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HOME BUYERS FAIR : Benefits of Ownership : Buying an Older Home and Making It Livable : Remodeling: Experts suggest planning with care and obtaining accurate cost estimates before buying a fixer upper.

From United Press International

So you’ve found the almost-perfect house: it’s in the perfect location at the perfect price. The problem is that its floor plan gives you the blues. In that case, buying and remodeling it may be the answer.

Analysts say that an increasing number of consumers are buying homes and remodeling them soon after they move in. If planning such a move, it’s wise to take a realistic look at the costs involved.

“A lot of people are in fact buying older houses and may want to shape them to their own needs,” said Michael O’Brien, a spokesman for Western Wood Products of Portland, Ore., which represents trade associations in 12 lumber-producing states.

“If anything is contemporary, having a remodeling job done is. Remodeling is an incredibly booming industry,” he said. Dumpsters “have become status symbols in California.”

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The prices and scarcity of new homes are forcing would-be owners to consider older houses, O’Brien said.

Census Bureau figures show that there are about 100 million residential homes in the United States, 60% of them 20 years old or more.

“Many people do buy with (renovating) in mind and they do it very quickly after buying the house,” said Ken Betz, editor of the Chicago-based Qualified Remodeler magazine, a trade publication.

As a first step in deciding whether to buy a home to remodel, some experts advise hiring a private inspector or an experienced contractor to detail exactly what is needed and what it will cost. This can have several advantages.

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“It behooves a homeowner to look for someone with some professional credentials--who has an office and can give some references--to examine the house,” Betz said.

In addition, buyers should have contracts drawn up “spelling out what will be done and what it will cost,” Betz said. “We can’t afford the informal handshake anymore.”

An inspector can tell you whether costly systems such as the plumbing, heating, air conditioning, hot water or electrical units need replacing, he said.

Bryan Patchan, executive director of NAHB’s remodeling council in Washington, advises buyers to have inspectors check for the presence of environmental and health hazards such as asbestos or radon gas, which can cause cancer, and lead-based paint, which can damage the nervous system.

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“All of those things are quite expensive to repair and can be found in a home built in 1950 or earlier,” he said.

Finances will dictate if a home’s repair needs are too costly, Betz said.

“There are some problems that are so severe that it would be very costly and time-consuming to repair,” he said. Buying a home with “major structural problems or problems like rot, termites and water damage” is often not advisable, according to Betz.

But Patchan offers a different opinion.

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“Let’s say the house is in terrible shape and needs a lot of remodeling but the price is right. Then it might be a good investment if it’s in a good neighborhood,” he said. “It’s always a good idea to know what you’re buying. That’s why inspectors are really advisable.”

An inspector’s report also can be used to “negotiate on the price,” he said.

Studies show that new owners most often revamp their kitchens and bathrooms or add a family room or master bedroom. The cost, which can run as high as $15,000 per room, should not put the house above the value of neighborhood homes.

More money is spent on installation of insulating windows and doors, than any other remodeling project, Betz said, followed by kitchens, room additions and bathrooms.

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HOW TO FIND A HOME INSPECTOR Family and friends may suggest a good inspector or referrals can be sought through these organizations:

California Real Estate Inspection Assn.

1100 N St. Suite 5D

Sacramento, Calif. 91365

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(916) 443-1422

American Society of Home

Inspectors

3299 K St. N.W.

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Washington, D.C. 20007

(202) 842-3096


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