By Heesun Wee, CNBC.com
The housing market remains shaky, even if the broader economy is improving. And after years of price declines and slow sales, homeowners have changed their priorities in home improvement.
Duo Dickinson, a home remodeling architect for more than 30 years, has seen his share of ups and downs in real estate. But this time it is different, he says.
Instead of waiting for the return of the good old days, homeowners are scrapping second-home dreams and fancy remodeling projects. They're focusing on staying put and value-focused home renovations.
Jacuzzi bathtubs and high ceiling "great rooms" that no one uses are out. In vogue are smaller bedrooms and insulated water heaters that cut utility bills.
Dickinson documented this shift toward frugality into a book, "Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want."
Says Dickinson: "People aren't coping as if there's light at the end of the tunnel, [they are] changing their expectations."
While the scaled-down approach is evident among the vast majority of homeowners, Dickinson - based in Madison, Conn. - says even the wealthy have been chastened. Think modest stairs instead of grand staircases.
"Every cost is reviewed more critically because even if they have a high net worth and income, they realize that home investment is not the cash cow it once was, and want control over spending," Dickinson says.
We asked Dickinson and Kevin Daum, a building expert and co-author of "Building Your Own Home For Dummies," to walk us through the new home-improvement rules of the post-boom residential real estate market.
See the slideshow: 9 Post-Bubble Home Improvement Rules
Consumers instead are focused on functionality Kitchens for Costco Runs
Remodeling rule: Fewer homeowners are transforming kitchens into showrooms. Consumers instead are focused on functionality such as expandable, roomy shelving and storage that can hold bulk items from your favorite wholesaler.
"Kitchens that had more islands than the Caribbean are resolving themselves into nautical efficiency," Dickinson writes in his book.
Bedrooms for Sleeping
Remodeling rule: Before the housing market collapsed, homeowners sought master bedroom suites. There was a large bathroom, workout space, walk-in closet, sitting area, fireplace and maybe a cocktail bar in the corner.
Remodeling rule: For a while, environmentally friendly homes skewed toward the obscure and expensive. Choices included bamboo flooring, solar panels and fancy recycled materials. But homeowners realized some green improvements take years to return on their investment.
Consumers, meanwhile, face higher energy costs including gasoline prices. The immediate goal is lower utility bills. Forget LEED certification that rewards measurable green building design.
Among the green designs, Daum says, wrapping the water heater system was the most cost-effective.
Nearly 20 percent of all home energy used goes to the water heater, the second-largest energy guzzler in the home after heating and cooling. Then cordon off unused rooms, install lower-energy light bulbs and call it day.
This lavish trend has given way to smaller bedrooms designed to showcase a bed (shocking!) for sleeping.
Homeowners "would rather be outside and not upstairs and inactive," Dickinson says.
Bathtubs don't need to be the size of a wading pool. Smaller Bathrooms
Remodeling rule: There are fewer requests for his and her sinks. Bathtubs don't need to be the size of a wading pool. Instead of giant bathrooms, closets are remodeled into half-baths. Older, antique sinks can be mixed with newer fixtures including compact standing showers. And pass on the toilet with a view, the adjacent library, TV and telephone.
"You don't have to have a giant-sized bathroom," Dickinson says.
Extra Bedrooms, Closets and Other Standbys
Remodeling rule: While homeowners are altering their remodeling tastes, perennial home improvement favorites still apply. For example, adding a bedroom or more closet space remain popular remodeling choices. So, too, are resurfacing kitchen cabinets and countertops.
"Yes remodeling kitchen and bathrooms will create the biggest value," says building expert Daum. "But you don't always get the biggest bang for the buck because they also cost the most."
Daum advises taking a cue from spec, model homes that use the cheapest materials for the biggest visual impact.
Downstairs Master Bedroom/Elevator
Remodeling rule: In the new economy, fewer homeowners can afford snow-bird paradises in warmer climates. As we age and are likely to live longer in existing homes, demand is rising for roomy, ground-floor living spaces. As few homes feature downstairs master bedrooms, elevators and ramps make sense for higher resale value, Dickinson says.
More consumers want outdoor living space. Patio/Outdoor Spaces
Remodeling rule: Partly because we spend so much time with wireless gadgets, more consumers want outdoor living space.
"The greatest trend in residential architecture over the last 10 to 20 years has been the desire of homeowners to connect their homes to the environment," Dickinson writes.
The upshot is homeowners seeking living spaces and kitchens, which spill into outdoor patio areas. Porches are wider so they're actually used.
Remodeling rule: The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and mobile devices have made sound-proof man caves obsolete. Turns out many homeowners don't want to be that isolated, and simply roam around the house and work wherever they want.
"Discreet home offices have kind of evaporated," Dickinson says.
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By Heesun Wee, CNBC.com