One of the joys of becoming a homeowner after years of renting is finally being able to decide when and how you spend money to make changes and improvements to your house. Want to paint your ceiling blue? You can. Feel like installing shiplap on the walls? Knock yourself out. With all that freedom, though, comes responsibility. Whether you have an idea of when you’ll be selling your house or not, it’s always smart to think about how potential buyers would view any changes you make to your home, and whether those changes will add value to the property.
There are some home renovation projects that not only have wide appeal but also almost always prove themselves to be a worthy investment when it comes time to sell (refinishing or installing hardwood floors, for one), but unfortunately, there are others that don’t. And you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of a $20,000 renovation project that a Realtor is telling you doesn’t justify any increase to the list price of your home. We consulted the pros to get the truth about which home improvement projects are simply not worth your time—or money. These are three of the worst.
“One of the biggest misconceptions sellers have is thinking that adding a new roof or a new HVAC system will increase the value of their home,” says Staci Donegan of Sotheby’s International Realty in Savannah, Georgia. Utilities systems—like your HVAC or hot water heater—might be expensive to replace, but they’re considered maintenance, and “buyers expect the house to be well-maintained,” Staci says. So don’t expect to see that investment reflected in the selling price of your home, even if it makes a great marketing point.
That said, they’re certainly not something to neglect either. If those systems aren’t working properly or need replacing, that will certainly come up during an inspection and could potentially devalue your home if a buyer sees immediate projects they’ll have to spend money on. But if everything is working fine, it’s best to follow that wise old proverb and remember, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While updating an older kitchen or bathroom can be an investment you see a satisfying return on, that’s only the case if you make smart sourcing and design decisions along the way. The biggest mistake you can make is opting for the most expensive finishes, commercial-grade appliances, and extra bells and whistles. Remodeling magazine has a handy cost vs. value tool that shows the average cost of specific home improvement projects, along with the average return. Their data shows that an upscale kitchen remodel (with an average cost of $125,000) will see a lower percentage return than a mid-range kitchen remodel (average cost of $63,000).
The difference is even more drastic with bathroom remodels. There are several reasons for this, but to look at it from the buyer’s perspective, they probably won’t see a difference between marble countertops and quartz ones (honestly, neither can we). That material choice alone could cost you thousands more, but buyers won’t pay for that difference. Staci points to two features that will likely help you recoup more of your investment in the kitchen: energy-efficient appliances and a kitchen island that has plumbing and electricity.
I know, bummer, right?! Did you spend your childhood envying your friends and neighbors’ swimming pools, swearing that you’d have a pool when you had your own house someday? Well, someday is now, and your adult brain is going to have a hard time coping with the $20,000 (on average) price tag for installing an in-ground pool. Especially when you hear that (1) many buyers don’t want to buy a house with a pool, and (2) the fact that your house has a pool will not increase its value enough to get anywhere close to the money you put in.
A lot of buyers see swimming pools as maintenance and a liability risk they aren’t interested in taking on and certainly not paying more for. There is an exception to this, though: If you’re selling in a competitive (warm-weather) market, having a pool could give your home an advantage.
A cheaper alternative that will give you a solid return on your investment? A more universally appealing outdoor area with a nice wooden deck or patio.