Home Improvements to Watch for in 2021

Home Improvements to Watch for in 2021

As many homeowners will list their home for resale at some point in the future, here we offer some home improvements you can do now to ensure a successful home sale when the time comes. Also, if you are building a new home, you may find some of these suggestions helpful when designing your new home. See our other posts: New vs. Resale: Peace of Mind and Cost of Ownership - Resale Value

You probably had a lot of big plans for the year 2020; traveling and gathering alike. But with all the changes in society due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of those things have been put on hold due to social distancing efforts and quarantine safety measures. That said, your home environment has probably become extremely important not only for safety but also for your mental health and overall well-being.

If you’re curious as to what the forecast for home improvements in 2021 looks like, read on for some tips and tricks that will help you plan your next renovation, both economically and rationally.

The Importance of Home Improvements

Putting money back into your home can be a huge advantage for many people. While you may be sacrificing some money upfront to finance renovations, luckily you will be able to reacquire some cash on the back end if you ever sell your home.

If you’d like to make some improvements to your home in 2021, it’s necessary to weigh the pros and cons of each prior to breaking ground. For starters, you will want to make note of the current market value of your home so you can measure the risk of your renovation plans. Be sure to assess your property value beforehand and how it compares to other houses for sale in your area. Pursuing costly improvements may not be worth it based on factors out of your control like where your home is located, changes in the economy, and interest rates.

However, there are some projects that have withstood the test of time in terms of providing value to your home. The key is choosing which upgrades to do when and budgeting for them over the course of homeownership. Fortunately, several of these upcoming trends and improvements coincide nicely with desirability when balancing resale value and pandemic living situations.

Upcoming Trends and Improvements

This year has given us all a lot to think about! When it comes to trends and improvements to try out in your home, consider the following in terms of what will be worth your time and investment, so you don’t encounter any more headaches than you have to in 2021.

Light and Airy Surroundings

After all of the time we’ve spent indoors this last year, it’s no wonder that light and airy surroundings will be a focal point for 2021. Windows and doors are one area of the home that rarely get a facelift until major problems start to develop. Staying proactive on their maintenance and upkeep can go a long way for your improvement expenditures.

If you are in the market for new windows and doors, choosing models that allow in more light and natural air will go a long way in terms of your investment. Believe it or not, window replacement has an ROI of a whopping 81% while door replacement averages a 74% ROI, meaning you will get much of your money back when it comes time to sell.

If you don’t plan on putting your home on the market any time soon, you still benefit either way. For example, did you know that natural light provides many health benefits? In a time when things look bleak, boosting the amount of natural light in your home can help improve your sleep, increase the amount of vitamin D you receive, and reduce the negative effects of seasonal depression. If you’re feeling trapped due to the pandemic, now may be the perfect opportunity to lighten your mood and your home by including more room for natural light.

VELUX Skylights Bedroom

(Photo courtesy: VELUX)

Bathroom Bespoke

Catering your home to the specific needs of you and your family is essential to foster a hospitable environment. If everyone in the house is fighting over the same vanity, it may be time to find some room for improvement to your bathroom, like utilizing space-saving solutions.

Whether you add a new one completely or simply update the one, or multiple you already have, you can’t go wrong with putting this project at the top of your to-do list. Studies show that a bathroom redesign can award you upwards of 70% on your ROI, meaning that when it comes time to sell you will reap some major compensatory benefits. And, with everyone confined to one house, having a more functional bathroom will also save you plenty of aches and pains as well!

All Things Considered

This year has presented homeowners with a lot of overwhelming challenges. From isolating during quarantine to abiding by stay at home orders, people’s homes have become so much more than just a place to rest their heads. That’s why taking the time to properly plan any improvements will give you plenty to look forward to in 2021, even if you are stuck at home!

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Photo: <a href='https://www.freepik.com/photos/people'>People photo created by yanalya - www.freepik.com</a>

Futureproofing: Another Reason to Buy New

Futureproofing: Another Reason to Buy New

Your expectations for the future will have a big impact on identifying the best home for you. How long do you see yourself living in the new home? Life happens! What will likely change, such as kids moving out or parents moving in? Are aging-in-place features important? Is your home easily adaptable to future needs? Wider doorways may not be feasible at a later date. You’re single, so two sinks in your bedroom suite’s bathroom and a private toilet area may not be important to you but ignoring such amenities could be a real drawback in the future.

