Ready to Renovate

Railings add a natural touch to the pool deck outside this elegant home. Remodeling projects can play a key role in prepping a home for sale as well as readying a house to be livable for years.

When dealing with people trying to sell their homes, Tori Stein hears this all the time:

The dwelling's fascia is faded or worn, which can mean wood rot. Homeowners wonder if they can get by just with a paint job, but Stein advises against it. She says that some things are too important to touch up or gloss over.

Stein, vice president of locally based Atlantic Builders Inc. and current president of the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association, has a pet five-word answer: "It is what it is."

In other words, customers should be prepared to bite the bullet on home repairs and do the job right the first time. Homeowners, too, can at least break even on kitchen and bathroom remodeling in terms of cost versus added value, says Stein, who has specialized in home remodeling for nearly a decade with Atlantic Builders, a "turn-key design build" firm. Her husband Paul Stein founded the venture in 1978.

But she cautions that money savings may not result in a slowing housing market, where sale prices aren't as high as in a stronger scenario. Price savings, she says, may be overrated. Quality of work and materials is most important. She used the analogy of two supermarket buggies, one filled with macaroni, the other with caviar. The caviar cart is going to cost more, but it's a much more valuable commodity, too.

Home renovations are popular today as people remodel existing houses they plan to live in for some time or fix them up to prepare for sale.

Renovations can be extensive, expensive, cosmetic or basic. Sometimes, they aren't the main focus of a house for sale but are important nonetheless.

Home renovations can be tricky because the design crew is dealing with older surroundings, whether just a few years or a few centuries.

"You are working with a pre-existing condition," Stein says. "Old plumbing, old electrical work, old air conditioning. I have to know how they built over the past 200 years."

Modern upgraded kitchens, along with luxurious master bathrooms, tend to be a big focus of design and remodeling businesses.

"That's where you can make the most dramatic changes," Stein says. "The kitchen is the heart of the house. There's a living room but everyone wants to hang out in the kitchen."

By the same token, some homes are renovated to eliminate rooms or features that were once popular but have fallen out of favor.

"We used to build homes with a formal dining room," Stein says. They look elegant but may only get used three times as year. Lately, she has opened up kitchens by knocking out the nonstructural wall between the kitchen and the dining room.

Similarly, people don't always have time to take baths, so homeowners design roomy showers with double showerheads and other features. Fireplaces, too, look nice but may be used only a few months out of the year, so they aren't a necessity as in the past.

Hardwood floors give homes a solid, distinguished look. Upgraded lighting can make a house brighter and make it easier to see and read. Structured wiring can handle online service, audio systems, high-end TVs and even home theaters one room of the house where she recommends carpeted floors to keep the noise level down.

Picking out a home remodeler can be a task. Stein says homeowners need to make sure businesses are licensed and bonded. Good sources are local municipalities and the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Specialists work with the homeowners to help them pick and choose what they want. Stein says, "OK, you've got $30,000 from plumbing to cabinets. We pull it all together. Most people can't visualize."

Stein, who recently won awards for a total restoration of a Kiawah Island villa, says, "I actually used to build homes, but I wanted something more of a challenge. I went into remodeling, which can be incredibly difficult."

Home redesign whether to take care of much-needed repair, adding or upgrading rooms, or major remodeling may prove costly on the front end but can be worth it from a livability standpoint, whether it's your dream home or someone else's when you sell.

"Any time you remodel it's an improvement," Stein says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.