Michael Austin

Want to improve your house in a way that would pay for itself should you choose to sell the home? Install a midrange entry door. “It’s a low-priced product that provides instant gratification,” says Charlotte, N.C., remodeler David Tyson. “For that $750 to $2,000 investment, you change the look of the front of the house and add curb appeal.” You also save energy and recoup your investment should you choose to sell.

Not the Point But a Talking Point

Replacement projects have consistently yielded among the best returns for home­owners. That said, all agree that it’s a different market today. Existing home sales are fewer: 7.07 million sold in 2005, 4.13 million projected for 2010. Falling home values means that improvements are more carefully considered. Purchases are “a lot more need-driven,” says Bob Mikaelian, co-owner of Tom’s River Door & Windows, in Tom’s River, N.J.

Door and window jobs get sold mainly on home comfort and energy savings. Take Phoenix, for example. In what was one of the nation’s hottest housing markets of the boom years, the value that new windows add to a home in resale isn’t at the top of items that salespeople discuss, says Shane Schuckman, president of Renewal By Andersen/Phoenix. More frequently, new windows are described as another way to market the home if and when it does come up for sale.

That doesn’t mean homeowners don’t take replacement into account if they’re thinking about moving — sometimes they have little choice. “Roofs don’t sell houses,” says Andy Lindus, of Lindus Construction, in Baldwin, Wis. “But a bad roof will make a house not sell.”

So will dysfunctional windows. When Tyson got a call from a homeowner who was looking to move, the home improvement contractor recommended that the owner install new front windows on his house and add a porch. The project was delayed and the house sat unsold.

Down But Not Out

This year’s cost-recouped numbers — generally lower — reflect a changed attitude toward the home as an investment. When prices rapidly advanced, improvements often came close to paying for themselves in resale. Now when it comes to a minor kitchen remodel or new windows, contracted with a view to putting the house up for sale, “It’s not, ‘Will we get that ten grand back?’” says Matt LeFaivre, owner of LeFaivre Construction, in Tarrytown, Md. “It’s, ‘Will we move this house for what we want to get?’”

And if people contract for a roofing, siding, or window job, Lindus says, what they may want to know is if that job will still look good in five or six years. And even then that might be for reasons other than possible resale. “They’re concerned with how it will look in eight or 10 years,” says Brian Altman, owner of Dutchess Building Specialists, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., about a recent deck project, “not for somebody else but so that they can continue to enjoy it.”

—Jim Cory is editor of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication of REMODELING.