None of us has a crystal ball. Prior to 2020, who imagined the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would bring? Still, when it comes to our homes, looking at what’s popular today provides some insight into what we can expect to likely be popular five to ten years from now. Continuing the bedroom suite bathroom example – large showers are in demand, particularly “curbless” showers with no lip or threshold to step over. Safer and more comfortable, choosing such an amenity when building your new home is a wise choice, especially compared to a resale home with combination tub/shower or a tub with separate, modest-size shower. Even something as mundane as cleaning the shower is a factor – small showers are harder to clean because there’s simply not enough room to move around when you are standing in that shower.

Storage and organization has become a higher priority with today’s home buyers. Neighborhood restrictions prohibiting sheds, coupled with our seemingly insatiable appetite for more stuff (along with our reluctance to part with it!) has fueled the interest in larger garages with more room for storage. In the Palmer (plan #42057), note the parcel drop at the front porch alongside the garage for securing home deliveries – freeing you up from having to wait around for the delivery driver to pick up/drop off packages for your home-based business. Increased storage extends to the bigger closets in our homes, deep walk-in kitchen pantries and flexible storage areas – particularly those that can be accessed from outside. As a rule of thumb, more square footage is being devoted to storage in today’s new homes than what you usually find in resales, a trend that is likely to continue.

The Palmer (below) provides extra storage in its 3-car garage as well as storage accessed from outside (behind the garage). Look at that kitchen pantry! Another draw – privacy for the covered porch.

Outdoor living space, already a “must-have” for many new home buyers, gained even further importance during the pandemic. Better than a simple patio or deck, prospective buyers wanted a roof over that space so that they didn’t necessarily have to cancel their outdoor plans just because it was raining. The Palmer plan has its covered patio to the side, behind the pantry, providing yet another desired amenity – added privacy. Sure, many resale homes have outdoor living spaces, too, but do they integrate with the home’s design, or look as if they were merely added-on at some point?

We assess an amenity’s value by both what we ourselves personally know and our experience with it.  Something as elementary as a pull-out wastebasket drawer in the kitchen. Once you’ve experienced that simple pleasure, you’ll never settle for less. We also observe the value we see others place in it, especially if we think its popularity is increasing. Millennials have largely ignored and passed over those 5,000 square foot-plus “McMansions” popular with their parents’ generation. Older homeowners have sometimes lost money when selling those larger homes they no longer need or want due to a lack of buyers. But 32-inch wide interior doors throughout the home and laundry rooms that don’t double as the entry from the garage – those are futureproofing must-haves. When it comes to resale, Realtors tell us that regardless of the presence of a tub in the primary suite bathroom, if there isn’t a nice shower, many of today’s prospective home buyers are simply going on to the next home.

There will come a point in time when your new home goes on the market as a resale. Thoughtful design today translates into better resale tomorrow. Take curb appeal. It not only makes your home more attractive now, but it can also have a significant impact on the future resale of your home, both in terms of how quickly you get offers and the perceived value of your home. Example – the humble garage door. As with your front entry door, an attractive garage door enhances curb appeal!

The Rainey plans below share a common floor plan, but exude distinctive exterior styling. While a fairly traditional garage door style can work for the Rainey Gables (left), that simple 32-panel garage door would detract from the Rainey Chase's contemporary design (middle), and the Rainey Farm's Modern Farm House design (right). 

Choosing a brand-new home, with today’s most-wanted amenities, will be significantly more attractive to most prospective future buyers than if you’re trying to resell a home that was already 30 years old when you bought it.   

Next time - What Your Home Says About You.

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Cover plan featured: Palmer (plan 42057)

Buying New Avoids Obsolescence

Buying New Avoids Obsolescence

Deep entertainment centers originally designed to accommodate large tube-type TV’s… desks in kitchens, which become clutter magnets… two-story high ceilings that echo and are expensive to heat and cool… hard to reach plant shelves that need dusting… depressing laundry/mud room entries from the garage… amenities such as these can make homes feel old and obsolete. The age of your home often reflects design features and amenities popular at that time. Generally speaking, the older the home, the farther away its design is from what today’s home buyers may be looking for.

The average age of owner-occupied homes in America is 37 years (American Community Survey from the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB). Particularly over the last four decades, professional home designers have catered to evolving home buyer preferences. This, in turn, has somewhat diminished the appeal and desirability of resale homes as prospective buyers factor in the added costs and hassles of remodeling along with the home’s purchase price.

