From a strictly dollars and cents analysis, almost all (but not all) home improvements make no sense (DIY projects should be judged differently than home improvements done by professional contractors, since they will have an inherently higher ROI on dollars invested).
In most cases, you are not going to get the money back you put into them. But is a home improvement going to perk up the quality of your life, make you proud of your house, improve your lot with the neighbors, make your life more fun? You cannot put a price tag on those.
However, be aware that even that emotional boost aka “enjoyment factor” will not always make a home improvement worth it. Take a hard look at the real estate market in your neighborhood before plunging into a major home remodeling upgrade.
If all the houses in your area sell in the $350,000 range and you undergo a major makeover to increase the value of your home to $550,000, you may have priced yourself out of the resale market.
Also be careful of altering your living space if doing so violates the integrity of the house.
A bulky room expansion to a classic bungalow, for instance, will destroy its eye appeal to buyers in the market for period-appropriate houses.
On the other hand, time matters. If you are planning to stay in your home for a long time, the cost of some remodeling upgrades and renovations will start to look good, both in your pocketbook and your pride of ownership.
If you are looking to sell in the near-term it may be better to restrict your efforts to a freshening up, take a realistic price and let the next owner sink money into major improvements. Your best financial play may even be just offering a discount or credit for a major repair.
So knowing that you are likely never going to see the money you put into a home improvement going in, let’s look at what you can expect from some common home improvements…
1. Steel entry door. Ah, yes, the portal to your soul. An attractive entryway is never a bad thing. But to return the bang for your buck go with a modern insulated steel door. The energy savings and fresh look will return anywhere from 70% to 100% of its cost, depending on how grungy the front door looked at the beginning of the project.
2. Siding replacement. If your house’s skin is showing its age, new siding is a rational choice. It will bring back between 75% and 80% of its installation cost, more for fiber cement than vinyl among the mainstream siding options.
3. New roof. It does not matter what return this brings you. No one is going to buy a house with a leaky roof. The return a new roof brings you is the ability to sell your house and move.
4. Adding a Deck. A sharp looking new wooden deck can return about 80% of your investment, but this will depend on the region of the country you live in.
In the warmer climates of the South and Southwest where outdoor living is a way of life a deck will absolutely help at selling time. Plus, a deck is a great enhancer to your life while in the house as well.
5. Kitchen Remodel. The kitchen is the most popular target for upgrading – and also the biggest money pit. You may be lucky to get back 50 cents on the dollar if you go in for all the fancy bells and whistles for an extravagant kitchen and then must sell your house in a bad market.
A better option is a partial makeover (think $25,000-$35,000 range) that concentrates on improving the workflow in the kitchen space known as the “golden triangle” – the ideal positioning of the cooktop, refrigerator and sink.
Make your kitchen an efficient workspace marvel and you can see an 80% to 85% return on your buck. And make your own kitchen time that much more pleasant as well.
6. Bathroom Remodel. Everything said about a kitchen upgrade holds for the bathroom, the second most fussed over room in the house. Think mid-range and sensible improvements and you will get a bigger bang for that dollar.
7. New Bathroom. If you live in a house with only one bathroom and three or four bedrooms, adding a second bathroom can actually increase the value of your house to pay off its building costs. If you already have an appropriate number of bathrooms in your house, relax and resist the temptation to add more.
8. Attic Bedroom. One way to increase the living space in your house without putting an addition on the house, is to create an extra bedroom in the attic. Who doesn’t enjoy some extra sleeping area? 😉 That attic will bring back 75%-85% of its conversion cost in terms of ROI.
If you can’t build a room in your attic — add as much insulation as you can; it is an easy DIY project with inexpensive material and will make your house more livable as you wait for the sale day, when you can point out how well-insulated the house is.
A more dicey option is turning a basement into living space. It’s dark down there and not everyone digs subterranean hangouts — even if you consider it a treasured man cave. You may need to meet the right buyer to get close to your money back on that conversion.
9. Garage Door. It is not as big a star as the front entry door, but upgrading your garage door can return about 90% of is cost – more if it was in deteriorating shape. And don’t undergo a garage addition unless your fleet of cars is overflowing into the street; a new buyer is unlikely to pay for your costs in bringing it into the world.
10. Window Replacement. If you have ever replaced recalcitrant, painted over windows with smooth-opening, energy-saving replacements you know the joy they bring to your life.
A new owner, however, won’t see those old, battered windows that were such a bane of your existence and won’t be paying the full price for those new windows that make your life easy, either. Expect between 70 and 80 cents on the dollar return at resale for those windows.
However, the improved energy efficiency and home comfort from new windows will probably earn that extra quarter in your time with them.
11. Swimming Pool. You LOVE that swim every evening after work for the three months your pool is open. But unless you find a buyer of exactly the same mindset you don’t even want to know how little this upgrade will return. All your non-swimming buyers will see in your backyard is a big maintenance headache.
12. Furnace. You may not have any choice here. But if you don’t have to replace a working unit and you have a time frame of less than five years, pass.
And three home improvement efforts that are GUARANTEED to pay for themselves:
13. Paint. Grab a brush and brighten up your living space. Fix up the walls and ceilings and add fresh caulk to fill in gaps in the trim. If you are selling soon eliminate some of your more daring color choices.
14. Dust and Clean and Make Simple Repairs. In the same vein make sure all the little things are taken care of before you consider opening the checkbook for the big stuff. If some of your house’s hardware looks a little dated, invest in some timeless styles to amp up the look of your house. Don’t let buyers see minor imperfections that may raise doubts about the entire house.
15. Landscaping. The same holds for the outside of your house as inside. There is a reason real estate agents emphasize curb appeal. You can’t sell a house if no one wants to get past the front yard and go inside. Tidy up, plant, edge, weed, pull out dead shrubs. It is easy and it gets you outside in the fresh air. A win-win! 🙂