The time has come: Your living-room carpet tells the story of just how much living you’ve done there.

Replacing it would be your cheapest option, but all you see on HGTV is hardwood floors. Do you take the plunge for hardwoods so you don’t wreck your resale value? What about the newer wood-look alternatives?

“It definitely depends on where you’re at in Omaha, the price and size of the house you’re in,” said Tim McElligott, owner of Rockbrook Floors.

There’s no single right answer for all homeowners. Local real estate agents, flooring retailers and homeowners who have replaced living- or family-room flooring say you must consider several factors when determining what will be the best choice for resale value and salability.

These include the timing of the replacement; the material relative to your family size, lifestyle and pets; and what is appropriate for your neighborhood, your home’s price point and your personal budget.

With advances in manufacturing technologies, consumers have more choices for wood-look flooring that is more convincing and competitively priced than in the past, but also carpeting that is on-trend and more durable.

“Anytime you’re thinking resale, the key is to keep your choices current,” said Corky Grimes, an agent with CBSHome Real Estate. “In the past, we counseled clients that décor tastes will change roughly every eight years. That pace seems to have quickened. A home may be ready for an update based solely on the age of its décor, which may or may not include the floor coverings.”

Others said homeowners struggling with the question should just pick what they like.

Carpet

Hardwood seems to dominate home design shows and magazines, but don’t assume that carpeting is not current. Many real estate agents report that carpeting is still the top choice in many Omaha homes’ living rooms.

To keep it current, avoid extremely dark or light colors, opting instead for today’s popular gray and brown shades. While frieze carpet — tightly curled or twisted yarn that hides footprints — is still popular, sculptured carpet, or a combination of cut and loop pile, is especially popular right now. The patterns can be a design statement and disguise foot traffic.

Quality carpeting can cost up to $12 per square foot, but builder-grade carpet runs about $2 a square foot (add 50 cents per square foot for padding and installation), making it one of the most cost-effective choices.

“Today’s carpeting can be extremely durable, pet- and stain-resistant,” Grimes said. “These carpets will probably be replaced by the owners by choice, not out of necessity, and don’t have to be expensive, comparatively speaking.”

Some of today’s popular carpet choices include speckles or colors that disguise dirt, said Adam Bacome, an agent with Complete Real Estate Group at Nebraska Realty. Remember, however, that carpet may hide dirt but not odor, and that can turn off buyers.

“Clean carpet is fine,” Bacome said. “I wouldn’t rip up good carpet to put in new laminate to sell a home.”

If your carpet is in bad shape or cheap, however, he would advise installing laminate or hardwood as an upgrade.

Wood

Hardwoods come in the traditional solid wood and in engineered wood, a composite made of recycled or scrap wood and fibers bonded together and covered with a thin veneer of solid wood on the surface. Costs for solid and engineered wood are comparable — $3 to $8 a square foot, with some exotic varieties reaching $14 a square foot. (Add $5 to $12 a square foot for installation.)

“Engineered wood flooring has opened the door to a multitude of great wood flooring choices,” Grimes said. “Some of these choices, because of availability, have become very competitively priced. However, depending on the wood chosen, the flooring can also be quite expensive.”

Kelly Gitt, a broker at RE/MAX Platinum, said engineered wood is one of the most popular floorings for living spaces today because of the wide variety of choices and its durability, sharp appearance and the ease of installation. Traditional hardwoods often require skilled craftsman (adding to the installation cost), while engineered wood can be more easily installed by do-it-yourselfers. It can be nailed or glued, or even clicked into place over a cushioned pad for what is called a “floating floor.”

“When you factor in labor costs, I find it to be a really affordable selection that the average family can handle,” Gitt said.

Ali Hult, a real estate agent with P.J. Morgan Real Estate and owner of custom homebuilder Anchor Holdings, said warm and rustic wood floors are a current favorite, whether solid or engineered.

All agents said wood floors are the No. 1 choice for living areas in some neighborhoods, such as Dundee, where buyers expect character and charm. One real estate agent said buyers touring carpeted homes in those neighborhoods go straight to a corner to pull up the carpet and check for hardwood.

Laminate

Elsewhere, laminate is a serious contender these days. Just as innovative technology has made engineered wood look more convincingly like solid wood, it’s taken laminate to a whole new level.

“In homes under $300,000, high quality, wood-look laminate floors are a great option,” Hult said. “Buyers can get the wide-plank and hand-scraped characteristics of real wood at an approachable price point, and the laminate is very low maintenance.”