Design Basics’ Monroe home plan (now retired) was popular three-plus decades ago. It is two steps down from the entry into the formal living room, and there is also a step down into the “sunken” family room at the back. Unified great rooms for entertaining are more in vogue today, but not step-downs into living spaces. Similarly, the home’s formal dining room plus separate dinette has fallen out of favor compared to a single eating area, especially one that’s expandable for large get-togethers. The majority of buyers today prefer island kitchens to peninsula layouts, and the Monroe’s little pantry next to the dishwasher isn’t going to turn any heads. That kitchen is also closed off from the living and dining rooms, in contrast to the popularity of today’s open designs.

The vanity in the Monroe’s upstairs suite is wide enough to replace with the much more desirable double sink variety, but the skinny 24-inch wide doors leading into the bathroom, toilet area, and walk-in closet, as well as the hall bathroom, are considered drawbacks today. And it would be virtually impossible to finish living space in the Monroe’s basement with anything much taller than a seven-foot high ceiling. 

Monroe - #746 ML
Monroe - #746 UL
Herndon - #29318 ML
Herndon - #29318 UL

In contrast, the Herndon (plan 29318) has a flex room up front that could easily be closed off for a home office, and this design is wide open across the back. The island kitchen is served by a large walk-in pantry and coming in from the garage, a drop zone, seat, and coat closet rather than the laundry room. Upstairs, the hall bathroom is a compartmented layout with two sinks, alongside the conveniently located laundry room. Your bedroom suite offers great storage, two sinks in the bathroom, and a five-foot shower with the option of also having a soaking tub.

Though 35 square feet smaller and 10 feet narrower, the Herndon plan obviously was designed for today’s buyers.

Resale home prices loosely correlate with the home’s age, which makes sense as pricier, newer resale homes may have fewer design-related deficiencies. On the other side of the equation, new construction homes command a price premium – for example, they typically cost “more per square foot” than resale homes. Resale or new, purchasing a home is a large investment and price is important. It’s a number, and it represents a long-term commitment. But it is more than just a number, as it reflects your priorities, what you are willing to trade-off or settle for, and peace of mind – the topic of our next blog post.

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Cover plan featured: Herndon (plan 29318)

Building a Stronger, Safer Home

Building a Stronger, Safer Home

How your choices affect the cost of your new home.

People expect their new home to be a strong, safe, well-built structure. After all, isn’t that what building codes are for? Well, the answer is YES...and NO. Building codes do establish some minimum performance criteria. But codes vary from location to location; they vary in their interpretation, inspection, and enforcement; and the most likely perils vary geographically.

As homeowner insurance premiums rise to cover ever-increasing claims, paying attention to stronger and safer construction details can pay off in reduced insurance premiums as well as peace of mind. And, many of the decisions to be made in this area are realistic only when the home is being built. The types of perils we are most likely to encounter are grouped below into three main areas: natural disasters; fire and water damage; and personal security.


High Winds

It doesn’t have to be a tornado or hurricane. Every year, high winds cause billions of dollars in damage to homes across the country. Essentially, when wind strikes against your home, several unfortunate things can happen. Your home can be lifted up and be slid off its foundation. Wind forced up under the eaves of your roof may tear the roof off. Wind can also cause the house to rack (lean) or cause an upper floor to shift where it is connected to the main floor.


Illustration courtesy of Simpson Strong-Tie.
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Simpson Strong-Tie Wind Graphic

The solution is to create a strong structure by providing what is called a “continuous load path.” This means making sure the roof is strongly attached to the walls; the first and second stories (of a two-story home) are reinforced where they connect; and that the connections for the home to its foundation are strong and secure.

Certain types of building systems, such as concrete wall systems and Structurally Insulated Panels (SIP), are inherently stronger than conventional “stick-framing.” Yet, attention must still be paid to properly attaching the roof (and how SIP wall panels are attached to the foundation).

The Simpson Strong-Tie company, manufacturer of metal connectors used in home building, has developed a prescriptive method for building homes to withstand varying levels of high winds. For less than $1,000 more for a typical-size new home, additional connectors will make it much more likely to withstand high winds.

Siding and Sheathing

In strong winds, debris, tree branches, etc., can be turned into dangerous projectiles. The insurance industry has shot
2” x 4” wood studs out of a cannon at 80 mph at common exterior wall structures. Masonry siding materials have fared well, but they’re typically more expensive and may only be used on the front of the house, if at all. The 2” x 4”s more easily penetrated other siding materials.

There are a wide variety of siding materials available today, the most popular of which include vinyl, hardboard, fiber-cement, and engineered wood. Fiber cement and engineered wood tend to better survive severe weather, and various levels of wind and impact resistance can be found in each category. As with roof coverings, high wind and impact rated siding may qualify for homeowner insurance discounts. Talk to your insurance agent.

