Home Improvement – How to Recession-Proof Your Home Improvement Plans

As the 2008 recession lingers into its fourth year, many consumers have closed their wallets to a long list of “big ticket” purchases, and home improvements appear to be riding the top of that list.

According to a 2010 Bigresearch.com study, home owners are throwing their home improvements plans out the window like burnt toast. Over 20% of those surveyed said they were putting-off all forms of home improvement indefinitely. Interestingly, this percentage ranked second highest among all survey questions, with only “vacation travel” showing a higher figure (25%).

With cash reserves at a premium, many home owners have simply decided to wait on making improvements, and understandably so. Faced with record unemployment, higher costs of living, rising taxes and a dim view of any short term changes for the better, who could blame them?

Worse yet, home improvements have historically yielded very low returns when compared to their actual cost. In fact, Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-10 “cost vs. value” report reveals that home owners, on average, recoup less than of 65% of the money they invest in their home improvement projects.

But before you conclude that your home improvement plans should be scraped, let’s take a step back.

There are very few home owners who wouldn’t admit to needing some measure of improvement to their home. Whether it’s as simple as repairing the leaky faucet gasket that drives you crazy with its relentless dripping, or an unreliable front porch light fixture that leaves you fumbling around in the dark when you return home from a long day at work. Every house has its deficiencies.

But with a recession in full bloom, and statistics showing little to no hope of ever getting your money back, why would anyone bother with a home improvement project?

Though at first it may seem like a lost cause or verging on lunacy, there are simple solutions that many consumers are using to solve this problem.

First, let’s address the big one. The statistics from Remodeling Magazine and other similar resources, assume that a building contractor is being paid to perform all the labor and to supply all the materials. And if you assume, on average, approximately 50% of the total costs of most home improvement projects will be attributable to labor and fees, you can literally transform the investment returns by performing the majority of the work yourself. What was once a 35% loss becomes a 30% gain by simply providing your own labor force. Not a bad return in any economy.

Second, although the IRS does not allow deductions for most voluntary home improvements, they do allow you to add the costs of your improvements to the cost basis of your home. And for tax purposes, this will help minimize any tax burden you might face when you sell your home. I don’t claim to be a tax expert, but you can easily verify your cost basis and tax deduction options by talking with you’re tax accountant.

So how do you perform the work yourself? If you think tackling your home improvement project is beyond your ability, you’re in for a surprise. It’s not!

Like many things, the more you do something the more proficient you become, but construction is not terribly complex. It doesn’t require years of schooling and technical expertise to comprehend. It’s not brain surgery. It’s arguably more art than science. In fact, if you can draw a straight line, read a measuring tape and you don’t mind getting a little dirty you’re a perfect candidate for tacking your own home improvements.

Minimizing the more difficult projects like relocating load bearing walls, or changing roof lines, can make the project much easier and less costly. And you may need a licensed electrician, plumber or other skilled craftsman along the way, but if you use them sparingly and only when absolutely required, you’ll save a tremendous amount of money.

There are plenty of free resources you can use to estimate material costs, determine the right tools to use, and establish the right strategy for actually getting the work done efficiently.

So start with online resources. There are thousands of them. You’ll find estimating tools, materials suppliers and hundreds of “how to” manuals. Even the “Dummies Store” can be a great resource. And don’t hesitate to talk with the professionals at your favorite material supply store when you need advice. Asking for assistance and opinions from someone you trust (a neighbor or relative) can also be extremely helpful. Most of the expertise you need is at your fingertips, and it won’t cost you a penny.

Don’t forget to check with your lender, your city officials (construction permitting) and any governing HOA for the requirements they may have related to your planned improvements.

And if you don’t have the tools you need to complete a specific part of the project, remember tools can be rented. And you can find them in most pawn shops for pennies on the dollar. Don’t assume you have to buy “new” tools.

The benefits of this straightforward strategy are multi-faceted. Not only can you enjoy the convenience of your improvements, but you can enjoy a tremendous return on investment at the time of re-financing or sale.

And in light of the economy, it’s not a bad way to get the family, friends and neighbors involved in something productive, something everyone can contribute to and something everyone can enjoy for years to come.

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