Improved housing report may get buyers off the fence

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The housing industry is showing signs of life as the number of improving markets across the country rose to 99 in September, according to today's news from the National Association of Home Builders. That's up from 80 in August and includes metro areas in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Such news is encouraging some buyers. But if you're thinking of sprucing up your home for a sale, remember that some remodeling projects pay off better than others.

"The number of improving housing markets grew by 19 in September as 68 metros retained their spots, 31 new metros were added and just 12 dropped off the list," noted Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the NAHB in the report. "This solid growth is an encouraging sign that housing continues on a slow but steady recovery path that is gradually advancing from one local market to the next." (See the full list.)

In a sign that homeowners want their houses to make a good first impression, eight of the top 10 projects that retain the most value involve the home's exterior including replacing siding, entry doors, garage doors and windows, which all had a pay back of roughly 70 percent or more, according to Remodeling magazine. The only two interior projects that made the list were renovating an attic bedroom (cost $50,000) and minor kitchen remodels that cost less than $20,000.

The top project in terms of pay back (78 percent) was replacing siding with the fiber-cement type. In Consumer Reports tests of siding, we recommended two models of fiber cement: Nichiha Sierra Premium Smooth and James Hardie HardiePlank Select Cedarmill. Both scored excellent in our wind and rigidity tests. There were six winners in our tests of replacement windows including three clad wood, two vinyl and one fiberglass. All were very good to excellent in our tests for wind and rain resistance.

In our recent report on kitchen remodeling, Get the luxury look for less, we found many low-cost alternatives to high-end choices that can help homeowners get a slick kitchen and stay well within a $20,000 budget including appliances, flooring, countertops and sinks.


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