Have new home sales hit bottom?

Consumer Reports News: April 25, 2011 04:53 PM

Sales of new homes haven't been this low since JFK was president and Trini Lopez's "If I Had a Hammer" was on the charts. Some beleaguered home builders are even giving away cars in a bid to jump-start sales, according to the New York Times. But today's federal Commerce Department report offers signs that such sweetheart deals won't last forever.

Signs of recovery include an 11.1 percent sales boost in March over February's record lows. The median price of a new home inched up to $213,800, while the backlog of unsold new homes dropped. Mortgage rates are still attractive at below 5 percent. Despite these glimmers of good news, Wells Fargo economist Anika Khan told the Wall Street Journal she doesn't expect annual new-home sales to hit their usual 770,000 for four more years.

With buyers feeling so skittish, the best recourse may be to boost the value of the home you have now by making vital renovations and repairs. Here's some products from our Ratings that'll help.

Roofing and siding. CertainTeed's Grand Manor laminated asphalt shingles ($213 per 100 square feet) did well in our tough tests of shingles and add a classic, slate-like look. And we found other top products that deliver the layered look of laminated asphalt for a fraction of that price. KP Perfection Shingle VSPC ($240 per 100 square feet) is one of several plastic siding products that effectively mimic cedar shingles. Here, too, our siding Ratings include vinyl and fiber-cement that offer the look of natural materials for far less.

Exterior paint. California Paints' $39-per-gallon Fres-Coat Velvet Flat and Valspar's DuraMax Satin, $35, were excellent among the flat and satin exterior paints we tested. If you want to jazz up some trim or a door, Sherwin-Williams' Duration Semi-Gloss, $60, topped our tests.

Wood and deck stains. Sikkens Certol SRD Semi-Transparent stain, $40 a gallon, is our top semitransparent stain. Semi-transparents let some of the grain show through but typically need to be refinished every two to three years. Two solid-color (opaque) stains we tested last longer, emit fewer VOCs, and can also be used on siding and fences for as little as half the price.

New Ratings. In early May, our updated reports on exterior paints and wood stains will be online and on newsstands. We'll also feature a report on how to make home improvements that deter burglars and Ratings of door locks. In the meantime, enjoy Lopez's vintage performance before swinging your own hammer and brush.

Gian Trotta

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