|Scott Van VOorhis

Top 5 bets when renovating your home

Highlights from the Boston Real Estate Now blog.

Thinking of fixing up your home? This spring may finally be the time to strap on the tool belt and get to work.

Or if you’re like me, with minimal handyman skills, stick to the painting and demolition and hire a capable contractor. The payback for home renovation projects plunged after the real estate bubble collapsed and Great Recession hit.

But after nearly a decade of tough times, renovation values are on the rise again, reports Hanley Wood, publisher of Remodeling magazine, in its annual Cost vs. Value Report.


The payback for the 35 projects tracked in the report, from replacing a garage door to a complete kitchen overhaul, rose 9 percent in 2013.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

And 15 projects posted even higher gains, from 10 to nearly 30 percent.

Here are the top five renovation projects for the Boston area based on your payback when it comes time to sell.

If there is any theme here, it’s that a little extra space and curbside appeal mean a lot to Boston area buyers.

Attic bedroom: Putting in an attic bedroom is the best investment you can make. Yes, it’s not cheap at $60,102, but you can expect to recoup 107 percent of that in resale value.


Entry door: Putting in a snazzy new front door is not only relatively inexpensive — just under $1,300 — but you can expect to get back nearly 93 percent of the cost.

Siding: New siding is another way you can spruce up appeal. While it will cost you on average $13,231, the payback is over 94 percent of the cost.

Minor kitchen remodel: It will cost you $22,175, but you will get back at least 87 percent of that when you sell, making it one of the better renovation investments you can make.

Garage door: The payback on the $1,767 outlay is over 84 percent of cost.

Did Gen-Xers have it harder?

Millennials are hardly the first generation to graduate into a job-killing economy and a miserable housing market.


Gen-Xers entered the work world in the early 1990s when the term “downsizing” gained currency. Much was made of the plight of Gen-Xers stuck without work or in dead-end jobs, living at home or with a gazillion roommates.

Nationally, the recession was a fairly mild one. But in New England at least, the real estate market was a mess and the local economy in a severe recession.

I recently posted a note from “Amy,” a frustrated millennial PhD student in Cambridge who is struggling, like so many in her generation, with a grim job market, spiraling rents, and landlords demanding references.

But Amy’s comments triggered a bit of a blowback from Gen-Xers arguing she should stop complaining and buckle down. (In Amy’s defense, it certainly seems like she is doing just that, but her comments apparently weren’t read that way by some.)

No one doubts that a PhD program or being a student in general isn’t hard work. But, what I saw and experienced in the early ‘90s with Gen-X is that we complained and had lost hope, but we worked and managed. We now own homes and many didn’t purchase until our 30s, when we married.

The reality is, millennials will own homes. They will start buying. It’s the cycle of life. I think the issue is that millennials have had a good life until now, better than other generations, and this economy is a much harsher awakening.

Contractors becoming pickier

Good luck to homeowners who still think they can renovate on the cheap.

Residential and commercial contractors across the country are now more likely to walk away from a job than give in to demands to slash prices, Remodeling magazine reports.

Just a little over a quarter of contractors reported dropping prices in 2013 to win work, according to an L.E.K. Consulting survey cited by Remodeling.

That’s compared to 44 percent of contractors who back in 2010 reported giving on price in order to get work.

And instead of taking every job that comes along, contractors say they are getting pickier, holding out for a smaller number of better paid projects, the survey finds.

“They are becoming more aggressive during price negotiations and walking away from jobs that don’t provide attractive margins,” the firm found in its survey of 550 contractors across the country.

Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate. For the full Boston Real Estate Now blog, visit