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What’s Hot: How Adding Money Now will Pay off Later for Home Sellers

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By Erin Peterson, Bankrate.com

RISMEDIA, June 14, 2007-Whether the target date for listing your home on the market is? a few months or a few years away — or whether you simply like to make decisions with an eye toward the future — you may well be wondering how putting some money into the house now will pay off later.

The hottest trends in home improvement feature environmentally friendly living, recycled products, and high-tech innovation — all in a warm and inviting space.

Judging by the number of television shows devoted to the subject, it seems like nearly everyone is interested in remodeling or renovating their home. In some ways, it’s reasonable: Two-thirds of owner-occupied homes are at least 25 years old, research by the Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found — and that means there are millions of homes in need of an update.

To find out what’s popular — and what’s not — in the world of home improvements, we talked to several architects and designers to find out what trends they were seeing in the home renovation market.

Everything old is new again

Old houses might need updates, but a bit of the space’s original character can remain, says Robin Wilson, CEO of Robin Wilson Home. Antique doors, lighting, hardware and floors can be preserved and restored to their former glory, even while adding the latest technology and materials. It might be time to ditch the fake wood paneling in the rec room, but the wide-plank hardwood floors in the den can be refinished to give an old room new sheen.

Recycled products are also making their way into home renovations: Kitchen countertops can be made from recycled aluminum, glass and even paper. Kitchen and bathroom sinks are made from recycled aluminum and bronze. Even the stuff you don’t see in a home renovation — such as insulation — can include a significant percentage of recycled materials.

While recycled products have been around for some time, there’s been a surge in interest, says Eric Phillips, vice president and general manager at DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen in Apex, N.C. Prices have come down and aesthetics have improved. “You don’t have to sacrifice form or function for these products,” he says.

Green solutions

There’s a growing interest in environmentally friendly renovations — which makes both ecological and economic sense.

“People understand that using green products and systems can make their home more energy efficient and improve indoor air quality,” says Maureen Ness, a project architect at the Minneapolis architecture and interior design firm LHB. “It saves money and makes their house healthier.”

Phillips notes that people are beginning to choose eucalyptus woods, a fast-growing tree with wood that can be used for flooring and countertops. Water-saving devices in washers and toilets and energy-saving products from lighting to Energy Star appliances are getting a boost as well.
Kitchen upgrades

Kitchens have long been the family gathering spot, and home renovations continue to reflect this trend with added features to keep people entertained and content. Televisions and computers — with waterproof, wireless keyboards — are being integrated into cabinetry and freezer doors.

Wilson says many homeowners are hoping to achieve a seamless look to their appliances by matching the materials in appliances and cabinetry. “Refrigerators and dishwashers have interchangeable panels that can be used to hide appliances and make them blend into the kitchen,” she says. That olive green fridge that used to seem adorably retro? Now it just seems old.

Along those same lines, Phillips says people have shown more interest in integrating appliances that used to sit on the countertop.

“People are building things like high-end coffeemakers into the cabinetry,” he says. “It’s a luxury item that has become more affordable.”

Spa baths

Remodelers are eager to bring the spa experience home, says Phillips, and that doesn’t just mean enormous tubs.

“We’re seeing whirlpool tubs with added aromatherapy” components, he says. Speakers are often integrated into designs so homeowners can put on a soothing tune while they soak. Some even go so far as to add mood lights — large, color-changing LED light panels that cycle through a full spectrum of colors.

Another popular upgrade is a flat-screen television placed behind a two-way mirror; people only see an image when it’s turned on.

Upgrading laundry rooms

Once sequestered to the corner of the basement, laundry rooms are moving up — they’re often found on the same level as bedrooms. That’s partly because washers and dryers are a lot quieter than in years past, and partly because they’re more attractive, too. As a result, homeowners are paying more attention to the looks of these spaces.

Wilson says homeowners are considering a wide array of options to outfit their laundry spaces.

“People have hanging racks, folding areas, appliances that let them dry clean their own clothes, and machines that let them steam their own clothes,” she says. “It’s a much more luxurious space.”

Warming trends

The cool, sleek look of modern design is making way for a warmer, more inviting look, says Phillips. “Stark and sterile is out,” he says. “We’re seeing people who want to have welcoming and comfortable spaces. They don’t want to feel like they’re in a museum.” Golden hues are growing in popularity, and the brightest colors are taking a back seat to more muted, natural colors and tones.

Of course, the key to a great home renovation is making sure it fits your needs — a souped-up space is only worthwhile if you’ll use it.

For more information, visit www.bankrate.com.

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