FOCUS ON REAL ESTATE: Porch renewal

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
The idea seemed simple on paper. My wife and I knew something had to be done with the aging front porch on our house at 311 S. Main in Hillsboro.


Renegade chunks of it were breaking free as if intending to secede. We had begun to fear that the whole thing was less than stable and could collapse if we didn’t do something soon. So we began considering the range of possibilities, from cosmetic fixes to a complete overhaul.


That was more than one and a half years ago. Today we are the proud parents of a completely rebuilt front porch that should last longer than we do. It’s been a long journey, but we believe the final product has been worth the wait and the inconvenience.


We are less sure about whether our decision to pump thousands of dollars into a new porch was cost effective, though. Since we don’t plan to sell our house until we move to the home for the aged, we don’t feel a need to increase the value of our home for the purpose of selling it. Most area real estate agents agree that a good, solid porch adds value to a house, but sellers should not expect to get a dollar-for-dollar return on the investment.


“A new porch or remodeled porch is not going to add a whole bunch to the value of a house,” said Norman Craft of the Real Estate Center in Hillsboro. “However, any time you do something that makes your house more appealing, it will help. You won’t necessarily get your money back, but it will help the house sell more quickly.


Privacy is still a big issue with home buyers, Craft said. So screened back porches, decks and patios are important factors for those looking to purchase a home. Every potential buyer has a different idea of what he or she wants in a house.


“What I like and what you like are two different things,” Craft said. “Normally, the front of a house is not that big an issue.”


Becky Nuss of Hillsboro’s Real Estate Specialists has a different take on the value of front porches.


“The front porch gives the first impression of a house,” Nuss said. “It adds curb appeal. To me, the front porch tells a little about the people who live there. It says a friendly welcome to the home. Porches add value. How much depends on the rest of the house.”


Nuss said porch swings tend to get a buyer’s attention. She said she believes big porches are making a big comeback.


“When I look at new construction, they seem to have big wrap-around porches,” she said. “I think porches are coming back.”


Marlene Fast of Remax Associates of Hillsboro agrees.


“We seem to be heading that direction,” she said. “Porches are a neat thing. They are certainly going to have impact. People still like a nice porch.”


Fast said that while the condition of the rest of the house is the biggest issue, porches can be the deciding factor in closing a sale. She said people are still looking for decks, back porches and privacy.


Rhonda Carlson of Leppke Realty and Auction of Hillsboro said that in most cases, porch reconstruction would fall under the category of maintenance.


“You are probably not going to recoup the cost,” she said. “Certainly an attractive and well-maintained porch will add to the house’s appeal. If you have a porch that is sagging or separating from the house, it will help to fix it.”


That’s exactly the issue Bruce Anthony is facing with the porch on his home at 208 E. B in Hillsboro. In addition, the Tabor College education professor and his wife, Lorraine, were motivated by safety concerns.


After clearing some bushes from the front yard, the Anthonys discovered extensive damage to the front stoop on their Cape Cod home.


“The porch was falling off,” Anthony said. “The wall had buckled, and it was becoming a safety issue.”


In the Anthonys’ case, they are actually looking to decrease the size of their front porch.


“We want to open up the look of the house,” Anthony said. “So, we are going with a smaller porch and some landscaping. We are not really front-porch sitters. For us, accessibility is important.”


He said the style of the house does not lend itself well to a wrap-around porch. The Anthonys plan to incorporate some wrought iron railing that will be “perfect for a Cape Cod.” They are interested in maintaining the architectural integrity of the house.


In our case, safety was becoming an issue because our main pillars on both ends were moving away from the house.


We noticed the problem when we purchased the home in 1990, so we brought in a company out of Wichita to shore up the pillars. Workers ran a large metal rod down to solid rock, then welded a steel plate to the top of the pole. After lifting the pillars, they rested on the new platform.


