’t wise when you have reason to believe – as we do currently – that interest rates are going up. At the very least, don’t get yourself into an adjustable rate loan to undertake home improvements. Better yet, save for those projects you want to do. Get some ballpark estimates soon then aggressively save to have the cash available when the job starts. Won’t that new kitchen seem sweeter if you’re not still paying for it in 2018?
  1. Be Mindful of ROI. There’s nothing wrong with undertaking home improvements simply because you want them, especially if you plan to stay in the home for a few years. However, you don’t want to throw your money away either. Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Guide is a great resource for determining which of your prospective home improvement projects will carry the highest return. The 2016 Guide listed attic insulation and door replacements as top for ROI. The 2017 guide should come out shortly. We’ll be sure to recap it for you here.

Wise homeowners look to “signs of the times” to make their projects smooth and cost-effective. Now, go forth and plan!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Take Style Cues From TV Homes

Before you engage in any remodeling or decorating projects this year, take some time to figure out your “style”, those sorts of surroundings that make you feel peaceful, relaxed, and at home.

There are lots of ways to get a handle on your style. Designers recommend perusing magazines, cutting out pictures of photos that spark something in you  – – negative or positive – – noting on each clipping what that something is, and keeping them in a folder to review with your designer or remodeling contractor later. You’ll begin to see patterns emerge to help you define what you’re going for.

Here’s another fun way to go about the same thing: take a critical look at the homes inhabited by your favorite TV characters.

What do you like? Do you tend toward the comfortable, small town, welcoming place with a front porch and a pie cooling on the window sill like the Taylors’ cottage-style home in The Andy Griffith Show? Are you more attracted to a chic suburban aesthetic, with stylish but family-friendly furnishings, like the Petries’ New Rochelle residence in The Dick Van Dyke Show? Maybe you covet a city apartment, with the latest modern touches, like the Drapers’ place in Mad Men.

What do you see in TV homes that you’d like to avoid or escape? What about the hastily-built tract home with walls that might fall over if you lean on them too hard, like the Bluths’ in Arrested Development?  Perhaps you’re tired of living in a hot mess of chaos and deferred maintenance like the Connors in Roseanne or the Hecks in The Middle.

Silly? Yes, but useful too. A lot of time and effort has gone into creating those sets to make you feel as if you could walk right in, sit on the couch, and have a cup of tea (or a martini, if you’re lucky enough to be invited for cocktails with Don and Megan.) Heck, the three different homes in Modern Family represent quite a wide range of styles. No less an authority than Architectural Digest has profiled the care taken by that show’s set designers to make sure that all of the main sets reflect the characters that inhabit them.

Wise homeowners plan before remodeling, starting with the style or feel they are going for. Why not have some fun with it? Now, go forth and couch surf for design ideas!


Love Your ‘Hood, Hate Your House? – Two Solutions

In the same year, we were contacted by two different Northern Virginia couples who both knew their homes no longer suited their needs but were equally sure they didn’t want to leave the neighborhoods they’d grown to love.

The two homes were located in the same zip code, probably valued within $25,000 of each other, and built in the same general timeframe (late 1960s or early 1970s).

With HomeWise’s help, each couple was able to get the home they wanted without leaving their lot – – but in two completely different ways. Their stories are below.

Mary and Al – “The Remodelers”

Mary and Al raised two children in this home and had recently welcomed their first grandchild. They loved their home’s ranch style and their ties to their neighbors ran deep. Mary wanted to relocate her successful business from a downtown office to an office in her home. They also wanted a master suite with the sorts of amenities not even contemplated when their home was built (think: a bathroom you can actually turn around in or, imagine!, two sinks). As they looked forward to an active, healthy retirement, they wanted to be sure their home could accommodate any accessibility needs they may encounter.

Mary and Al chose to remodel their existing home so as to stay in their location, make sure their home maintains the character of others in the neighborhood, and retain the mid-century ranch style they like. We recommended a contractor who is intimately familiar with their neighborhood (indeed, he had grown up in the same subdivision, just one street away) and is invested in the community as both a business owner and a resident. After the remodel, the front of the house looks the same, but, on the back end, there is an entirely new home, seamlessly integrated with the old. Al and Mary have two very large living areas (one on the main level, the second on the walk-out-to-the-back lower level), wider halls and doorways for easy walker or wheelchair access if needed, a lovely lower-level office and waiting area for Mary and her clients, and a main level master suite with a large bathroom.

Drawbacks? This major remodel was accomplished as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality, but Al and Mary still had to find temporary housing for several months, which was totally expected but still inconvenient. Al will tell you they underestimated how the presence of exuberant grandchildren upstairs might impact Mary’s evening hours with clients in the downstairs office. (Al’s enjoying getting to know his neighborhood’s library story times and kid-friendly restaurants.) Al’s and Mary’s home also is over-improved relative to their neighbors’, so they’re unlikely to recoup anywhere near their remodeling outlay if they ever do sell. They knew that going in, though, and determined that, for them, their ties to the home and the neighborhood outweighed any such concerns.

Lisa and David – “The Rebuilders”

Lisa and David live one neighborhood over from Mary and Al. They are in their 30s and have two elementary school-aged children. Their small colonial style home had suffered several years of deferred maintenance before they purchased it. They were very happy with their school district but not so pleased with the seemingly never-ending list of repairs and upgrades their home needed to make it function for them.