While both engineered wood and laminate have cores made with a variety of composite materials and top coats of durable factory-applied finishes, laminate has a high-resolution image instead of a wood veneer. The photograph is of wood, metal, stone or other material.

“Now they have texture to them, and the widths they come in are not just one-size-fits all,” said Rockbrook Floors’ McElligott.

Laminate quality varies, resulting in a wide price range — from $1 to $7 a square foot. (Add $2 to $5 a square foot for installation.)

McElligott said higher quality laminates will look better and last longer. Shoppers are quick to point out that they can get laminate wood-look flooring at a home improvement store for 99 cents to $1.39 a square foot.

“That will be OK in a $100,000 house or less, but it won’t last for 10 to 15 years like the more-expensive laminate,” he said, adding that he credits a high-quality laminate for helping sell his second house. “It wore for 14 years, and it looked almost as brand new the day we sold it as when I installed it. ... When I sold the house, it was definitely an upgrade.”

A uniform look, for some buyers, may be more important than material, multiple real estate agents and retailers said. And a big faux pas is faux next to real.

Wood-look porcelain tile

Tim Gillespie, an Omaha insurance adjuster, routinely installs the same flooring type on each level of houses that he remodels and rents. In two recent remodels — one for his son and the other for his daughter — he chose wood-look porcelain tile.

Several real estate agents said wood-look porcelain tile is not a widely popular choice in the Omaha area because it can be cold and the installation can be expensive. But, after buying the tile online for a “tremendous discount” — $1.55 a square foot vs. $4 or $5 in the store — and installing it himself, Gillespie swears by it.

If you have pets, high traffic, kids or grandkids, nothing beats the durability of tile, with wood coming in a close second, he said.

Paying to install tile, however, could make it harder to recoup your investment, McElligott said. Tile must be installed on a concrete slab, or you’ll need to install concrete board, pushing labor costs up. While the wood-look porcelain tile popular today could cost you $4 to $6 a square foot, your total cost with labor would be more like $8 to $10 a square foot. If there’s carpeting and a pad to be ripped up, the labor price can climb higher.

But porcelain tile’s durability alone could make it the best investment and the best choice for a family with kids and pets who might live on it for a few years before the house is sold, he said.

Luxury vinyl planks

Another material not as popular as laminate and wood but gaining popularity is luxury vinyl, available in tile and planks. Scott Dietz, Nebraska territory manager for floor-covering distributor WC Tingle Co., said sales of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) have increased about 10 percent in each of the past four to five years for his company, which distributes to some of the area’s largest flooring retailers.

Don’t confuse LVT with sheet vinyl, which is rarely used in living areas, Dietz said.

LVT is similar to laminate in that it uses technology to replicate the look and feel of natural materials such as wood. But LVT is made using polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is moisture-resistant.

“Waterproof — that’s the big thing that customers are looking for now,” Dietz said.

LVT can be glued down or installed as a floating floor. Its price is comparable to laminate, at $4 a square foot (plus $2 to $3 a square foot for installation). If prices continue to drop, Dietz predicts that LVT will be used more in residential homes and especially in living spaces. He sees it used more in kitchens than living rooms today, but the trend for uniform flooring throughout an entire floor could push LVT to greater popularity.

“It’s the hot thing,” he said. “Your designers are asking for it. Your architects are asking for it.”

* * * * *

Living room flooring choices

» Solid hardwoods cost $3 to $8 a square foot, with exotic varieties reaching as high as $14 a square foot. Add $5 to $12 a square foot for professional installation.

» Engineered wood prices are comparable to solid wood.

» Bamboo costs $3 to $8 a square foot, and $7 to $12 a square foot installed.

» Laminate flooring costs $1 to $7 a square foot. Installation adds $2 to $5 per square foot, depending on difficulty.

» Luxury vinyl plank flooring is comparable to laminate at $4 a square foot, or $6 to $7 a square foot installed.

» Tile costs $1 to $100 per square foot, and decorative trim pieces and mosaic inlays raise the total price of a tile installation. Experienced tile-setters can charge $4 to $12 a square foot.

» Carpeting costs $2 to $15 per square foot. Add 50 cents to $2 a square foot for padding and installation, depending on the job’s complexity.

Sources: HGTV.com, Consumer Reports, Rockbrook Floors, WC Tingle Co., World Floor Covering Association, local real estate agents

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