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Remodeling resurgence

Nashua businesses enjoying a remodeling resurgence

Union Leader Correspoindent

January 19. 2014 3:39PM

Laurie Grebowski, who specializes in remodelling kitchens and bathrooms, says recreating an existing space is the biggest challenge for her as a designer. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

NASHUA — The business community took some time out Wednesday to help Fay's Fine Cabinetry on Main Street celebrate the renovation of their downtown showroom and the company's new entryway and signs.

Mayor Donna Lozeau started off the party by snipping a ribbon with a pair of golden Nashua Chamber of Commerce scissors and complimenting the new look, which was created with the help of a city grant for storefront facades.

And there were plenty of reasons to celebrate. The home remodeling industry has been enjoying a growth surge that is expected to continue for the next couple of years. In New Hampshire and throughout the country, homeowners have watched the value of their properties drop as much as 25 percent over the past six years. And while home values are starting to move back up, a lot of people are hunkering down and nesting in place. Rather than selling, many are renovating, remodeling and rebuilding the equity in their homes.

And that's good news for Fay's new owners, Laurie and Dave Grebowski, who bought the business from Norman Fay, who has been redesigning kitchens and selling high-end cabinets on Main Street for the past two decades. Fay said he will still be available to help the Grebowskis settle in and to consult on different projects.

Although Fay's offers top-of-the-line Wood-Mode and Brookhaven cabinets and accessories, home remodeling businesses aren't just catering to owners of big and expensive houses. According to Forbes, Home Depot, one of the leaders of the do-it-yourself home improvement industry, saw its stock jump 44 percent from 2012 to 2013. Home Depot's chief rival, Lowe's, watched the value of its shares increase 35 percent.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, homeowners who put off maintenance and upgrades during the deepest years of the recession are now investing in repairs and remodeling. The study forecasts continued annual 3.5 percent growth for the home remodeling industry over the coming years with a strong focus on practical improvements such as energy-saving retrofits.

Comfort and convenience

Patty Heath, a designer for Not Just Kitchens in Bedford, said the trend in New Hampshire has been more toward new styles, comforts and convenience.

"We aren't seeing a lot of people coming in looking to go green," she said.

"Kitchens being the heart of the home are where people are spending," said Heath. Bathrooms seem to be a close second.

And while homeowners may not be looking for the latest environmentally friendly fixtures and appliances, Heath said they are looking for products that won't require a lot of upkeep.

"A lot of people, especially those who are downsizing, are looking for products with clean lines and low maintenance," she said. "People don't want to clean those grout lines."

Remodeling isn't cheap, and Heath said a bathroom makeover can cost about $15,000 while a fully remodeled kitchen can run from $50,000 to $100,000.

"Remodeling is a different animal," said Fay, who has redesigned all types of rooms during his career. Fay, who still prefers a drafting table and an electric eraser over a computer design program, said that's the challenge and reward of the remodeling business.

"You have to work with what you have and design it to a client's tastes. You have to create an environment that is hitting all of the owner's requirements," he said.

According to the Harvard Study, home remodeling businesses with a strong focus on design have been challenged both by the DIY home improvement centers and by construction contractors and special trades that moved into the remodeling realm when new construction started tapering off in 2006. Still, of the approximately 650,000 residential remodeling companies that were in business in 2007, most were small businesses with revenue streams of $250,000 or less.

Fay said his business has been more of a niche market.

"The quality of the product has always been there," he said. "People who know how to design understand that."

Upgrading to sell

Some industry watchers say the remodeling boom is being driven by owners who are upgrading with an eye toward selling a few years down the road.

Jennifer Cote, a property appraiser who is also a Realtor for Re/Max in Nashua, said homes that have had even small renovations and upgrades sell faster and closer to the asking price than properties that need work and repairs.

Although the general rule of thumb among remodeling businesses is to keep it neutral if the plan is to sell, Cote said not all buyers are attracted to beige, white and grey.

"I like color," said Cote, who added that the kitchens and bathrooms are still the show stoppers, and the best rooms to build value in a home.

Although the traditional view in the home remodeling industry is that when new home starts are down remodeling is up, the new more positive outlook in the industry is trumping that notion. The Home Improvement Research Institute, which has forecast a 5.3 percent rate of growth for the industry this year, has found that homeowners invest in changes, remodeling and upgrades during the first years of ownership whether the home is new or has been standing for more than a century.

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