The exterior wall sheathing (the material attached to the outside of the framing studs) is your next line of defense after the siding. Insulating rigid foam sheathing, while beneficial for energy efficiency, provides little protection against airborne projectiles. Engineered wood (plywood or OSB) are better choices. And, in the face of strong winds or seismic disturbances, properly nailed engineered wood sheathing also adds structural rigidity to the walls.


If extreme pressures from high winds cause a window to fail or airborne debris shatters the glass, the damage, particularly from water, can be extensive. Especially in coastal areas or those along "tornado alley," windows with high design pressures or windows with impact-rated glass can be a wise choice. Functional storm shutters and storm screens are other solutions for window protection.


Fire Damage

There were approximately 380,000 residential fires in 2018 in the U.S., according to FEMA. Several prudent measures can greatly reduce your home’s risks associated with fire. Outside, the materials used on the exterior of your home can reduce the likelihood of wildfire igniting your home. Non-combustible materials are best: fiber cement siding; tile, metal, slate, concrete, or fire-rated asphalt shingles, etc.

Inside your home, building codes require smoke detectors, which may provide precious additional seconds for your escape. Create a family escape plan and rehearse it (including the meeting spot outdoors where you will rendezvous). Consider especially how people will escape second-floor rooms if hallway access is blocked. In the kitchen, a fire extinguisher is recommended. Be sure it is rated for all types of fires (grease, electrical, etc.).

Water Damage

According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than one in fifty homes in the U.S. experience extensive non-weather-related water damage each year. While there is little we can do to protect our homes from a nearby river overflowing its banks, much of the flooding we encounter is due to leaks that occur within our homes. Sinks, toilets, and bathtubs overflow... washing machine hoses burst... water heater tanks rupture... all spelling disaster.

Water leak detection + automatic water shut-off devices are quickly becoming popular. As the name suggests, such systems typically consist of small water sensors placed where catastrophic leaks might occur (laundry, baths, water heater, kitchen). If these remote sensors get wet, they send an electronic signal to your smart phone and/or a shut-off device that turns off water to all parts of the home. The bottom line? You have a little puddle to clean up, not a flood!

Roost Smart Sensor System

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Roost Wi-Fi enabled Smart Sensor detects water leaks and sends an alert to your smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Roost)


Almost 300,000 homes are broken into every year in the U.S. According to law enforcement agencies, most unlawful entry is through doorways. The first, and most obvious step is to have dead bolt locks on all exterior doors, including the door from the garage into the home.

Exterior Doors and Locks

Three types of failures may occur when thieves attempt to kick in a door:

  • Poorly built doors will simply break apart under stress. High quality steel, fiberglass, or solid wood doors significantly reduce the chance of this occurrence.
  • Second, the strike, latch, or bolt can fail. Look for American National Standards Institute (ANSI) grading on the locking hardware. A grade 1 is strongest, offering the best protection, but more expensive. Grade 2 and 3 are acceptable in non-critical areas. Avoid locks with no grade at all. Also look for heavy gauge strike plates.
  • Third, the mounting hinges can pull away from the door frame. The best defense here is to use ANSI Grade 2 or better rated hinges and long 3” screws to secure the hinge to the doorframe. (And, if the door swings outward, be sure to use non-removable hinge pins!)

If thieves do not have to be concerned about making noise, they may drill a lock to gain access to your home. Some manufacturers have taken special precautions to safeguard against having their locks drilled; UL-437 rated locks meet universal standards for drill and pick resistance.


Lighting is one of the best deterrents to break-in. ‘Lightscaping’ is a term used to describe exterior lighting for both aesthetic value and security. A well-lit house presents a much higher risk of being seen and is therefore a less desirable target.

Lightscaping systems can be powered by either regular household current (120 volt) or low voltage (24 volt) supply. Low voltage systems can be less expensive to purchase and install, use only 1/3 as much power as household current systems, and are safer in the event of a cut or exposed wire.

Motion-activated light fixtures are an excellent alternative. The sudden presence of light can be enough to scare off thieves and can also grab the attention of anyone else in the neighborhood.

Whole House Surge Protection

With more and more products in our homes utilizing sensitive electronics, surge protectors can protect expensive entertainment systems, computers, communication equipment, appliances, and more from sudden voltage spikes or power outages. Inexpensive whole-house surge protectors can be installed in the home’s main breaker panel starting at under $200.

