Kitchens/baths and how NOT to over-improve

Kitchens and master baths.  There is a lot of confusion about them.  Watch HGTV and you’d think that is all home buyers care about.  Since I don’t want you taking your advice from people who don’t sell houses, here are some things I tell people:

  1. While kitchens and master baths ARE very important, the whole house must be attractive.  All too often I see sellers who blew the budget on a kitchen renovation and left the hall baths and other rooms the same.  That is polarizing.  Plus, the new stuff just makes the old stuff look worse.  If you have $50k to drop on your house, spread the love all over the house.
  2. Watch out for over-improving.  It is soooo easy to get carried away.  You’re like “Everybody has granite.  I want marble.  Well the Carrera Marble is just a little more and I love the veining.”  You only have to be a little better than all the other houses in your price range.  If you’ve got a $150k house, no $150k buyer is expecting higher end updates.
  3. Some things just don’t give you a good return on your investment.  A massive deck that cost $10k to build might only get you an extra $3k compared to other houses with normal sized decks.  A $7k roof really isn’t worth any more than a roof that is less than 10 years old and doesn’t leak.  A new water heater has no value over an existing one unless the existing one is just super old.  Buyers don’t like to reimburse sellers for maintenance.  If it isn’t exciting, then it has no value.  It is easier to sell a house with bad windows and granite counter tops than it is to sell a house with argon filled, Low-E triple pane windows and a green laminate counter top.
  4. THE cheapest thing you can do to help your house sell is fresh paint and carpet/flooring.  Think about it, flooring and paint is all you see in most rooms.  Even an ugly kitchen or master bath can get a nice facelift with just new flooring and paint.

All this reminds me of several houses I have been in over the years.  The best (or worst) one was a house behind where I use to live.  A realtor was flipping it.  This is in a 1970s neighborhood where most houses still had everything original.  He came in and did an amazing kitchen and master bath.  He also left the paneling in the downstairs family room.  It was a polarizing house.  You loved some of it and hated some of it.  It didn’t sell.

My wife and I looked at a house in our current neighborhood.  It had an amazing deck and high end kitchen cabinets….the kind you see in a magazine.  We tried to like it, but the 99 cent laminate floors in the kitchen and the paneling downstairs turned us away.  Those sellers must have run out of money when renovating the kitchen.  I’ve never seen such cheap. rental grade laminate floors with such nice cabinets.

So when you are thinking about resale, look around and see what is the norm in your neighborhood and price range.  Definitely don’t cheap out, but also don’t go overboard.

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