May 2020



In 2017, the National Association of Realtors introduced the Joy Score, which measures happiness and ranks the renovations that bring the most of it to homeowners. The Joy Score is more about the size of a homeowner’s smile than the size of the return on investment generated by a given remodeling job. The biggest smile maker? A complete kitchen renovation, which sticks the landing with a perfect 10. 


“People are so into entertaining and really want their kitchen to be the focal point,” says Doug King, owner of King Contracting in St. Petersburg, Fla., and president-elect of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“Homeowners want a bar and an island in the kitchen and are sacrificing walls that block views and natural light to open the space and to create seating in the kitchen,” says King, a certified remodeler.

Tim Ellis, president of T.W. Ellis Design/Build/Remodel in Forest Hills, Md., and the 2019 remodelers chair for the National Association of Home Builders, says functionality is key. “

The kitchen is the heart of the house, where everyone is going to be. We’re designing around that so now  


Running a close second on homeowner wish lists is creating a haven that feels like a spa getaway. Like the kitchen, the bathroom is personal as well as customizable to the homeowner.

“People like their bathrooms to feel like a spa, to be nice and clean and feel like more of a retreat,” King says.

The possibilities for transforming a bathroom into a lavish retreat are endless, from painting the room in earthy colors and installing dimmer switches to a full-on remodel that includes radiant heating underfoot and a luxurious rainfall showerhead above.

“It might be a soaking tub or a walk-in shower,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the Realtors association. “Adding or remodeling a bathroom is very popular. People feel happier in their home after they tackle that project. Plus, it has a high Joy Score.” 


Storage and finding ways to better organize are key concerns among homeowners.

“This is always on the wish list,” says master certified remodeler Dennis Gehman, owner and founder of Harleysville, Pa.-based Gehman Design Remodeling and treasurer of the remodeling industry group. “Homeowners really want closets with organizing systems and storage solutions in the attic and/or basement for off-season items.”

Like the full kitchen renovation, a closet makeover scored a perfect 10 on the Joy Score. It can be as simple as buying a DIY closet-organizing kit from a big-box store to a much more elaborate (and expensive) system that includes custom cabinetry fitted with a variety of nooks and crannies, cubbies, shelves and drawers, depending on the owner’s needs.


One of a homeowner’s most coveted home improvements is also one of the easiest DIY projects. A fresh coat of paint, especially when it is carried through the entire house, can make a home feel brand new.

“Having a full interior paint job really brings a lot of happiness to people,” notes Lautz. “The only two items with a higher Joy Score are a kitchen renovation and closet renovation.”

Painting is one of the least expensive ways to give a home’s interior a facelift and keep it from looking dated. Even targeting specific areas to paint — a single room, doors and trim — makes a difference and contributes to the goal of adding more personality to the home.

Currently reigning in popularity among homeowners, according to Gehman, is a lighter color palette of light whites, grays and light blues.

“People are using the same colors throughout the house,” he notes.  


Installing wood or luxury vinyl flooring or refinishing the wood floors come to mind when homeowners set their sights on upgrading or modernizing their flooring.

“Real hardwood flooring has a huge wow factor,” says Lautz. “You notice it right away and it very much appeals to an owner.”

Whether to achieve more functionality and livability or enhance the beauty and aesthetics of the home, homeowners feel a huge sense of accomplishment with this finished project. They also enjoy their home more and have a greater desire to be in it.

Replacing carpeting with wood or vinyl also plays to a homeowner’s dual desire to be as low- or no-maintenance as possible.

“People want the lowest maintenance possible, from the flooring on up, and that means no carpet,” says Ellis. “They don’t want to vacuum. They just want to run the jet-spray mop and be done with it.

“When I was growing up, my dad would clean window screens on the weekend, but nobody has time for that anymore. When time is freed up, people don’t want to be vacuuming. They want to enjoy their home, not for it to be a chore. Especially now!”

Kathy Witt is a travel columnist and feature writer for Kentucky Living magazine.