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Cost-effective choices
Local Pros offer remodeling and renovations


October 2016

Not all home improvements are created equal. Fortunately for us, local remodeling/renovation, appraisal and real estate pros know which alterations make sense — and which don’t.

Weighing in are Cheryl Barenz of Barenz Builders in Germantown, Kate Shortall of Blackstone International in Waukesha, Mike Grota of Grota Appraisals in Menomonee Falls and Richard Ruvin of Falk Ruvin Real Estate in Glendale.

They offered nuanced responses and caveats, collectively agreeing on the five best remodeling projects:

1. Kitchen — this centerpiece room needs to be up to date and functional. "Layout and function (are) important, but kitchen upgrades have always been really important," Barenz says.

2. Bathroom — especially a master bath en suite — makes a convenient getaway for active lifestyles. "One of the top two selling points in any home (along with kitchens)," Grota says.

3. Open-concept kitchen, dining and family area — a gold standard today for entertaining and everyday family needs. "People are looking for ease of interacting, and open concept allows that," Ruvin says.

4. Expanded outdoor space — from an enclosed patio to an expansive, multifunction seating and cooking/eating area. Wisconsinites love their outdoor days and outdoor cooking time, even in winter. "This is even more important if the home and yard have a nice view in a nice location," Grota adds.

5. Storage — any and every kind, from pantries to walk-in closets. Anything that helps organize and keep things tidy. "I have seen people select the most high-end finishes in kitchens and baths and not consider storage," Shortall says. "They need a place for all their stuff to have the rooms function well."


Other Considerations

There are ample "honorable mentions." Barenz and Shortall each mention charging stations — a central place for all those tech gadgets. Add one in a mud room or at a counter nook.

Barenz says large windows are a good investment because more natural light opens up a space.

Shortall’s next best improvements include a second laundry area, a second dishwasher, a family-friendly snack bar for families with teens, a central vacuum extended to the garage, and a radiant heat system instead of a furnace, which is easier to maintain.

Don’t Overdo It

Grota advises balancing the financial commitment with the basic worth of the home.

"There is always a point of diminished return," he says, noting ornate driveways or façades that don’t match the rest of the home as examples. "It’s those kitchen and bath projects that (are) updated after 20 or 25 years that see the largest increase in value."

Lower-value — or low ROI — improvements are usually based on homeowners’ wants and won’t likely be of value to the next owner. They include:

1. Swimming pool

2. Sport-specific spaces, such as a lower-level golf tee and net or backyard soccer field

3. Taste-specific wallpaper and paint

4. Taste-specific cabinet hardware

5. Taste-specific light fixtures

Can It Be Changed?

On the one hand, homeowners who really want what they want should update their home as they please.

"If someone enjoys swimming and really wants it, I would never tell a client not to have a swimming pool," Barenz says. "They just

need to know it won’t necessarily be something the next homeowner wants."

Ruvin recommends keeping hardscapes (think countertops and tile) in neutral and letting bold patterns and colors shine in easily changed materials, like paint. "Anything that is quirky that can’t easily be changed is a negative," he says. M



This story ran in the October  2016 issue of: