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Turn your starter home into your dream home

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Danyel and Shana Mevissen love everything about where they live: the neighborhood, the yard and the school district. But their house is only 960 square feet, and they want a bigger home in which to live and play.

Instead of shopping for a bigger house, the Mevissens have decided to remodel and expand their home. It makes sense economically, Danyel said, and their lot gives them the space to do it on three-quarters of an acre.

"Everyone wants the big house, the newest car, but we don't want to work just to pay the mortgage. We want to live within our means," Mevissen said.

According to a report by the National Association of Home Builders, 2009 was a "banner year for the remodeling industry," because of increased interest from homeowners in improving the homes they were already in.

Remodeling gives homeowners the chance to customize and add features without giving up a familiar neighborhood or school, the association noted, as is the case with the Mevissens.

But remodeling is more expensive per square foot than building, cautioned Mike Roarke of East Greenbush, N.Y., who has been in the home building and remodeling business for 24 years.

"There has to be a compelling reason for people to do it," Roarke said. "We have clients who say if they can't get their money back (when the house is sold), they won't do it, and we have clients who spend way more than the property is worth because they have an emotional connection to the house."

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., real estate agent Scott Varley said an ambitious remodel can actually hurt a home's value if it turns the house into something out of character for the neigborhood and the most expensive house on the block.

Now is a good time to buy a house, Varley said.

Foreclosures are also good for a buyer, not merely someone looking to buy property where the bank has foreclosed. A foreclosure will bring home prices down an average of 8 percent, Varley said, quoting national numbers.

The Mevissens bought their house in 2006 for $159,000. Back then, the couple had only one child, Kaija, who is now 7. They now have a second, 1-1/2-year-old Eli. They have since finished the basement of the three-bedroom house. Danyel Mevissen, 32, is a supervisor for Saratoga Eagle, a beverage distribution company. Shana Mevissen, 31, is working toward her teaching degree.

They plan to spend about $60,000 building a 300-square-foot living room, replacing the siding on the house and adding stonework to the foundation. They will turn their current living room into a dining room.

Shana Mevissen envisions a fireplace, a bar, vaulted ceilings, a deck on the back and an open floorplan for entertaining.

The construction will be done by friends and family, Danyel Mevissen said, but they will hire a professional to pour the concrete.

Adding resale value isn't the Mevissens' top priority. They don't plan on selling the house anytime soon, but they believe the added square feet and improvements to the facade will add value to the house.

Jon Fowler, a local handyman who is often called in to fix other builders' mistakes, offered advice for both homeowners adding on and people shopping for a new house.

"If you're going to remodel, make sure your basics are up to date first — good windows, paint job, siding, the roof — I look at basics, and what I think people do too often is look at granite countertops and tile floors," Fowler said.

The handyman also had advice for would-be home buyers looking to trade up to a fancier house: Hire an independent contractor.

"It's just like when you buy a used car: You should take it to a mechanic you trust and have him look it over from top to bottom. I've been to brand-new homes where I can see the builders cut corners: holes in the OSB (also called wafer board) with nothing between the attic and the outside but the vinyl, Sheetrock mounted wrong," Fowler said.


—Compile a list of home remodeling ideas and draft a budget for the work.

—Look for a professional remodeler to help plan the project.

—Check the references and background of the remodeler.

—Agree on a contract.

—Take advantage of the energy efficiency tax credits.

SOURCE: National Association of Home Builders


—Hire your own home inspector to check out the house from top to bottom

—Research the neighborhood - recent sale prices, foreclosures

—Calculate your likely tax bill

— If the home you want has a septic tank, when was it last serviced?

E-mail: lhornbeck(at)timesunion.com.