Real Estate Today

Concrete ideas for increasing the value of your home

Don’t make home improvements too personal if you want a good return on your investment

On daily walks around my Cow Hollow neighborhood, I have watched a renovation project creep slowly forward over the past year. Several months back, when yet another concrete truck was busy pumping concrete into forms, I asked a worker how much concrete was in the building; 300 yards, more or less, he said. Since then there have been many more days of concrete delivery spread over several months.

Fast forward to just recently, when I saw a small concrete mixer and several men hard at work pouring yet more concrete into the property. I again asked a worker how much concrete had been poured and, shaking his head, he replied, “I don’t know, but a lot.”

If you have walked by this two-unit project on Green Street, you may have scratched your head thinking, what on earth are they doing there? Luckily, I’m here to tell you. They are building a garage with a living roof like at the Academy of Science, retaining walls, and a new foundation. Considering the amount of concrete on this property, I speculate that after the next big earthquake, even if the city is leveled, this garage with a living roof will still be standing. I hope this theory will never be tested, though.

This is all very interesting, you think, but who cares about the tons of concrete on this property? The owners obviously care. But what if they get bored with the project and decide to sell? Will they ever get their money back? The fact is the owners can probably look forward to a substantial loss when they sell.

Maybe they don’t care and have the money to lose, but the average homeowner doesn’t have money to lose. When Mr. and Ms. Average tire of their pet project and decide to sell their home, they want to regain their full investment.

Everyone who buys a house has the desire to make it his or her home. This nesting instinct is powerful and comes with being human. However, at some point while planning a home improvement project, most people think about whether or not their project will increase the value of their home. The best project combines increased enjoyment with increased value.

I try to avoid the advice trap of “do this” and “don’t do that.” A better approach is to not to make your improvements – whether kitchens, baths, workshops, or added rooms – too personal. It’s great that you absolutely love the new bathroom tile from Italy that took six months to arrive by boat and cost an arm and a leg. Just keep in mind the tile you love may reduce the number of buyers interested five or ten years down the road when you sell. In fact, a buyer may think that if it wasn’t for that awful tile, they would buy your house.

When I showed a condo with 1,500 square feet of purple wall-to-wall carpet, it was no surprise when the buyers asked, “What were these people thinking?” I love purple – my purple Converse shoes, matching purple scarf, and purple purse attest to this – but the purple carpeting was over the top, even for me.

One thing I have found with first-time buyers today is they work long hours and want to find a home where they can move in and get right back to work. They don’t have time for much updating or renovating. Painting, floor buffing, hanging pictures, and installing the large screen TV is about all that’s on their minds. Moving walls or adding bathrooms is too much to consider and immediately becomes a deal breaker.

If fancy remodels are not the answer to improving the value of your home (especially on a limited budget) and you are concerned about what will give you the best value for your dollar, there is an answer. Keeping up the maintenance on your home, and having it sparkling clean and smelling fresh are all good ways to improve value. A home that feels bright and fresh unconsciously causes buyers to have a positive feeling. Money spent on home maintenance and cleanup is always a good investment.

Carole Isaacs is a real estate agent with McGuire Real Estate (Lombard, Bluxome and Noe Valley offices), a photographer, and a lover of all things San Francisco. Visit her online at, e-mail [email protected], or call 415-608-1267.
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