Repeat after me: I am the master of my remodel. Perhaps you should say it again, because sadly, it’s not always so. Remodels sometimes have a tendency to develop their own inertia, as decisions lead to new dilemmas, unintended consequences and surprising outcomes. In some cases, these flights of fancy are perfectly acceptable, provided the design and completed execution truly align with the vision and budget.
But if your budget is a concern, and the wise investment of limited home improvement dollars matters, then there are a few basic guidelines you should familiarize yourself with before planning your remodel. Today we review five remodels that typically make good financial sense, providing a nice return on the investment at the time of resale — and five that don’t.
1. Kitchens. Updating a tired old kitchen is one of the wisest methods, and a tried-and-true one, of increasing the value of your home. When planning a kitchen remodel, and making design decisions and selections for plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets and countertop materials, you should determine whether you are prioritizing your own design aesthetic or the return on your investment.Either priority is perfectly acceptable, but you should understand which is your priority, or strike a balance between the two that you can feel good about.For example, using the existing kitchen layout and affordable cosmetic materials is a sure way to keep the cost of your kitchen remodel manageable. When you start tearing out walls, bumping out the exterior home footprint to gain a few feet, and moving plumbing fixtures and appliances, the cost of the remodel will jump and your dollars will be less efficiently spent.
2. Adding living space. A straightforward addition of a new living room space is typically a very good investment.
Newly added square footage generally increases your home’s value. There are certain costs that will be associated with your addition regardless of the size. New square footage will require the demolition of existing exterior walls, a new foundation, a new roof, new exterior siding and probably new windows. If you are going to incur these expenses, it’s important to get some bang for your buck. It’s important that the added room is sized so that the space can be efficiently produced.
3. Curb appeal. You have heard not to judge a book by its cover, but smart money recognizes the cover’s value. Your front elevation is more than just a first impression. It’s the only impression available to just about all of your home’s potential buyers.
The good news is that there are a number of very affordable projects that can improve curb appeal, and some more extensive improvements that can likely pay off as well. Simply cleaning out overgrown brush and making a few new planting additions to your landscape can go a long way toward improving curb appeal at a very low cost.
Repainting is another low-cost, high-impact improvement. Costlier changes such as changing out old windows or an aged entry door are things that potential buyers will notice and value. Even more extensive front-elevation remodels, such as added dormers and front porches, can prove wise from an investment standpoint.
4. Master suites. Sorry, kids. Homebuying decisions are in the hands of adults, and adults care about the environment where they sleep. Updating a master bedroom or remodeling and adding a new master suite is money well spent. The buyers will picture themselves living in their private space, and it’s of quantitative value when they like what they see.
5. Bathrooms. Homebuyers notice bathrooms, and although all the bathrooms are important, a priority should be placed on the powder room and master bath, followed by a guest bathroom and any other secondary baths (the kids don’t need to know).
The same rules apply to a bathroom remodel as to the kitchen. Cosmetic changes are safer from an investment standpoint than modifications involving changed layouts or minor additions, which can result in inefficient expenses.
Remodeling Projects That Typically Offer Poor Resale Value
1. Kids’ spaces. If your kids have a climbing wall, for example, the fantastic addition will probably lead to hours of fun, increased strength and perhaps even a sense of accomplishment. But there is no assurance your homebuyer will feel the same way. A rock climbing wall might actually represent a negative value to a buyer who sees this space as his man cave.
2. Pools. The National Swimming Pool Foundation estimates that there are more than 10 million swimming pools in the United States. Can 10 million pool owners possibly be wrong? Backyard pools are loved by millions, and while this appreciation is well founded, they should be constructed for their many virtues that are not investment related. A pool might increase the value of your home but is unlikely to pay for itself, as some buyers will perceive the pool as a negative maintenance expense.
3. Wine rooms. Some of the coolest remodels are the least savvy from an investment perspective. A wine room wouldn’t appeal to someone who does not love wine, for example. Original designs rarely appeal to everyone, so when adding spaces to a home you know you will sell, consider how personal it is and if others will feel as strongly as you do.
4. Removing features. Do not remove features for investment reasons. If you never use the fireplace in your basement, removing it might make perfect sense to you and your family. Just make sure you understand that the next homeowner might wish it were still there, and the money you spent demolishing the fireplace and reworking the space will not be reclaimed.
5. Minor additions. Adding a few square feet — say, to expand a bathroom or secondary bedroom — is rarely money well spent. The reason is simple. If you bump out a bedroom wall by a few feet, you might make that bedroom much more comfortable. That benefit alone might make it worthwhile in your circumstance. But the cost of the added elements, including foundation, roof, framing and drywall, will result in only a small gain in square footage. Say your 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom home becomes a three-bedroom home with 2,440 square feet. It’s unlikely that you’ll recover the cost of the addition.
The Bottom Line
This exercise is not intended to dissuade you from pursuing a specific remodeling idea. The enjoyment and functionality get from a new space may make the project worthwhile even if it doesn’t provide good resale value. The decision is yours to make. Just be sure you make it with a full understanding of the investment value for every dollar you spend.