Lisa and David looked into a major remodel like Al’s and Mary’s but quickly realized that the amount they would spend to make their old structure everything they wanted wouldn’t be much less than the cost to tear down and rebuild a new home on their lot. Unlike Mary and Al, Lisa and David weren’t attached to their older home’s style and they live in a neighborhood where razing and rebuilding is common so it’s not unusual to see “new” next to “old”. We put them in touch with a homebuilder who works almost exclusively in Lisa’s and David’s community and the communities adjoining it. The company owners live in Lisa’s and David’s zip code and some of their employees even attend Lisa’s and David’s church. After the tear down and rebuild, Lisa and David have a brand new colonial style home with a two car garage, full walkout and high-ceilinged basement, gourmet kitchen, and bedrooms and baths aplenty for their family of four.

Drawbacks? Lisa and David will tell you that a brand new home was such a contrast to their old deck and yard that they’ve had to update those areas too.  The time spent in a rental while the new home was being built had them feeling terribly displaced for several months, but they believe the end result was worth it.

So, you don’t have to leave the place you love to get the home of your dreams. Remodel or rebuild? The answer will depend on what stage of life you’re in, how you feel about your home’s architectural character, and your reasons for wanting change. Just be sure you work with well-established contractors, preferably ones who are part of your community and value it as highly as you do. If you’re careful, you may just be able to “have it all.”

Plan Ahead to Head Off Remodeling Headaches

Large remodeling projects don’t have to be problematic.

Here are some steps you can take to eliminate hassles:

  1. Gather a “Dream File”: Clarify your vision by collecting pictures that look like the space you want.
  2. Know Your Costs: Research the average cost of  your project. Try a quick web search with key words that include “cost of”, your project type (e.g., “second story addition”) and location (e.g., “Northern Virginia”).
  3. Get the Most From Your Contractor Interviews: Line up meetings with up to four design/build contractors. At the meetings:
    • Show them your pictures (see no. 1 above).
    • Tell them how you will use the space and what is important to you (“We cook together so there should be room for us and the kids.”).
    • Share your budget. The temptation is to specify nothing, hoping to avoid the contractor “padding the job.” On the contrary, most contractors, not knowing what your budget is, will attempt to meet all your wants and come in much higher than you anticipated.
    • Ask for five or six references (with two being suppliers or subs), license numbers (if not actual copies of the licenses) and the contractor’s insurer’s information.
    • Ask the contractor about site management. Will you have one dedicated project manager? To whom should you address any questions or concerns as work progresses?
    • Make sure the contractor agrees to handle the permitting process. If he insists that you do it, this should be a red flag that could mean he isn’t properly licensed. Besides, if you pull the permits, you become the general contractor, coordinating all the trades, the timing of the job, inspections, etc. Your contractor has the time and expertise to do this; chances are, you don’t.
  4. Compare Apples to Apples: Once the contractors’ bids come in, ask them for clarification of anything that doesn’t make sense to you or represents a significant deviation from what you see in the others.
  5. Do Your Due Diligence: Make sure that any contractor you hire:
    • Is properly licensed for your jurisdiction and project type;
    • is insured for liability and workers’ comp;
    • does not have complaints listed with the licensing agency, consumer affairs or Better Business Bureau;
    • has positive references (and ask suppliers and or subs about the contractor’s track record in making payments – – you don’t want a lien on your property because the contractor failed to pay someone);
    • is, in fact, licensed (in the DC area, you can verify licensing online); and
    • does, in fact, carry sufficient liability, auto and workers’ compensation insurance (call their insurer to get a certificate of insurance).
  6. Get it in Writing: Before work starts, be sure you have a written contract that specifies start date and project duration, events that will trigger payments due from you and the amount of each payment. Do not agree to pay in full until a final walk-through is completed (it is standard to hold back 10%).
  7. Protect Your Space: If your bathrooms are off-limits, be sure the contractor provides for portable facilities. If you have a home office or otherwise cannot be disturbed during certain days/times, let the contractor know this up front. Keep valuables and breakables out of the construction area.
  8. Be a Good Neighbor: Let your neighbors know what to expect. Give them a friendly letter specifying what you will have done, when work will start, when it is expected to end, the hours during any day that work will be going on and whether and when large equipment or noisy processes will ensue. Let your immediately adjoining neighbors see the plans, especially if their sight lines or property aesthetics will be impacted, and settle any questions of property lines long before work begins. Invite your neighbors to communicate with you throughout the process if they have any concerns.
  9. Keep Communication Open: Once work begins, stay in close contact with your contractor. Bring to their attention immediately anything that concerns you or presents a problem.
  10. Get it in Writing, Redux: If there are any changes from the original plans, get a written change order from the contractor before work continues.
  11. Don’t Go It Alone: Remember, if you contact HomeWise Referrals before starting your project, we’ll put you in touch with properly-credentialed contractors and we’ll follow up for the project life-cycle to facilitate    communication and confirm your satisfaction once all is completed.

Following these steps will keep your project as hassle-free as possible.

Now, go forth and build wise!