Home Improvement 101

Home improvement is the activity of renovating and repairing one’s home, including the construction of additions to it. This is different from the remodeling of commercial or public buildings, which involves the alteration and expansion of a building to meet new functional requirements.

The concept of home improvement has a long history. Before the industrialization of society, it was common for craftsmen to undertake home repairs and improvements. With the advent of urbanization and mass production, however, large-scale factory-type housing replaced craftsman-built structures, and home repair shifted toward hired maintenance staff and contractors to handle major jobs like replacing a furnace or painting a room.

After World War II, government mortgage insurance programs and highway construction facilitated suburban development. This, combined with the increasing availability of credit, led to the growth of the home improvement industry as a way for homeowners to improve their homes and boost their sense of ownership and belonging. As a result, the popularity of home-center chains such as Lowe’s and Home Depot increased, and do-it-yourself (DIY) activities boomed as consumers turned to home improvement shows and other media to get ideas for improving their own homes.

Whether they are sprucing up their kitchen or installing a security system, today’s homeowners are more likely to be planning projects that will increase the value of their homes, rather than simply improve their living space. But how do they know which upgrades will add the most value? And how do they avoid overspending or going into debt?

A few simple upgrades, such as painting, re-grouting tile and power washing the exterior of your house, can make your home look better without running up your credit card bill or emptying your emergency fund. But even when you are ready to take on bigger projects, it is important to keep in mind that if you want to sell your home in the future, any improvements you make need to appeal to the broadest range of buyers. For example, a custom-built in-ground swimming pool may be attractive to you, but it will not likely attract many potential buyers.

Before you start any work, be sure to research contractors carefully. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations and then talk to previous customers. Also, be sure to check references and licenses. In New York, the law requires that all contractors and subcontractors be licensed. In general, a contractor’s license must be in the name of an individual and may not be held by a corporation or other entity. If you are unsure about whether a particular individual or firm is licensed, call the department of consumer affairs. A representative will be able to tell you whether that person or entity is licensed to perform home improvement work in your town, city, village or borough. If they are not, you should find a different contractor.