Do Home Improvements Add Value?

Find out which home improvements will add most increase your home's resale price before you start pouring money in.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

Renovating, remodeling, and improving your home can be great ways to give it a makeover, gain extra space, or otherwise make it possible for you to stay in one place longer. But will they increase your eventual selling price? In preparation for the possibility of selling your home, realize that not all home improvements are created equal. Some will increase the value of your home, and some will actually make selling more difficult. Here's how to tell the difference.

Home Improvement Projects With the Highest Resale Value

Certain projects add more resale value to a property than others. Here are some that generally have the most positive financial impact.

  • A new garage door or front door. The costs of adding a tasteful new garage and/or entry door (perhaps in place of cheap, dinged up ones) will more than pay for themselves, creating an welcoming invitation to a home.
  • Kitchens. People like to see modern conveniences and styles in the kitchen. Especially in older homes, kitchen improvements tend to add value. Read the real estate ads sometime. You're sure to notice how many mention the updated kitchen features.
  • Bathrooms. Second to kitchen remodels are bathroom remodels. Again, modernizing older styles or appliances usually results in good return.
  • Outdoor improvements. Your house makes a first impression quickly, so sprucing up its outdoor appearance is a smart investment. This includes siding (fiber cement tends to cost the most, but has the best return) and landscaping, particularly in the front yard.
  • Roofs and windows. Roofs and windows are expensive to replace, and buyers expect these to be in good condition. Unfortunately, that means that while replacing them won't dramatically increase resale value, not replacing them could significantly decrease it.

The fact that a project adds to resale value, however, doesn't mean that you'll come out ahead in the end. Home improvements always seem to cost thousands more than one was hoping, and a homebuyer might not fully appreciate either the remedial work required before you could make a change or the high quality of your chosen finishes.

Projects That Can Negatively Affect Home Resale Value

Almost any project has the potential to negatively affect resale value. A general rule is that the more personal your choices are—meaning they're made to suit your particular lifestyle or taste—the less likely they are to have a positive effect on resale value.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't do the project. It just means you shouldn't expect it to add value to your home and should anticipate that your home could be more difficult to sell as a result. For example, while a soundproof music studio might be your dream come true, it won't be practical for a young family looking for an extra bedroom for their new baby. These types of buyers won't pay the premium it cost you to build the studio and might even be turned off by the need to undo it.

Here are some general indicators that an upgrade or remodeling project might have negative resale value.

Luxury upgrades. While no one wants to see the absolute cheapest renovations in a home, the highest-quality upgrades often don't have the return of mid-range ones, unless you're in a very high-end home. Marble floors in the bathroom or custom cabinets in the kitchen might be nice, but don't assume buyers will pay proportionately for these luxuries.

Rooms that don't fit with the floor plan. Converting the back patio to a family room might be a perfect way to add more space to your home, but if your dining room window now looks into the family room, it probably won't be well loved by prospective buyers.

Garage conversions. Garage conversions can give homeowners much needed space, but buyers like having garages, too. Thus converting this space usually won't increase value.

A swimming pool. A pool might seem like the ultimate luxury to you, but when it comes to selling, it could be more of a hindrance. It could be seen as a safety hazard by parents with small children. Consider also whether it's usable most of the year—while a pool might be a major selling point in parts of Florida and California, it could be a serious liability in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Other Factors That Affect Home Resale Value

Even if you undertake the right kind of home improvement projects, you're not guaranteed a high return on your investment. Before deciding whether an improvement will add value, consider some more general factors.

Your Changes Should Conform to the Neighborhood

If you live in a neighborhood of two-bedroom bungalows and you add a second story to put in a couple extra bedrooms, you aren't likely to see a high return. Buyers looking for homes that large won't be looking in your neighborhood. On the other hand, if many of your neighbors are making similar improvements (perhaps because these affordable homes are on large lots and in a great school district), you might fare well doing the same.

Upgrades to a Newer Home Probably Won't Have the Same Impact as to an Older Home

In a 1950s home, an original kitchen's aged or out-of-style cabinets and floor tile might make buyers think: "I guess we'll start with a kitchen remodel!" The same isn't necessarily true of a house that's just a few years old, which means you're less likely to increase a newer home's value significantly by remodeling.

Your Upgrades Should Sync With the Rest of the House

Focusing narrowly on only one room—the perfect master suite, for example—can be a mistake. If the rest of your house was last updated 30 years ago, for instance, it will look even shabbier in comparison to the upgraded suite.

Stay Within the Price Range for Similar Homes

From a practical perspective, you shouldn't expect to recover as much from upgrades or improvements to a modestly priced home as you would for improvements to a high-end home. Spending $45,000 remodeling a kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances in a home that costs $250,000 won't have nearly the return the same remodel would in a $500,000 home.

Be Realistic About the Value of Your Planned Home Improvements

The real estate market always has its share of "flippers"—real estate investors with varying levels of expertise who buy properties and fix them up, only to turn around and sell them for a profit a short while later. However, before you get dollar signs in your eyes, realize that it's mostly the pros who can make a living at this. They've got contractors on staff and a finely tuned concept of how to get the highest return for the lowest project costs. And the flippers are keenly aware that even projects with the highest resale return don't necessarily pay for themselves.

For More Information

To see more details on what you can expect to recoup from a particular type of home improvement project, visit Remodeling Magazine's latest Cost vs. Value Report. You could also talk to a local real estate agent, who will have a sense of local tastes and likely be happy to opine on a home that they might someday hope to help you sell!

Also ask yourself how important it is to recoup your home improvement costs or turn a profit based on them. After all, part of the idea is to enjoy the house while you live there.

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