15 Remodeling Mistakes That Can Cost You Money When You Sell

So-called "upgrades" don’t always pay off — and real estate pros caution you to think twice before making these additions. Read along to learn what NOT to do before selling your home.

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February 07, 2019
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A Swimming Pool

"When it comes to installing an in-ground pool, the average cost is between $30,000 and $60,000," says Judy Dutton, deputy editor for Realtor.com. "But on average, the ROI (return on investment) is abysmal. Pool installation is an especially bad idea in cold areas where pool use would be limited, or in areas where nearby houses don’t have pools. Many buyers just steer clear of pools because they have young kids who can’t swim, or just don’t want to deal with the maintenance or insurance and liability issues."

Ill-Advised DIY

While pouring sweat equity into pre-sale projects can seem like an effective way to cut costs, it’s crucial to be realistic about your skill set — and to recognize when you’re in danger of cutting corners on quality and safety. Stuart Moss, an associate broker for The Corcoran Group in New York City, considers visibly poor workmanship one of the worst ROI-related moves one can make, and it should go without saying that it’s never a good idea to take on a potentially dangerous project (such as rehabbing outdated electrical wiring) without the appropriate expertise.

Big-Ticket Appliances

Outdated refrigerators and stoves can be turnoffs for potential buyers, but tacking too far in the opposite direction and buying expensive upgrades can be just as problematic. "I once showed a customer a one-bedroom apartment that had a $30,000 La Cornue oven," Moss recalls. "[He] said that it was a waste because he expected to limit the use of the kitchen to morning coffee." Peter J. Rooney, Senior Realtor at William Raveis Real Estate in Lexington, Massachusetts, also emphasizes that less can be more: "If appliances are old and dated, it may be best to remove them altogether and give buyers an allowance to purchase their own. Builders sometimes do this, and it works."

Built-In Tech

Space-age bells and whistles that seem like "wow" factors in the moment have a pesky habit of turning into relics. Resist the siren call of integrated items that can’t be updated with ease: "Built-in electronics become obsolete very quickly, and the custom cabinetry to hold and conceal the equipment is rarely adaptable to the newest and best [products]," Moss says.

Personal Details

Everyone wants their home to have personality, but — how to put this gently? — prospective owners may shy away from a home that caters to your personality. "I once represented a three-bedroom single family home that had a great master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom," Rooney recalls, "but the owners added an internal balcony that was open to the lower level — so there was no privacy. It was a great personal choice while they lived there, but they ended up renting the property, and it was harder to rent due to that balcony." If you’re rehabbing your forever home, feel free to splash out on, say, a conversation pit! If a move may be in the cards, on the other hand, consider swimming with the mainstream.

Bold Color Choices

Though it takes all kinds to make a world, we’re confident that no house hunter has turned to his or her partner and said, "Honey, at the end of the day I just have to have that bedroom that was painted the Color of the Year." Dutton, Moss and Rooney all caution against too-trendy, look-at-me hues.

Lackluster Layouts

"Closets sell houses," Rooney says, "[and] one of the biggest complaints that I hear from buyers is that homes lack closets and storage. If you have a five-bedroom house and the fifth bedroom is small and next to the master, it may be worthwhile to knock through and make a walk-in closet for the master bedroom."

"Empty-nesters might prefer fewer but more generously-scaled rooms with great closets," Moss says. On the other hand, he adds, "buyers looking for a second or vacation home rarely put a high priority on closets." Bottom line: Consult a local expert to get a sense of what potential buyers will want to see in your home.

Gutting the Kitchen

"A major kitchen remodel will cost around $66,000 and net a 62% ROI," Dutton says, while "[a] minor remodel will cost only around $22,000 and net [an] 81% ROI. So in general, expensive overhauls like installing new cabinets should be avoided. Instead, consider new cabinet doors, which give a whole new look for a lot less money." Rooney concurs: "Sometimes, just changing out the [kitchen] countertops, changing cabinet fixtures and updating the lighting can do the trick."

Adding a High-End Island

Along similar lines, Dutton cautions against fixating on kitchen islands, which she calls "another pricey feature that was once all the rage but [is] now on the wane. They’re expensive [and] bulky, require tons of room and are just not the end-all be-all they used to be."

Top-of-the-Line Tubs

"Bathrooms are hot rooms to remodel, but pouring tons of money into luxury upgrades there is a bad idea if your hope is to make that cash back when you sell," Dutton says. "For instance, oversized or whirlpool tubs cost thousands to install and won’t provide good ROI. A far more budget-friendly alternative is just to re-glaze the tub you have, which can be done for about $1,500 and will make it look like new. [W]hen you remodel a bathroom, go the modest route."

Bidets

Speaking of bathroom upgrades, it’s safe to say non to bidets. "As trendy as they seem, don’t replace your toilet with a bidet!" Dutton says. "I’ve heard stories of bidets being installed that had to be removed because they didn’t appeal to a broad enough swath of buyers. A better option is a water-saving toilet... which [will] appeal not only to buyers who want to save money but to those who want to go green and be eco-friendly at home."

Quirky Carpeting

Carpeting is still popular in some markets, but it can be a tough sell. "I was once a buyer’s agent on a property that had brand new blue carpets," Rooney recalls. "The seller had to discount the property a great deal to allow my buyers to remove them and install hardwood floors — a costly mistake by the sellers." Moss counsels caution with carpeting as well: "Although broadloom/wall-to-wall carpet has become fashionable, primarily in bedrooms, the color can be limiting to a buyer[.]"

Costly Hardwood

"New hardwood flooring is expensive," Dutton says. "The average cost for popular woods like oak, maple, walnut or cherry is around $5 to $10 per square foot, with an extra $4 to $8 in installation costs. Cheaper options that offer about the same return on investment are faux wood-like laminate or wood-like tile. They look and feel like real wood, but they withstand more wear and tear." Translation: They’ll appeal to hardwood fans and to pet owners and parents of young children.

Bespoke Bathrooms

"In general, I tell sellers that when they’re preparing their homes for sale, there’s no point in spending a dollar and getting only 50% return on that dollar," Rooney says. Flair might catch a buyer’s eye, but it might not, and "there’s no point in spending a lot of money on items such as clawfoot tubs — which are very trendy right now — or custom tiles from Italy (which are more of a personal touch)," he explains. "Also, keep in mind that it’s easier to use in-stock, off-the-shelf items if you want to get your property on the market ASAP."

A Hovering Microwave

If you’ve got room above your range, Dutton recommends keeping it that way: "One trend that was never a good idea in the first place is having a microwave over the stove," she says, "Sure, this saves space, but you’ll sacrifice ventilation for the range, they’re harder to reach for shorter people, and it looks just plain ugly."

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