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In-law apartments, outdoor living spaces, and smarter kitchens may be here to stay

A soft economy prompted some homeowners to take a new look at their existing footprint.  Even as housing-market conditions turn a little brighter, many homeowners still opt to stay put and update their current quarters instead of selling at lower prices.

The numbers prove it.  Remodeling industry sentiment, as tracked by the National Association of Home Builders’ Remodeling Market Index (RMI), hit a five-year high in the fourth quarter.

In many cases, these decisions are fiscally motivated and reflective of the times, but the following remodeling trends may be here to stay:

Suite spot of the market.  Builders and remodelers are finding more demand for in-law apartments (typically called mother-in-law suites whether mom is the sole resident or not) as part of new additions or basement makeovers.  The first waves of baby boomers have reached their golden years and families are getting creative with longer-term care solutions.  For some families, this is ultimately a lower-cost option than assisted-living or nursing home care.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, 62 percent of builders surveyed were working on a home modification related to aging in 2010.  About 1 in 5 builders added an entry-level bedroom.  AARP is working with builders on a designation for Certified Aging in Place Specialists, who are trained in designing and modifying buildings for the elderly.  About 3,000 builders, contractors, remodelers and architects have been certified.

There’s another shift among the generations in some households.  A soft job market has occasionally landed grown children (and their families) back at mom and dad’s place, too.  Lengthy stays often lead to a call to a contractor.  Given demographic trends, these remodels have resale potential and are no longer seen as a design burden and deal-breaker for prospective buyers.  Remember to follow municipal building codes.

Backyard haven. Booming economic times led to luxury outdoor living—pricy natural stone hardscapes, gourmet grilling kitchens, and major electrical upgrades. The recession may have dinged this corner of the remodeling industry, but the concept survives.  In fact, investing in outdoor living spaces (and installing additional windows and doors for better inside-to-outside flow) has been a major part of even budget-minded upgrades within existing home footprints.  Consumers may be scaling back their wish list, but they’re not cutting back on outdoor entertaining and family time.  After all, if families are traveling less, they’re playing more at home.

Smarter kitchens.  Smarter doesn’t mean the kitchen does the cooking for you, but it can mean you’re in and out of there in less time.  The peak of the construction surge featured token real estate words like “granite,” “high-end appliances,” pre-packaged cabinet “suites,” and more.  It’s not that people now want low-quality kitchens, they’re just moving toward more customization.  Some are putting more money in pantries and utility rooms that keep the “guts” of the operation undercover.  They’re giving up dedicated food-prep square footage in favor of larger eating and family room areas.  They’re opting for open shelving and islands that do a lot of the heavy lifting, with loads of storage.  Kitchens are and will continue to look less like a work area and more like an extension of the living area.

By Rachel Koning Beals, Jan. 20, 2012, reprinted from US News & World Report/Money

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