Owner’s Dilemma: Invest or Enjoy?
Whether ‘tis nobler to undertake home improvements for future profit, or for a happier today
May 23, 2018
For homeowners, one of the biggest challenges is creating a living space that best reflects who you are while at the same time promises a reasonable return on your investment. What makes the challenge difficult is that who you are — the proud owner, say, of a garage that's been converted to a carpet-walled recording studio — can become a liability when you put your home on the market.
As with most things in life, the solution is balance. With every renovation project you consider, ask yourself where it falls on a scale ranging from idiosyncratic to timeless.
Of course balance is not a foolproof solution, because an element of every project should be how much the result pleases you, no matter what it adds to your home's resale value. Also, over time what is considered timeless can change. Granite counter tops, for example, once a must-have element of gourmet kitchens, are waning in popularity.
Still, damping down your idiosyncrasies may keep you from one day facing the financial consequences of having opted for a urinal in the powder room or a topiary sculpture shaped like a yeti.
If you want to try quantifying renovations with concrete numbers — not only how much appeal a particular type of remodeling project might have for buyers, but also how happy it might make you feel — look at the 2017 Remodeling Impact Report, produced by the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (nari.org). It is online at both of their websites.
Kitchens and baths: Easy does it
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When considering return on investment, homeowners with bold tendencies should be especially careful with the kitchen and baths.
Relatively minor changes to both can add significantly to a home's buyer appeal: replacing cabinet doors and hardware, changing the countertops to solid surface, upgrading fixtures and appliances, and finally getting rid of the country wallpaper.
However, a major kitchen or bath renovation with imported-tile this and built-in professional-grade that, is not only a huge expense for which you'll be lucky to recoup half the cost, but risks making the rest of the house look like it last got a refresh during the Nixon Era.
Creating a master suite, especially if plans include expanding a bathroom, can also be problematic. A common approach is to combine two bedrooms by knocking out a wall, and to increase the bathroom size by expanding into what was previously a closet. But for many buyers, more bedrooms are more desirable, even if one is the size of a Mini Cooper. And the same goes for closets: For many, the number of closets is commensurate with value.
So a vast master suite, especially if you went all-in with a ranch theme, may only help would-be buyers decide that the shortcomings of the four-bedroom contemporary around the corner is something they can live with.
The dirty half-dozen
Other quirky design elements that might stand between a homeowner and a sale include:
• Chevron zig-zag patterns, sponge-painted walls, painted wall quotes (even something as innocuous as "Family First" in a breakfast nook), and wallpaper borders. All of which could profitably be replaced by a fresh coat of paint, especially in a neutral color.
• Anything that makes it look like you are living in a barn, especially shiplap paneling and sliding barn doors. (Even Chip and Joanna Gaines, who revel in the style, have tiptoed into more contemporary territory.)
• 1970's vintage track lighting, fluorescent lighting, Hollywood light bars, and built-in audiovisual systems that were at the leading edge of technology a decade ago.
• Way too much carpeting, even if it doesn't reflect a past weakness for shag. Hardwood floors, refinished or new, help sell homes. If you are coming late to that realization, also consider engineered flooring. It is not as durable as real hardwood, but it looks almost as good, and is much more affordable.
• Decorated tile, in any room, from that time you spent two weeks in Tuscany and came home looking for a way to express your artistic sensibility.
• An over-landscaped yard, especially if it's not well cared for. You delight in the beauty of a natural setting; homebuyers wonder why they can't see the house from the street.
Be true to your house
In all of this, remember
that your goal is not necessarily to make a house look modern, but to let it best reflect its true character. So antiquated brass fixtures that might look outdated in many settings could in some instances add to a home's sense of history—and timelessness.
Remember, too, it's not impossible that you might connect with a buyer who would be ecstatic over having a recording studio in the garage.