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Spring Home and Garden Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 21, 2009

With a tight economy, homeowners expand by renovating spaces like attics and cellars

By Anne Hayden

With the economy in a recession, real estate sales for homes larger than 3,000 square feet are taking a hit, and more people are doing home renovations to expand the space they already have.

“As well as downsizing, we’re seeing the trend of expanding square footage,” said Troy Miller, a real estate agent with CM Fox, in Guilderland.

“I think you’ll see a lot more people renovating rather than buying in the next couple of years,” said Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion. When the economy gets to the level it’s at now, it’s harder for people to get loans and sell their homes, so people tend to make improvements instead, Runion said.

It works out well for Guilderland residents, as Runion and the town board approved a local law, on May 5, that allows residents of one or two-family homes to make improvements, up to $80,000, without their assessments going up.

Bill Swift, of Swift Builders, a company specializing in home renovations and additions, said he thinks people are making a commitment to stay where they are, and improving their property. “We’ve probably seen about a 50-percent increase in demand,” said Swift.

Finishing a basement can cost anywhere from $25 to $35 per square foot, according to Swift, and other frequently requested projects are eating areas, sunrooms, and mother-in-law apartments.

“Any time you expand square footage, you raise the appraisal price on a home,” said Miller.

But under the new local law, home assessment would not go up more than 12.5 percent over the next eight years, said Runion, noting that the law applies only to town taxes. The largest share of property taxes are typically for schools. “We will send an explanation of what we did to the school board, and they can pass a resolution to follow the law if they want to,” said Runion.

According to Miller, the appraisal of a home typically increases $75 per extra square foot. The most common ways to increase living space are to renovate an attic or a basement, Miller said. Uses for the new spaces include additional bedrooms, playrooms, and recreation rooms.

Renovating an attic or basement is money well spent, Miller said, because unlike adding a full addition to a home, there’s no need a new foundation, which is the most expensive part. Renovation of a basement or an attic costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000, he said.

Even people buying new, smaller homes are thinking ahead to the improvements they could make. “I have people that I’m showing houses to, asking if the neighborhood supports renovations,” said Kelly Gardner, a real estate agent from Caldwell Banker.

Guilderland’s local law applies not only to home improvements that add extra living space, but, to any type of improvement that adds value to the home, said Runion. That includes upgrading kitchens and bathrooms.

“It’s about needs instead of wants right now,” Miller said. A lot of people can’t afford a 3,000-square-foot home, so, instead, they add square footage to their current home by renovating existing spaces.

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