Illustration: Joyce Hesselberth
The Spruced Roost
Chicagoans don’t mind throwing money down the drain-at least not if they’re paying for home improvements. Fourteen percent of Chicagoans have done some remodeling of their kitchens in the past 12 months, compared with 12 percent nationally, according to a survey by Scarborough Research. And 25 percent have improved their bathrooms, compared with 21 percent nationwide.
“Bathrooms and kitchens are the rooms that make the most sense to remodel,” says Yuri Birg, chief executive of the Lincolnshire builder Greenview Homes. Not only do styles change the quickest in those rooms, he says; up-to-date kitchens and baths can jazz up a house visually and financially. Money sunk into bathroom improvements-the most popular home remodeling project-nets sellers an average return of nearly 103 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors, while kitchen remodeling jobs-the third most popular proj-ect after deck additions-repay approximately 85 percent.
Birg says his clients can spend from $10,000 to $50,000 to renovate a bathroom, and $15,000 to $100,000 to renovate a kitchen, but the average home remodeler in Chicago spends far less-$1,923 a year, according to Scarborough, slightly more than the national average of $1,743. There’s a lot you can do on even less. To revamp a kitchen or bathroom on a shoestring, says Birg, consider replacing cabinet hardware, restaining cabinets, or creating a new backsplash for sinks.
|Remodeling by the Numbers|
Percentage who undertook home improvement projects, past 12 months
Photograph: Alice De Haven
Our town is still in the slow lane when it comes to hybrid cars. Only 2,122 of the gas sipping vehicles-which can cost $19,000 to $48,000 and get up to 60 miles per gallon-were registered locally in 2004, according to R. L. Polk & Co. That ranked just eighth in the country, far behind Los Angeles, the leading city, with 10,399.
Tax breaks can boost sales, says Bradley Berman, editor of Hybridcars.com. Anyone who buys a hybrid is eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $3,150. California, home to nearly one-third of the nation’s hybrid cars, also offers numerous local tax incentives, including the right to drive solo in the carpool lane. Illinois offers no tax incentives for hybrids.
|Where the Hybrids Are|
|1. Los Angeles|
|2. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose|
|3. Washington, D.C.|
|4. New York|
|9. San Diego|
This Bud’s for You
Paging Dr. Sigmund Freud: Chicago may be in need of some couch time. Locals devote far more of their annual flower budget to Mother’s Day (18 percent) than to Valentine’s Day (10 percent), according to the Society of American Florists. Then again, maybe therapy isn’t needed-the same pattern holds true across the country. Chicagoans buck national trends by allocating more of their flower budget to Easter and Passover (18 percent), compared with the national average (11 percent). Women buy some 64 percent of Mother’s Day flowers (in Chicago, 11 percent of women buy flowers for themselves). Mixed flowers are most popular, followed closely by roses. Christmas and Hanukkah generate the highest proportion of spending on flowers: 24 percent in Chicago and 31 percent nationwide.