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What your home improvement money will buy

For many, warm weather means it's time to turn to home improvements and add a new look or refresh the old one.

But what can you get for your hard-earned dollars these days?

It's a no-frills approach in many cases, says Ray Accettella, president of East Meadow-based Jarro Building Industries and chair of the Long Island Builders Institute, an Islandia-based trade association.

Despite the economic downturn, the cost of materials remains high, Accettella and other builders say.

So many homeowners are choosing smaller, lower-cost, maintenance-related projects to enhance the value of the home. "People are doing what they have to do, not what they want to do," says Jerome Burdi of DJ's Home Improvements in Franklin Square. "What they're asking for is less elaborate."

Projects such as adding a new roof, siding and replacement windows will give payback on lower energy costs, contractors say, while inside the house, detail work such as new baseboards, wainscoting, crown molding and painting will give the house a new look.

Adding a new front door, shutters and maybe a new garage door, fixing the stoop or landscaping the front of the house, are other lower-cost improvements with impact.

"A new front door and shutters will really make it look nice and make a statement," says Sal Ferro, president of Alure Home Improvements in Plainview.

If you're going to be spending more time at home, adding a deck or landscaping with a new patio or outside fireplace are other recession-friendly options.

And larger jobs such as updating the kitchen or bathroom or adding a basement playroom are projects that offer resale value as well as satisfaction.

Here's a look at what Long Island contractors say they are charging for common jobs in this economy.

What you can get for $5,000 Long Island contractors say that for $5,000 they can do cosmetic repair work such as painting, fixing doors and molding, damaged walls or floors, and address those ever-present eyesores. "Every home has them," says Ferro.

Or you can get a new entranceway and front door, along with new front windows, perhaps a bay or bow window, he says. And you can add shutters and perhaps a new garage door, depending on how extensive the entranceway work is, although the price will start edging up.

Landscaping the front of the house is another option, says Joseph Cerbone, with JLC Landscape Services in Farmingville. Maybe keep a favorite tree, but have everything else taken out and replaced with new plantings and have beds edged and mulched.

That $5,000 will pay for replacement windows on one or even two floors, depending on the grade of window and whether it's vinyl or wood, says Art Donnelly of Legacy Builders and Remodelers of Holbrook and chairman of the Long Island/New York City chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Replacement windows, along with caulking and insulation, will make the house more energy-efficient.

Adding insulation to the attic will run around $500 to $1,000, depending on the size of the house, but it can pay off in reduced heating costs.

A couple who wants to stay in their home as they get older but needs accommodations to do that might want to consider a partial bathroom upgrade -- a "right height" vanity and toilet, grab bars, a pressure balance unit to prevent surges of hot and cold water, a fresh paint job and maybe a drop-down shower seat.

"For less than $5,000, you've created a bathroom with a new look and one that lets you be safer and more comfortable," says Burdi. Or, Ferro says, you could refinish hardwood floors with sanding, staining and polyurethane, for less than $5,000.

What you can get for $10,000 It's possible to do a no-frills bathroom for $10,000 to $15,000 with a 24-inch vanity and limited tile work, says Accettella. And Burdi says $10,000 also will pay for a universal design bathroom, one meant to accommodate all levels of ability, with a hand-held and regular shower head, pull-down seat, grab bars, barrier-free shower and a floor drain, and larger doorways to accommodate a wheelchair.

Ten thousand dollars also will get new vinyl siding, or an architectural roof that includes removal of the old roof, Accettella says.

Outdoors, you also could add a patio of paver stones around the pool for $8,000 to $10,000, depending on the square footage, says Cerbone.

For between $5,000 and $10,000, you could add a hot tub, he says, or a small patio in the backyard, and for between $7,500 and $10,000 you could add a small retaining wall on either side of the front door, a segmented garden wall, or a new walkway from the driveway to the front door, maybe a new stoop, too. Or, Cerbone says, add an outside freestanding fireplace or a built-in barbecue area with space for tables and chairs.

What you can get for $15,000 You can remodel your bathroom with slightly higher-end fixtures and tile around the shower to the ceiling for $15,000 or remodel a small basement, depending on how extensive the work is, says Kevin Wrynn of Kevin Wrynn Carpentry Inc. of East Meadow.

Or you can upgrade your kitchen if you have decent cabinetry and work around that, says Wrynn. Change the countertops, hardware and color scheme, add tile backsplash and install a laminate floor.

For between $15,000 and $20,000 you can add a composite deck, depending on the size, says Dominick Mupo of Chelsea Home Remodeling of Huntington. Or you can add significant landscaping around a pool area, a waterfall or water slide, or forgo the pool and add a hot tub, landscaping and lighting, Cerbone says.

What you can get for $20,000 Those with $20,000 to spend can get a new kitchen -- not an upscale model, but, if appliances are carefully chosen, one that Accettella calls a good, solid kitchen to open the floor plan so you can watch children in the backyard or in the family room while you cook.

You also could upgrade that basement playroom remodeling job to include a few more bells and whistles, Wrynn says, or add a small sunroom.

David and Michelle Glovinsky of East Northport added a large pantry-mudroom in place of a deck, evening out the look of the house and gaining lots of storage. They've moved their washer and dryer to that room, added a slop sink and a large closet, and there's lots of space on an open wall to play with.

Their contractor, Dominick Mupo of Chelsea Home Remodeling, says it was a cooperative project for which David Glovinsky did some of the work. Mupo says homeowners can do some of the work to save money if they're capable, but they need to be clear on exactly who does what so there's no liability for the contractor whose job it was to handle an item.

Another possibility for your $20,000 is adding a pop-up dormer to an upstairs to make a larger bedroom, Mupo says. Or you can add a front porch portico with a barrel vault roof, Mupo says.

Tips Contractors urge homeowners to do the following to protect their investments: Check the contractor's references. Look at pictures of completed projects. Get different bids. Make sure each contractor is quoting the same scope and level of quality for the work. Hire contractors who are licensed and insured; verify both are current. Ask for a copy of the remodeler's insurance certificates. Check the licenses with county consumer affairs. Look for the initials CR after their name -- it stands for Certified Remodeler. To earn, contractors must pass a written exam, attend 16 hours of continuing education, have a least five years experience and abide by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's code of ethics.


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