Garage Doors, Openers

Hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. treat thousands of victims of garage door related injuries every year. So that neither you nor anyone in your household show up in that statistic:

  • Select garage doors that are designed to reduce the likelihood of someone’s fingers getting pinched or crushed between the panels of the garage door as it closes.
  • Look for garage doors that use specially designed or enclosed springs that cannot fly free if they break.
  • Garage doors are one of the first areas of a home to fail in high wind conditions. If you are building in an area prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, or other high wind scenarios, consider choosing a garage door that is manufactured and rated for high wind and impact resistance.
  • If you install a keypad for the garage door opener, make sure it is mounted high enough that young children will not be able to play with the buttons.

Theft. The easiest way for would-be thieves to access your home is through an open garage door. It's almost an invitation for theft! The Chamberlain garage door openers with myQ® Garage & Access Control App allows you to open and close your garage door from your smartphone. It will also alert you if the garage door has been left open or if it is opened while you are away.

(Photo courtesy of Chamberlain)

Chamberlain myQ Garage App

AS A NATION, WE CAN BUILD BETTER HOMES. And one definition of “better” is stronger and safer!

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New Home Cost: Cheaper than Expected?

New Home Cost: Cheaper than Expected?

“When the price is higher, people tend to focus on the things that make it higher. When the price is lower people tend to focus on things explaining why it’s lower,” William Poundstone wrote in his book, Priceless. Which do you want? Prospective buyers touring your homes to figure out why your prices are cheaper, or having them appreciate what makes your homes more expensive?

In most markets, national/production builders can offer what appears to be the “best prices.” Rightfully so, as they may enjoy economies of scale that can provide certain cost advantages in terms of land, building products, and even labor. The model homes are attractively presented, consumers notice the Delta faucets and Whirlpool appliances, and the sales representatives show how easy it would be to own one of their homes. (Photo courtesy: Delta Faucet)

Delta faucet

Some of these builders deliver an outstanding value, but oftentimes, in checking online reviews and apps such as Next Door, the builder’s reputation, quality, and customer service may be suspect. Buyers reason that is how the builder can price their homes cheaper. Aware of this, some buyers will accept those risks and buy on price; others rule out that builder, fearing the potential disappointment and regret.

If you’re not the lowest price builder in your market, your challenge is to help possible buyers identify what makes your homes more expensive. Those factors, if they matter to the buyer, will help them justify choosing you, so you may also need to help those folks appreciate why you build that way and/or include those amenities. Remember, buyers buy on emotion and subsequently justify those decisions rationally. Wanting to buy a home based on factors other than the lowest price is emotional.

Hy-Lite Awing Window

Some of the factors might be obvious – the Craftsman touches add to their home’s curb appeal. They fall in love with the look, can’t wait for their friends to see it, and value aesthetics. Other factors might require demonstration – the glass block windows (photo courtesy: Hy-Lite®) in the suite’s bathroom that provide both light AND privacy, plus crank out for fresh air, too! Factors might even be hidden – like the high performance insulation that will make their home more comfortable to live in, and is estimated to save them $XX monthly in utilities, giving them “bragging rights” as well as appealing to their desire to be environmentally responsible.

So, how do you make sure new home shoppers become aware the many reasons your home is a better value, even when it is more expensive? Besides the obvious model home tour, focus on rapport and trust. Rapport is a two-way street. The buyers want to know more about you, your company, and the homes you build. On the flip side, they’ll appreciate talking with someone who listens, cares, and truly has their interests at heart. Trust takes a little longer, though most people initially believe people they meet are trustworthy until they have reason to doubt. Knowledge of home building and your models is an important component of establishing trust. So is discovering things you have in common with the hopeful buyers (e.g., affiliations, schooling, interests, hobbies, preferences, etc.) – such similarities can go a long way with both rapport and trust. People like to do business with others like themselves. Transparency also aids in building trust, especially when it comes to pricing. Think pre-priced options and upgrades. Intriguing signage in your model home that calls attention to a specific feature that might be overlooked or under-appreciated can aid your buyer’s learning about amenities they would really want, but may not have even been aware of, further establishing trust.

As a business thought-leader and author, Seth Godin points out, price is a story, “People form assumptions and associations based on your pricing.”

Hyundai’s pricing strategy is very different from that of Mercedes Benz, and they sold a million and a half more vehicles world-wide last year than Mercedes. Yes, people form assumptions about Hyundai and Mercedes vehicles based in part on their pricing. But Mercedes sales pros probably aren’t losing any sleep over Hyundai prices!

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