Sexy and splashy? Or sensible and staid?
It’s hard to spend home improvement dollars on improvements that aren’t visible. It’s more fun to buy new appliances, cabinets and countertops for the kitchen where everyone can see them than extra insulation in the attic and a top-of-the-line energy efficient furnace that sits in the crawl space.
With tight budgets and limited funds, homeowners need to consider whether they want to spend money on eye candy for their homes or spend money to create a home that works better.
Sometimes the two goals overlap. For example, replacing an outdated kitchen that lacks good workspace or decent appliances with one that sparkles and provides a great place to cook achieves both objectives.
Not every choice is as clear, however, and there’s no rule that says homeowners have to be sensible. If a homeowner wants to spend $50,000 to create a master suite and bathroom spa that rivals anything available at a Four Seasons resort, she is certainly free to do so. And there will be vendors at the Home Improvement and Remodeling Expo who will be happy to help.
Certain home improvements have a higher payback than others, however, and homeowners may want to consider that before tackling any project.
“There are certain things a homeowner can do that get a good bang for their buck,” said Chris Brownlee with Brownlee Appraisals of Grand Junction, citing kitchens and bathrooms as the two areas where homeowners may recover more of the cost of the improvements when they sell their homes.
“As long as you don’t get carried away,” Brownlee said. “In an entry-level subdivision, don’t do oil-rubbed finishes, solid granite countertops or top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances.”
Likewise, Brownlee cautions against putting vinyl on a floor in a Redlands Mesa Golf Course home. Home improvements should keep a house modern and up-to-date, but they shouldn’t make the home an anomaly in the neighborhood.
However, if a homeowner wants and can afford a specific type of improvement and doesn’t care that the cost may not be recovered at resale, he should feel free to do whatever he wants. It’s his house and his money.
“It’s nothing to spend $50,000 or $60,000 on an in-ground pool, and you’re not going to recover that money,” Brownlee said. “It’s the No. 1 super-adequate feature. You’re doing something that’s a little bit above what others are doing.”
Although some buyers might be willing to spend more for a house with a swimming pool than for an identical house without a pool, some buyers won’t even consider a house with a pool.
“You’re eliminating a portion of the population out there who are potential buyers,” Brownlee said.
Some homebuilding or improvement trends, especially those that improve energy efficiency, are too new to be adequately appraised. Although operating costs with an Energy Star home are less than a home built to code, that information hasn’t trickled out to every real estate agent, appraiser and prospective homebuyer in the market. Which means that it may or may not affect the appraised value of a home.
“That information is not always put into the system,” said Brownlee. “We base our numbers off market information.”
With accurate comparisons and analysis, Brownlee has seen homes with energy efficient improvements that have added to the appraised value of the home. A good photovoltaic system can add value, as can certain appliances like an updated, more efficient furnace in a 30-year old home. Additional insulation probably won’t affect the appraised value of the home, but it will make the home more comfortable, which is also a consideration.
“Usually, when people have gone to the expense of adding an upgraded furnace, they have continually updated and maintained the property in a better condition,” Brownlee said.
Improvements that increase a home’s curb appeal add value to the home and help at resale, but it’s possible to go overboard in the yard, too. A front yard that puts Sunset Magazine to shame may attract buyers, but it may not result in a sales price that equals the amount of time and money spent on landscaping. But for those whose gardening hobby borders on passion, that may not matter.
There are ways to get a sexy and splashy look without compromising a sensible budget. Kitchen cabinet refacing is usually about 40 percent less than the cost of replacing, according to Bill Johnson with CJ’s Cabinets & Desgins, 510 Fruitvale Court, Suite D in Grand Junction.
Concrete patios can often get resurfaced rather than replaced, which also saves money. Dave Melewski, owner of Ultimate Deco Concrete, says that costs vary depending on the type of finish the homeowner wants, but resurfacing old concrete is less expensive and can be done even if the concrete in question is cracked, chipped or shows scaling.
There is no magic formula to determine under what conditions most home improvement projects will pay for themselves; there are too many variables in the equation.
The bottom line is that it’s in a homeowner’s best interest to keep his house as functional, current and up-to-date as possible.
Sometimes that means tackling boring projects like installing a new sump pump in the crawl space, and sometimes it means doing something splashy just for fun rather than recouping costs at resale.