Tulsa´s Hottest Remodeling Trends
Sales isn't the only housing sector to benefit from the long run of low mortgage interest rates; so is remodeling in Tulsa.
Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies pegs spending on renovations and repair at $130.4 billion last year. But the National Association of Home Builders says home owners paid roughly $182 billion in 2003 to improve their homes and keep them in good working order.
"It was a banner year for the remodeling industry," says Springfield, Ill., remodeler Doug Sutton, who is chairman of NAHB's Remodelers Council.
Noting that the sector posted higher year-end numbers in 2003 than in previous years, both the NAHB and the Joint Center also expect remodeling to remain strong this year.
The most common projects remain Tulsa kitchen and bathroom remodeling, closely followed by room additions, according to NAHB's research director, Gopal Ahluwalia.
But Denver architect Doug Walter, a design-only remodeling specialist, says the five hottest trends in the business these days are daylighting, detached garages, his-and-her spaces, "visitability" and a movement toward higher quality materials:
· Daylighting ? Almost without exception, the home owners Walter interviews say they want their homes "lighter and brighter."
"They are tired of the usual Tulsa dark rooms, small windows and no views," the architect reports.
Walter, who this year celebrates 25 years of doing almost exclusively residential remodeling -- "with one new home a year thrown in for relaxation" -- says he "answers the call" with larger windows, more windows, stacked windows, feature windows, skylights, sun tunnels, interior windows, mirrors and open floor plans that share light from other rooms.
"Bringing in Tulsa daylight from more than one direction is vital to visual comfort and safety," he says.
Walter says it is easier to let the light shine in houses built since the 1960s. "We can always do better," even on the most recent production houses, he boasts.
· Detached Tulsa Garages ? When automobiles first became commonplace, they were relegated to the carriage house or a purpose-built structure away from the main residence because they were smelly and rather dangerous. It wasn't until the 1950s that it became necessary because of land constraints to attach the garage to the house.
Now, Walter says detached garages are making a comeback. "In the past two years, we've been amazed at the number of clients who say ?yes' to our suggestions for detached carriage house garages, both for remodeling and new homes," he reports.
Pulling the garage away from the main residence allows for four-sided architecture. "The house is no longer dominated by a two or three-car garage," the architect points out.
It also makes it easier to expand the main house, adds architectural interest to the lot and creates a great opportunity for protected outdoor uses in the space between the garage and house.
· His/Her Space ? The ultimate luxury is space; there never seems to be enough of it, which is what keeps the remodeling business healthy.
But even when space is limited, according to Walter, there is a strong proclivity for "defined space" for the home's occupants. When given the choice, he says "most of our clients will opt for small walk-in closets of their own rather than a shared walk-in. And vanity areas that are across the room from each other are much preferred to the ubiquitous side-by-side arrangement."
· "Visitability" ? This is Walter's term for remodeling a house to make it more accessible for older occupants. The new word is necessary, he says, because "baby boomers are in serious denial. They don't acknowledge they are getting older or less able."
Yes, people today are healthier and more active than previous generations. But a 60-year-old is not 30, says the architect. He may be 50, but not 30. Nevertheless, home owners don't like to talk about their own decreasing mobility, strength, frailties or perception. But they will discuss their parents and friends who come to visit.
Thus, the new term, "visitability."
"It is much easier to see and design for the frailties of our parents than it is to admit we may be in the same shoes 10, 20 or 30 years down the road," the remodeling specialist says.
· Making It Real ? Home owners are choosing higher quality materials for every room in the house. Tile or granite countertops instead of plastic laminate, porcelain cast iron tubs over fiberglass, even lath and plaster over drywall.
"Across the board, we are finding clients making the right choice for their homes, choosing quality over quantity and selecting the better materials that in the end have lasting value and lower life-cycle cost," Walter reports.
A word of caution before closing: If all this seems expensive, it is. The average cost of a Walter-designed remodel is a whopping $250,000. But, as the architect points out, many trends start in the luxury market and eventually work their way down to the mainstream.
Remodel Your Tulsa Home ?
Unless you've taken a new job in a new location, the decision to move up may involve deciding on whether to remodel or move altogether. Homeowners nationwide will spend $192.8 billion this year to either remodel or repair their homes, according to the U.S. Census.
The Remodeling Index, provided by National Association of Home Builders' Remodeling Council, determines minor alterations at $25,000 or below and major alterations above that amount. Where do you stand? Is it worth $25,000-plus to remodel or should you move up?
There are reasons in favor of both. Let's deal with the remodeling first.
· Your Tulsa, Jenks, Broken Arrow, Bixby community is great, why move? For some homeowners they already live in the best community for their family and lifestyle. The schools are great, it's near their worship center, shopping and they are plugged in with neighbors and the community. So instead of moving, it might be best to expand or remodel.
