Resale home improvements don't always boost value

A rebound in the housing market has made homeowners more willing to invest in renovations that could boost the value of their homes. But some improvements aren't worth the investment.
By ALEX VEIGA Published: August 25, 2013
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Homeowners are opening their wallets. A rebound in the housing market has made them more willing to invest in renovations that could boost the value of their homes even more in a rising market.

Spending on home remodeling has picked up over the past 18 months and is expected to rise nearly 20 percent to $151 billion by the fourth quarter, according to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Many homeowners decide to make upgrades with the idea that the bigger kitchen or finished basement will make their home more enjoyable. But not all projects will boost the value of a home.

Here are six tips when considering home projects:

1. Consider all buyers

The classic example here is installing a swimming pool. A pool could make your home a tougher sell and it's unlikely you will recover your expenses, says Richard Borges, president of the Appraisal Institute, a professional association of real estate appraisers.

It may be a deal-killer for buyers who might not want to take on maintenance costs or safety risks for small children.

“It's not going to contribute a full measure of its cost of installation because its utility is so limited,” Borges says.

The principle holds true for other large projects that can alter the structure of the property, such as adding a second garage. In some neighborhoods, they may be a common feature that becomes a selling point. But if it's not common, it could discourage buyers who don't have a need for it.

2. Don't overimprove

Some home improvements can help lift a home's resale value, especially updates to features like cabinets and appliances that are clearly dated.

The key is to select finishes and appliances that don't go well beyond what a buyer might find in similarly priced homes in the area. The term appraisers have for that is “overimprovement.”

Consider a homeowner in a modest neighborhood who splurges on pricey countertop finishes like quartz or marble. They're not likely to recoup the cost when appraisers look at recent sales of comparable homes that may not have such lavishly appointed kitchens.

This applies to everything from lighting to flooring and bathroom fixtures.

3. Consider risks of expansion

One of the home improvement projects that's least likely to produce a return on the investment is a room addition that expands the size of a home beyond its original floor plan, says Borges.

Projects that require tearing down an exterior wall often involve moving doors, windows and other features, which can drive the costs higher than, say, converting an attic into a bedroom, which uses existing space. The more expensive the project, the harder it can be to recover one's costs.

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