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Remodelers Busy in Northern Virginia

Contractors booked six months to a year in advance.

Northern Virginia home values are rising so fast, many homeowners are confronted with an interesting question: Is it better to take the equity that has accumulated in their homes by selling and starting over in a new home, or should they remodel their current home into their dream house?

In that light, remodeling has become a huge business in the area, with contractors booked months in advance for projects of all sizes.

Essentially, two groups of remodeling projects exist: room makeovers and expansions, said Sonny Nazemian, president of Michael Nash Custom Kitchen and Home, Inc.

“Thirty to 40 percent of our projects are expanding the space of the house, adding master suites, adding rooms,” he said. “The other 60-70 percent are kitchen and bathroom makeovers, which became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Kitchens and bathrooms have changed in style, Nazemian said, with function narrowly beating out form and design as priorities.

“Forty percent of a makeover project is decorative,” he said. “People want things to look nice.”

Like the other contractors, Michael Nash is booked eight or nine months in advance. The company won several Contractor of the Year (COTY) awards for 2004 from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, including two awards for “Residential Kitchen less than $30,000,” one award for “Residential Kitchen $30,000-60,000,” and one for “Bathroom Remodel less than $30,000.”

“We do not subcontract out anything, which is different,” Nazemian said. “Everything is done in-house. We have electricians, tile workers, plumbing, contractors, everything.”

The company, based in the City of Fairfax, recently expanded into Loudoun County, but the main focus remains in Fairfax County projects.

“We have about 50 field workers which allow us to keep busy,” Nazemian said. The projects can range in price from $25,000 for a simple kitchen make over that can take about a month, to a larger, $100,000 addition that may take three to four months. Michael Nash averages about 400 projects per year, he said.

“We do every aspect of the remodel,” he said. “From designing the project with the homeowners to doing the job to the interior design part, we do all of it. The beauty of the project is in the finishing touches,” he said.

SOME OTHER remodeling firms specialize in expanding an existing home.

“It seems like a lot of rambler or split-style houses that were very small and common are our biggest customers,” said Chris Neumann of Encompass Design Build of Vienna, a company that specializes in whole house renovations and large additions to homes.

“We’ve been adding front porches, whole top floors with new staircases, three and four bedrooms to homes,” he said “We come in and basically double the size of the house.”

Adding so much space to a house can be costly, with large projects ranging from $200,000 to $700,000, depending on the requests and budget of the homeowner and the amount of space desired.

“A small project can take between four and seven months,” Neumann said, with larger projects taking as long as nine months.

The popularity of remodeling projects has Neumann and his crew booked with work through November.

“We’re staffing up now and most of our work is referral based,” he said. “We’d like to grow to accommodate the growth, but we really want to keep a local focus.”

“We have three projects in Vienna going back to back, three streets apart from each other,” he said. It helps potential and current clients see how Encompass works and also gives a sense of how fast a project can be completed. “Plus it makes the jobs flow easier,” he said.

“We have neighbors coming by to watch us work on homes and get a lot of drive by referrals,” he said. Neighbors with similar houses get ideas and inspiration from watching the work progress on what is essentially the same house they own.

“It’s surprising that you can get something very dated and utilitarian and turn it into something with character with a major undertaking,” Neumann said.

“REMODELING HAS been trendy for a while now,” said Kelly Vogan, president of Vogan Associates, a construction group specializing in two story additions and kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects.

“People are starting to look into a kitchen, great room addition with a master bedroom suite upstairs, adding lots of room. We’re seeing more steam showers, more body spray systems in showers. I can’t say it’s new but it’s becoming very popular and it’s growing every year.”

Some projects Vogan offers include alternative methods of heating kitchens, such as putting metric radiant heat systems under tiled floors, to warm the floors during the winter. “It makes the floors more comfortable,” he said. “There’s also the option of running tubes under the floors and using hot water to heat the room, which means the floor becomes the radiator system.”

Working mostly in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, Vogan said “the phone has not stopped ringing” for projects in the past few years.

“We can’t keep up with the demand and it’s been that way for a long time,” he said. “The last slow down I remember was in 1990.”

Fifteen years of strong business is due in part to the ongoing strong job market in the area, fueled by the strong government presence in Northern Virginia, he said.

“The government’s here, biotechnology is here, lawyers and lobbyists, defense department, they’re all here,” he said. “We just keep going. We recently raised our rates a little bit and we haven’t seen a blip on the screen.”

“Houses are expensive. If you own your home and have a fair amount of equity, it might be easier to stay in a neighborhood you already know and like and remodel.”

With a six-month waiting list, Vogan said the success of the newly created kitchen and bathroom division with four workers dedicated to those specific jobs may eventually cause a shift in the company’s focus.

“We’re already swamped, we need more workers,” he said.

Kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects can range from $30,000 to $100,00, depending on what the homeowner wants. “A $30,000 remodeling project for one house might be very basic, with Ikea furniture, whereas a higher-end project might have granite countertops, tile floors, all of which can become very expensive per square foot,” he said.

Some advice to homeowners looking into remodeling?

“Be sure to check for credentials,” Vogan said. Vogan estimated that 90 percent of remodeling customers don’t ask to see a license or proof of insurance. “Also, it’s important to be realistic and know and stick with a budget.”

BASED IN McLEAN, Bowers Construction also works mostly on large remodeling projects, such as adding on master bedrooms, said Wilma Bower, co-owner of the company.

“The largest project we’re working on right now is a whole house remodel,” she said. “The house was built in the 1970s and we’ve gutted it, leaving one-third of the original house intact and completely redoing the home, the interior and the exterior and adding a good 1500 square feet to the house,” she said.

“In most cases, the homes we work on are older and people don’t want to leave but they want more modern conveniences that are being built into newer homes,” she said. “Adding a story to a house is about 60 percent of the work we’re currently doing, 10 percent are whole house remodels and the other 30 percent are master suite constructions with really big closets and master bathrooms.”

Bowers said that approximately 80 percent of her clients have elementary school aged children, making it easier to remodel than to move and change schools.

“Then again, 20 percent of our clients are retirees who want to refurbish their homes and want to have some of the nicer things like great rooms, master suites and things like that because they plan to live in their homes forever,” she said.

Bowers Construction is currently booked from six months to one year in advance, depending on the project.

“Customer service and satisfaction are our top priority and we refuse to grow to gut the demand,” she said. “Plus, finding extremely qualified people in this area is difficult and we’re not going to slap something together to meet the demand.”

Most projects Bowers Construction is currently working on are larger projects, ranging in price from $400,000 to $600,000, she said. “Especially in Fairfax County, the value of homes have risen so much people feel justified in putting that much money into their homes and making their homes exactly what they want the house to be.”