· Sometimes, it's just time to upgrade the house -- even if you're planning on selling in the future. If you bought a home with 15-year-old appliances and décor, it may be time to switch them out, now that they are 20 or 25 years old. I always get frustrated with homeowners who want to remodel right before they move -- they've never had the opportunity to enjoy the house they've just remodeled. Upgrades may include flooring, bathrooms, kitchen, exterior facelift, paint, curtains, furniture -- not just the house itself.
· It might be cheaper than selling. If you're needing more space, the remodel may actually be cheaper than selling, especially if you're looking at finishing or remodeling the basement. The basement remodel is the easiest and most affordable remodel available to homeowners because the exterior walls, plumbing and most electric may have already been run throughout.
· You're a do-it-yourselfer. Okay, you love those Old House, Fix-It or Nix-It, Saturday morning programs. Living in a dust-ridden environment with tools and power cords strewn throughout is your vision of heaven on earth. Go for it.
· You'll have to remodel the new house anyway. Most new homeowners spend upwards to 30 percent of the value of the new house they just bought fixing it up the way they want -- so why move? Just spend that money where you are.
Now, there are just as many reasons to move instead of remodeling.
· The move could take less time and hassle. Depending on the condition of your local Tulsa market, you may be able to list, sell and move in a shorter period of time than it would take to actually remodel your current home. Time is a major factor in our busy lives, and many times it would be quicker to just move.
· Remodeling would disrupt your Tulsa lifestyle more than you're willing to deal with. You have to hire a designer, then a contractor, move furniture from one area to another in your house, find storage for the rest, live with dust, workmen, etc., for several months and then HOPE you like what you get at the end of it. Better to buy the house that's already finished the way you want it than betting on a finished product you're not sure about.
· You don't want the hassle of dealing with contractors in case they don't get it right. The challenge for re-modelers is that they are being told by a remodeling-challenged homeowner what they want and then try to create that environment. If the homeowner doesn't like it at the end -- it's very expensive to change once it's done.
· Remodeling could cost more than moving. For some people, to get what they really want, they would have to double their mortgage anyway -- so it might be better to check out what's available in new construction or even in a move up in the community. Plus, builders in some markets are starting to offer free upgrades -- including rec rooms, decks, and other add-ons that usually are the subject of a remodel job.
· Finally, you're Tulsa family has enlarged. You just may need a larger home because you have more children or your parents/au pair/adult children have moved in with you.
When it's time to remodel, look over the local real estate market before making your final decision, it might be in your best interest to make that move instead of knocking down a wall.
Sequence of a Tulsa Home Renovation Project
Now that spring home-remodeling time is nearly here, newspaper editors have been blowing the dust from their copies of my book and calling me for interviews.
I am, of course, eager to comply, since the only other option I now have for selling the books is door to door, just as my father sold encyclopedias for Sears back in the 1950s.
So far, my sales are slightly ahead of his, but just slightly.
One interviewer said she was drawn to my book because it was "a cautionary tale." I liked her characterization, not only because it sounded somewhat Chaucerian, but it is more accurate than calling it "the Book of No," which is how I've been referring to my work since it was published last year.
The book doesn't say, "Don't remodel." What is does suggest is that much of what you are hoping for will come true if you think everything out completely before you pick up a hammer or the phone to call the contractor.
From what my students at Temple University's Real Estate Institute tell me, part of this cautionary tale should have focused more on sequence -- when to do what.
The sequence issue arose when I showed the class a Hometime video on kitchen renovation I'd used when I remodeled the one in my second house. I'd bought the video in the mid-1990s, and while the recording technology has changed since then, the basics of renovation, including the sequence such a job should follow, have been altered little.
When we talk about sequence, there is the obvious and not so obvious.
Among the obvious is hiring a roofer to take care of leaks in the ceiling below before you paint it.
The not-so-obvious: Where does the floor installation come in a kitchen renovation?
When should the new floor be installed? Toward the end of the renovation, once the base cabinets and all the appliances except for the refrigerator are in place.
One reason is that you don't want to drag appliances and cabinets across the floor and damage it. Another is to save work, since when everything is in place, trimming and fitting the floor, whether it is tile, wood or vinyl, is easier to figure out.
That's not how I did it, which is one reason why my book is a cautionary tale. The pre-renovation kitchen had a linoleum floor that was old and could never be cleaned, no matter how much and how often it was scrubbed.
It also was cracked and loose in several places.
Although a new kitchen was on our list, there were several priority items preceding it, such as roof repair, a second working bathroom, at least $6,000 worth of electrical work, replacement of a structural beam in the front porch roof and a back porch on the verge of collapse.
The best I could do for the kitchen at that point was a new floor, or so I had convinced myself. Rather than use a roll of vinyl flooring, I decided on peel-and- stick vinyl tiles, installed on a new quarter-inch plywood sub-floor.
I didn't think the project through completely, and it showed. Raising the floor a quarter-inch (not including the thickness of the tiles) meant that I had to raise thresholds and trim the bottoms of ancient doors to compensate.
