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Smart Condo Upgrades

Conventional wisdom holds that you can never go wrong in adding upgrades to your condo, but not all upgrades are created equal. Will a top-of-the-line kitchen bring in more at closing than a luxury bathroom? Is it better to replace that worn shag with brand-new carpeting or polished hardwood? Which condo upgrades or renovations will pay off the most?

The specific answer depends on a variety of factors, including the location of your condo, the value of other condos in the neighborhood and the rate at which property values are changing, along with your own willingness to invest money in upgrades. It’s also important to consider the overall condition of your condo: Buyers won’t care about a spa bathroom with real Italian marble if the rest of the condo is in disrepair. Make sure your condo is in good shape overall before adding any improvements.

Your choices also may be limited by the restrictions placed on your condo building. Before you consider any upgrades, it’s important to read your condominium rules and bylaws carefully and check with your condo association about which upgrades are and are not allowed. Certain renovations may be prohibited, so it’s important that you understand your obligations and responsibilities as a condo owner before beginning any projects.

Keep in mind that not all improvements will greatly increase the resale value of your condo, since some upgrades add luxury without increasing worth. Above all, buyers want a home that has no deferred maintenance, newer appliances, modern conveniences and is ready to occupy. While there’s no hard and fast rule for which upgrades are best, there are some general guidelines that can help you decide which improvements may deliver the most bang for your buck.


MAJOR RENOVATIONS

Every year, the National Association of Realtors and Remodeling Magazine publish the Cost vs. Value Report (www.costvsvalue.com) which features various home project costs and returns, broken down by regions and cities, and can give you a better idea of values in your area.

Kitchens

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home, so if you’re considering any improvements at all, look to the kitchen. A kitchen remodel generally returns more than 90 percent of its costs in the Chicago area, making it one of the most valuable condo improvements. According to the 2007 Cost vs. Value Report, major high-end kitchen remodels don't return quite as much as the mid-range or minor kitchen remodels. Most buyers won't pay extra for a built-in Sub Zero refrigerator, imported tile or designer faucets when quality mid-range kitchen features will do. If you’re redesigning your kitchen, keep function in mind. Home buyers often look for a proper L-shape, U-shape or triangular work space.

Appliances & Cabinets

Appliances and cabinets are typically the most expensive items to replace in a kitchen, but they’re usually worth it. New appliances are a huge selling point for buyers. If your kitchen is outdated, invest in a new cooktop, stove or refrigerator. Studies show that sellers usually recoup nearly every penny they spend on appliances.

If your cabinets are in good shape and are painted, add a fresh coat of paint and new hardware.

But if your cabinets have seen better days, they’ll need to be fixed or replaced. If you can’t afford new cabinets, just get new doors and drawer fronts. Then paint everything to match and add new hardware. Resurfacing, which involves attaching a thin veneer to the surface of the cabinets and replacing the doors and hardware, is another good option.

Counter tops, sinks & faucets

Updated counters, newer faucets and sparkling sinks sell. Granite, marble, solid surface, concrete and stainless steel counters are a nice addition, if your budget allows. There are also plenty of less expensive options, such as engineered stone, ceramic tile, soapstone, wood or butcher block and laminates. Buyers don't want leaky faucets or stained sinks.

Bathrooms

The average recouped cost is more than 80 percent for bathrooms in Chicago condos. Stylish upgrades can make your condo a competitive option on the market. Consider new countertops, sinks and faucets, contemporary flooring, ample cabinetry, and room-enhancing light fixtures. If you’re not planning a total bathroom re-do, porcelain coating sprayed over old tile can freshen up a dull bathroom considerably, as can switching out old fixtures and hardware, repairing or replacing tile and giving the room a coating of good primer and enamel paint.


SMALLER CHANGES

Flooring

Hardwood Floors
Wood floors are a hot item today and an attractive feature to buyers. If your floor needs to be replaced, consider installing real hardwood, if your budget allows it, or a plastic laminate or engineered hardwood alternative, which are less expensive. If your home has hardwood floors hidden beneath carpeting, it would pay to have the carpeting removed and the floors refinished. And if your existing hardwood is damaged, it would likely pay to have it repaired.

Carpeting
Dingy or worn carpeting can be a turnoff for buyers. If the problem can’t be fixed by a good carpet cleaning, replacement is probably your best bet. If your sub-floor is plywood, replace the carpeting with light tan. Neutral carpeting is your best bet for resale, so resist the urge to put your favorite color wall-to-wall.

Ceramic
Replace chipped or cracked tiles, and clean or replace the grout. Total replacement can be pricey, so you may want to consider repairing tiles or installing an alternative flooring material.

Ceilings & Walls

Painting
Buyers spend more time than you would think staring at ceilings. They’re looking for signs of a leaky roof, so you don't want them to see stains or cracks. Ditto for walls. Nothing says freshness like new paint. It’s one of the least expensive ways to make your home more attractive, and it’s also one of the easiest. Use fiberglass tape on large cracks, cover with joint compound and sand. Paint a neutral color such as light tan – think of coffee with cream. Avoid bold or unusual colors. Buyers won’t be interested in your condo if they know they’ll need to do all the work to paint over your Barbie-doll pink bathroom.

Textured ceilings
Older popcorn ceilings with the "sparkles" often contain asbestos and can be health hazards if disturbed. Say goodbye to it. Even recently sprayed ceilings turn off buyers. It's not expensive, but it is time consuming to remove. Lay down drop cloths and scrape it off. You will need to repaint.

Wallpaper
Buyers don’t hate all wallpaper; they just hate your wallpaper. It’s your personal choice, not theirs, so get rid of it – especially if it’s dated. The easiest way is to steam it off by using an inexpensive wallpaper remover steamer. Then paint the walls a creamy neutral.

Storage
Storage sells homes. It is the first thing that people look at, besides the kitchen and bathroom. Add storage whenever possible. Built-ins are an especially attractive addition.


MORE RESOURCES

Cost vs. Value Report:

www.costvsvalue.com

Remodeling cost calculators:

http://www.contractors.com/h/info/resources.html

http://www.costestimator.com/hgtvkitchen/index.jsp

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