It was a great idea, but it didn’t work. The bricks in the pillars began to deteriorate and seemed to be grinding themselves to pieces. The destruction accelerated the past couple of years to where we began to see growing gaps in the porch floor. We knew something had to be done.


We began looking in February 2000 for a contractor willing to take on the project , but only one showed up to take a look and provide a rough cost estimate. He promised to get back with us in the following month or two. He never did.


So the porch problems continued to proliferate. The floor worsened, the cracks in the pillars became larger, and eventually a sizable chunk dropped out of one of the pillars.


We became more nervous.


We continued to search for someone interested in performing what by now was obviously a complete overhaul. Fortunately for area contractors, but not so good for people like the Anthonys and the Woelks, the economy has remained strong, and contractors are much more interested in building new houses than fixing old ones.


This past February, I was attending my niece’s junior high basketball game in Goessel. I sat down next to Marlin Janzen, a high school teammate of mine back in the 1970s. I knew he worked for Kunkel Construction of Hillsboro, so I asked him how things were going. He said they were a bit slow at that moment. The company was between major projects.


I saw an opening, so I told him I had a semi-major job and asked if he thought his company might be interested in taking a look at it. A few days later, owner Bruce Kunkel was standing on our front porch. He said he would get back to us with an estimate, but he thought the porch project was possible.


To make a long story short, the Kunkel crew showed up the day after Memorial Day to begin work. In two days, the former pillars, wooden deck, support system and the ancient spirea bushes out front were gone. A system of triangular braces kept the top half of the house suspended above the gaping hole left by the removal of the porch. We had definitely reached the point of no return.


The first step in rebuilding the structure was placing a concrete footing on top of what remained of the old limestone-and-mortar base. Once that was accomplished, the crew poured a new rectangular wall. That was followed by a concrete cap.


We had Kunkel cut a diamond-shaped pattern into the floor to help control cracking and add a bit of artistic flair.


Once the deck hardened, new wooden pillars rose to meet the remaining top half of the porch. The Kunkel crew built rails and steps out of cedar, the most time consuming process of the project.


It was the middle of July when I started painting the new structure. It took two days to prime all the wood and about a week of off-and-on brush work to reach the point where the painting was considered finished.


In the meantime, I brought a pair of lights back to life in the two outside pillars. With my wife’s help, the glass coverings received a new stained-glass treatment.


I installed an electric-eye switch that turns the lights on at dusk and off at dawn. It’s pretty cool, if I may say so myself.


Adding to the cool factor, we had some of the old bricks, 200 of which I painstakingly cleaned by hand, inserted in the front wall to tie the new porch to the old house.


All that remains is to stain the concrete at some point in the near future. We are still looking into what all that task entails.


Having paid most of our construction, paint and hardware bills for the project, my next monetary concern, as for any major remodel, is how the improvements will affect my property taxes. Will they automatically take a dramatic leap?


Not necessarily, according to Marion County’s new appraiser, Dianna Carter.


“We look at what the property will bring on the market,” Carter said. “It all depends upon what work is done. If your property value has gone down in the past because of need for repairs, it will likely go back to what it was after the repairs are made.


“It is not automatic that a rebuilt porch, for example, will result in increased value to the home,” she added. “If, however, your house just had a stoop, and you add a big new porch, it likely will add to the market value, and the appraised value will increase.”


Carter said appraisers use a system called modeling to help determine value.


“We put all the characteristics of properties sold in the county into a computer,” she said. “It calculates by characteristics what attributed to that sale price. Modeling helps us determine the value of individual characteristics. Anything that affects the market value we are concerned about.”


Carter said 17 percent of the properties in the county are assessed each year. In addition, appraisers also check building permits to see where construction has taken place in the past year.


So, it’s a pretty good bet our porch will catch the attention of the appraisers this year. I just know the biggest plus for us can’t be measured in terms of money. It’s the pleasure we will derive each time we step out onto our newly repaired porch. And I don’t think that’s taxable.

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