I should have used ringed-shank nails to fasten the sub-floor to the old floor. The smooth-shank nails popped and dented or broke through many of the tiles, which then had to be scraped off and replaced.
I also was cutting and fitting these tiles around base cabinets and appliances that would not survive the actual kitchen renovation three years later.
When the renovation finally got underway, whole sections of old flooring on which the sink, stove and cabinets sat had to be replaced, and the tiles over which I dragged them to the dump went, too.
Every piece of a remodeling project has to be thought out completely. For every reason why, you should come up with six reasons why not, and then work to turn the "why nots" into whys, no matter how long it takes.
Here's another example: Several electrical outlets had to be added to a brick party wall. To avoid paying $500 extra to have the electrician chisel into the brick, I framed out a new wall.
A good idea? Not necessarily. What I hadn't considered was that adding the wall meant I'd have to reduce the width of the basement doorway. Not only that, but the wall was now the only one in the kitchen that was plumb, meaning that it threw off measurements for the crown molding I was nailing along the kitchen ceiling.
Still, it was the only wall on which the cabinets looked as if they were straight. If you focused on that wall, you tended not to see the others.
In all the years I've been writing about real estate and home improvement, I don't recall ever fielding as many inquiries about saving energy as I have in recent weeks.
The fear of rising oil, natural gas and electric prices has led just about everyone to look at how they live and make adjustments. This is a situation low-income Americans live with every winter, and while the middle class complains about paying $50 or so more a month to heat its homes, the vast majority can afford the extra money. Higher energy prices are making the poor even poorer, if the utilities haven't shut them off already.
I'm one of the people who can afford to pay the extra costs, but it doesn't stop me from trying to find ways to tighten my house even more without creating moisture or indoor air quality issues.
The house I live in is in much better shape than my last. The old house, built in 1904, was a sieve. The plaster walls from the first to the third floors were on lath nailed right to the exterior stone walls, meaning that they could not be insulated easily, even with cellulose or polyurethane foam. The only alternative was to remove all the plaster walls, insulate and drywall. It was prohibitively expensive.
Cellulose insulation had been blown into the attic, but there was so much of it that some of the ceilings sagged. While cellulose insulation is environmentally friendly (shredded newspapers treated with boron to make it fireproof and pest-free), it often settles at low points in walls and ceilings.
I didn't know about air sealing, and that could have afforded us some comfort from drafts. Older houses have all these openings behind the walls that often run from the basement to the top floors, acting as conduits for heat. These are known in the trade as chase ways, and often carry wiring and plumbing.
The trick is to seal those gaps with foam after stuffing them with unfaced insulation inside white or black plastic bags (the clear plastic deteriorates more rapidly, so I'm told), so that warm air is prevented from going through the roof. You are, as a radio listener told me last week, putting a hat on your house.
These chase ways are everywhere imaginable, often created by plumbers and electricians cutting away the framing contractors' work. Houses dating before 1970 were built with no concern for energy efficiency, since fuel to heat the house was cheap, so it really didn't matter.
The previous owners of my present house had cellulose insulation blown into downstairs walls, which are plaster on lath nailed to the wood frame. The second floor, which is a converted attic, has fiberglass insulation in the ceilings and walls, although not enough of it, and combined with the failure of the previous owners to add second-floor returns when the new HVAC system was added.
The heating system, which is designed around a high-efficiency condensing furnace, can, in combination with the proper amount of insulation, make a house comfortable at lower thermostat settings -- 65 is what we try for. That leaves the second floor at 60 when the programmable thermostat is set at 65, and 57 when the thermostat is at 60 (the daytime and overnight setting).
We have three options to make the second floor more comfortable. One is raising the thermostat to 68, which would boost the upstairs to 63 when we are home and awake, and then setting the thermostat at 63 for daytime and overnight, so that upstairs never falls below 60. There should be no more than five degrees between low and high settings, since you use as much or more energy when the temperature has to climb 10 degrees twice or more a day than if you maintained the temperature at 68, for example.
The second option is to add returns, which, at this juncture, would be very expensive, since ductwork would have to be added.
The third is an electric fireplace, which is the one I've chosen. I've built a wall facing the bed that has the fireplace built in to the wall with a bookcase on either side. The fireplace plugs into a 120-volt standard outlet, produces about 5,000 BTUs an hour at a cost of 2 cents an hour of electricity (which remains cheaper than natural gas in areas where natural gas isn't used to produce it) and looks like a real fireplace. It will heat about 400 square feet of space, which is about the size of the second floor.
There are two added bonuses. One is that it will likely add to the value of a house, since fireplaces in master bedrooms are a feature of new construction. The second is that the heat can be shut off and you can watch the logs "burn."
It's more romantic than air sealing and insulation, and easier to install and less expensive to run these days than a gas insert.
Tulsa Voted #2 City For Real Estate