If you live in an area where homes are selling like hot cakes, you may be feeling exceptionally confident in the value of your property. And as a result, you may be considering a home upgrade you’ve been dreaming of for years. Perhaps you want to add a pool, or maybe you want to add more square footage to your home. Or maybe you’re just aching to do something because you’ve been watching way too much HGTV.
Before you dip into your savings account or apply for a home equity loan, experts say you should think long and hard about your financial investment and your choices. Just because a specific upgrade seems like a good idea right now doesn’t mean it will pay off later. Plus, there are some upgrades that many homeowners regret almost instantly, either because they wind up overspending or because were a bad idea in the first place.
Seven Home Improvements You May Live to Regret
Home remodelers, beware. Spending money to “upgrade” your home doesn’t always pay off, and it could even hurt your home’s value in the long run. Here are some upgrades the experts suggest you steer clear of:
#1: Garage conversion
A garage conversation can seem like a good idea if you need more living space and don’t mind parking in the driveway or street. However, this remodeling project comes with plenty of risk. Not only are garage conversations often done poorly and in a way that makes them look obvious — and awkward — but you can face problems if you remodel your garage without getting proper permits.
Vincent Nepolitan of Planet Home Lending points out another potential problem: When you go to sell, you may find a more limited pool of potential buyers. Not having a garage for buyers to park their vehicle can limit the number of people you get through the door, thus preventing you from getting the sales price you want for your home. This is especially true in areas where all the neighboring homes have garages, Nepolitan says, and in areas with hard winters or sizzling-hot summers.
#2: Converting a bedroom for another purpose
With more people working remotely than ever before, it may seem like a good idea to convert a spare bedroom into an office. This can be a good idea if you only make superficial upgrades like replacing a bed with a freestanding desk. But there could be financial consequences if you pour a lot of resources into the renovation or make structural changes — converting the closet into a built-in desk area, for example — so the room no longer qualifies as a bedroom afterward.
The reason for this? Homes with more bedrooms can fetch a higher sales price and tend to attract a larger pool of buyers, says Georgia-based real estate investor Shawn Breyer. A buyer with two children might insist on having three bedrooms, for example, and be unwilling to consider any two-bedroom homes. They might also be willing to pay a premium to secure a home with a fourth bedroom they could use as a guest room.
The bottom line: When it comes to a home’s value, the more bedrooms the better — so don’t think long and hard before getting rid of one.
#3: Adding a pool
It’s easy to think having a pool would make your life more fun and more relaxing. After all, what’s better than spending a lazy day floating in the water with a cold drink or a good book?
Unfortunately, the reality of pool ownership doesn’t always line up with expectations. Pools may be great for summer, but they’re often expensive to maintain over the long haul, says CEO of Patch Homes Sahil Gupta, and require a lot of work, from adding chemicals to cleaning and maintenance.
And, you may not find your pool quite as fun in a few years’ time. Gupta notes that pools tend to go unused during winters and once kids leave the house, and that they may eventually become a safety hazard for grandkids or pets. (In fact, a pool can increase your home insurance premiums.)
Finally, only a limited number of buyers will even want a pool in certain parts of the country, so you might wind up selling your home for less than you wanted or waiting longer for a buyer as a result.
#4: Kid-related upgrades
While pools are commonly added by families with kids, there are other kid-related upgrades homeowners may rush into without thinking them through, says Julie Gurner, senior real estate analyst at TheClose.com. “Some upgrades consumers tend to regret are, for example, linked to children and their temporary place in the home,” says Gurner.
A solid example would be adding a basketball court to your backyard because your child is really into the sport. “Sports courts require maintenance and take up a large portion of the backyard recreation space,” says Gurner. And not every buyer will want a basketball court in their yard when you go to sell.
Before you go through with a costly upgrade that may only be needed for a few years, consider whether there are less permanent and less costly options available.
#5: Trendy interiors
Gurner points out another mistake that’s often fueled by HGTV mania — following fads and planning your home upgrades around what’s currently “hip.” Gurner points to the recent shiplap craze as an example, noting that the wooden-board wall cover that’s trending now may be the “wood paneling of the future.”
Other ubiquitous home improvement trends that could leave you wincing at your choices later on include stainless steel appliances, open kitchen shelves, brass accents, and basically anything that’s shabby chic. When it comes to fashion and trends, whatever’s “in” now is always on its way out at some point.
#6: Textured walls and ceilings
Speaking of outdated trends: Textured walls are so 1980s, but some people who never got the memo still slap a layer of popcorn on before they paint, even if it’s just to match other rooms in the house. But Breyer says that adding texture to walls and ceilings is a mistake — partly because it can turn off potential buyers when you go to sell, but also because it’s expensive to remove if you change your mind.
Breyer says that, most of the time, it costs $1 to $2 per square foot of space to have textured walls refinished with a smooth surface. Plus, you’ll also face the cost of repainting your walls and/or ceilings after the removal is complete.
Real estate agent Justin Moundas says that over-improvements tend to leave homeowners regretting their choices. “It never pays to be the nicest or biggest house on the block,” he says. “Often people regret investing so much into the home that it can’t be justified in the resale value for the area.”
According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value Report, some remodeling projects that don’t offer a great bang for your buck include big-ticket investments like backyard patios (47.6% return), a master suite addition (48.3% return), a major kitchen remodel (53.5% return), and the addition of a bathroom (54.6% return).
Each of these projects may help you enjoy your home while you live there, but they may leave you wishing you had spent your money elsewhere if you move within a few years.
If you want a home that’s a lot nicer than the one you have now, Moundas says upgrading to a different home can be a better deal than remodeling. By finding a different home that already has the floorplan and upgrades you want, you can avoid the hassle and stress of remodeling along with runaway costs.
- Related: Should You Remodel or Move?
The Bottom Line
If you watch popular real estate shows on HGTV all the time, it’s easy to think that home remodeling projects always pay off. After all, the stars of shows like Flip vs. Flop and Fixer Upper almost always turn bargain basement homes into spectacular investments, mostly by choosing the right upgrades and getting them for the right price.
But real life is not like television. In the real world, home upgrades are usually only a good idea if you plan to stay in your home and pick finishes that would appeal to the masses if you needed to sell.
Before you spend your hard-earned dollars on a pricey remodeling project, ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to enjoy your chosen upgrades for years to come? Or are you simply following trends and keeping up with the Joneses? Do you absolutely need to upgrade to make your home livable, or could you get by with the home you have?
Be honest with yourself, and you may find a home upgrade is the last thing you need.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.
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