Putting A Roof Over Relaxation

A specialized kind of house renovation - one that falls in a man's department - is the "rec room" job. Start the job in summer if you want to be in time for the winter season. Converting basement space, putting a new room over the garage, or even adding a new wing to your house will give you the space you need. But you'll have to allow at least four weeks for the remodeler to get started on the job. Then he'll take four to six weeks for the average renovation, and six to eight weeks for a major job.

Here are some starting points:

Cost of a recreation room in a £50,000 to £100,000 house can run anywhere from £2,500 to £10,000 or more. Rule of thumb: To remodel existing space, figure £15 per square foot; £20 for a floor over the garage, and £30 for a new house wing (put on the backyard side).

The value of your property will be increased nearly pound for pound if you add a new wing; or, if you renovate space, you'll get back a good 50% of cost if you sell.

Cost of equipment can go sky-high. A top-grade pool table, for example, sells for up to £3,000. Figure roughly 40% to 50% more than basic renovation cost if you get everything from the latest indoor sports gear to stereo and colour TV.

Finding the man to do the work may take a bit of doing. Some tips: Get recommendations from a local bank or a top architect; get three bids (to weed out the man who's too high or cut-rate), and be sure to obtain a contract that itemizes all phases of the work and gives a completion date. If you're spending £5,000 or more, let your solicitor look over the paperwork. The "blanket" contract should be avoided. If you're adding a wing to the house, or even a second story to the garage, to get rec room space, an architect should do the basic design. Generally he'll charge 10 to 15% of the building cost, and he will supervise the contractor.

Before you redo a basement, garage loft, or any other space, be sure you have a full 7 ft. ceiling; one of lesser height isn't good enough. Latest trend is the luminous, suspended ceiling with lighting built in, so figure this 4 in. to 6 in. drop in your calculation.

Paneling can be high-quality - and high-priced. Teak, rosewood, or walnut veneer sells for up to £100 per 4- by 8-ft. panel. Plainer vinyl-plywood is just £10 or so. In carpeting for basements, ask about hydrofoam (a moisture-absorbent covering) or vinyl tile placed over concrete.

In laying out your plans, remember that indoor sports gear can take up plenty of space. A professional-size pool table is 4 1/2 by 9 ft., and with a heavy slate bed weighs 1,000 lb. You'll need a total of about 14 by 18 ft. for a comfortable game. If you're a bit cramped for space, a family-size pool table is 4 by 8 ft. (£500 to £1,000 for good quality), takes less space, partly because shorter cues can be used. Table tennis outfits run £75 to £200 for top quality, with sturdy kids' models in the £60 range. Besides wood, see a metal-framed composition table with easy-to-fold top (Abercrombie & Fitch, £200 up).

A regulation-size table tennis is 5 by 9 ft. But you should have 8 ft. at each end and 3 ft. on each side for a good fast game. For a space saver, add a table tennis top to your pool table. Have a carpenter rig it, or check your sporting goods store. The latest in poker tables is octagonal, seats eight, has a padded surface and hidden trays that hold drinks and chips (Brunswick, £200 up). A movable bar with built-in refrigerator and the usual gadgetry runs £250 to £500. A custom-built 8-ft. bar with sink and refrigeration costs £1,500.

The home gym has become a big rec room item, especially for the middle-ager. Here space need be no real problem. All you need is a cubicle (maybe 8 by 8 ft.) to mount a horizontal bar, and a vertical one for isometrics. After that come higher-ticket items. Among the possibilities: an indoor jogging machine with adjustable treadmill, meter, and timer (£150 to £250); rowing machine, manual or hydraulic (£100 to £250); bicycle machine with timer, speed switch (£300). Check Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Abercrombie & Fitch.

For less strenuous relaxation, you can fill a corner with a basement piano and drum combination. A 63-key cocktail piano costs £400 to £1,000, and a complete drum outfit, £500 to £1,500. Tip: A dealer trade-in basement piano (a full 88), guaranteed tunable, costs £250 to £500 - or check the garage-sale ads (but have a piano tuner check it first).

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Quick Look At A Lease

Leasing an apartment or a house, if you can find one - may be one way to sit out the high-priced housing market for a year or two. With house prices rising at an annual rate of 10% in many top-grade suburbs and conventional mortgages at 81/2% to 10%, you might be smart to become a tenant for a spell. It depends on your personal circumstances and where you live, but you could be better off leasing - even if you had to break the lease later on. The penalty is usually one to three months' rent.

If you follow the leasing route, you are banking on softer prices for houses - in a certain section of a city - and softer or "easier" mortgage loans, in the future. It's a calculation. But no matter... see: Quick Look At A Lease