The first major home renovation my husband and I ever undertook was insulating the walls of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow we shared in Columbus, Ohio. This project made the house a great deal more comfortable in the winter and the summer, since the existing insulation was the least expensive option available in the 1920s — making it completely inadequate for maintaining heat in the winter or coolness in the summer.
Unfortunately, despite the undeniable improvement to our comfort, we found that our new insulation did nothing for our resale value. Even though we had put nearly $5,000 worth of work and materials into this renovation, we didn't see that money and effort reflected in our sale price when we had to move several years later.
Not all renovations are going to increase your resale value. That doesn't necessarily mean you should forgo working on your home if you won't see the value when it's time to sell. For instance, I would definitely insulate that house again, even knowing that the money is only going to improve my comfort.
But there are some home renovation projects that you just can't expect to recoup your investment on. Knowing that, you should consider how long you intend to live in your house and whether you're renovating just to increase your home's value before jumping into any of these home improvement projects.
1. Invisible improvements
Insulating our bungalow was the kind of invisible improvement that had to be done, but didn't appear to change the house. Unlike "sexier" improvements like updating a kitchen or bath, or even putting on a new roof, invisible improvements don't change the look of the house. These are things like re-grading the yard to keep water from getting into the basement, updating the HVAC system, tuck-pointing bricks and chimneys, and replacing gutters.
While these improvements often have to be done to protect your house, the downside is that you may not recoup the cost of these improvements when it comes time to sell. It can be helpful to think of these renovation expenses as a way of protecting your home's current value, rather than as a way to increase your future resale value.
2. Swimming pool
While homeowners in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Southern California may find that having a swimming pool is a big selling point for their homes, this isn't going to be the case nationwide. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost to install a pool is over $27,000. That doesn't include the annual maintenance costs, ranging between $500 and $4,000. It's these maintenance costs, plus the work that homeowners will have to either do themselves or contract out in order to keep their pool sparkling clean that will turn off many potential buyers. Add in the additional insurance requirements that homeowners with pools will need to purchase, and it should be clear why many prospective buyers would rather not invest in a home that comes with a pool.
This is why you should only commit to the cost of installing a pool if you truly want to use it yourself and expect to stay in your home for at least five years. Otherwise, it might make more sense to invest in a membership to your local pool.
3. Bathroom and kitchen upgrades
Remodeling your bathroom and/or kitchen is an excellent way to increase your home's value, right? Yes and no. While replacing dingy tiling and updating old appliances will definitely help your home shine for potential buyers, there's such a thing as going overboard with your bathroom or kitchen upgrades.
Specifically, if you add granite countertops, custom-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and ceramic tiles to your kitchen and bathroom, but the rest of the home is still an ordinary suburban home, potential buyers will see the house as a work-in-progress, rather than a home that feels move-in ready. Over-improving the bath and kitchen could make buyers think that it's not worth the effort to try to get the rest of the house to match. (See also: 9 Home Improvements You Should Always Negotiate)
4. Built-in high-end electronics
We may all dream of living in a George Jetson house — where every possible electronic need you have is already built in — but committing to this kind of renovation may hurt your resale value.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, while your personal movie theater (with remote-controlled state-of-the-art projector) may be exactly what you want from your home, a potential buyer may just see a room that will need to be torn out and remodeled as soon as they move in. Plus, technology advances at a breakneck speed, so your cutting-edge electronics will soon look as dated as shag carpeting and harvest gold refrigerators.
If you need or want built-in high-end electronics in your home, make sure you're installing them for your own pleasure and comfort, because it's unlikely a buyer will appreciate them too.
5. Extravagant landscaping
Making improvements to your landscaping requires a gentle touch. On the one hand, landscaping is often touted as an important aspect of curb appeal, and making sure your yard and garden look attractive and welcoming is certainly a great way to draw in potential buyers.
On the other hand, an elaborate landscaping remodel can turn off buyers. Those with black thumbs might look at your vast flowering garden with sculpted shrubs and pond and decide they are not up for the challenge of keeping it up, and those who do love to garden might not like your vision and want to start over.
If recreating the gardens of Versailles is how you make your house feel like a home, then there's nothing wrong with investing in this kind of renovation. But make sure you're doing this kind of work for yourself, and not because you hope to make back the money you spent once you're ready to sell. (See also: 14 Ways to Make Your Yard Look Awesome for Under $100)
Renovate for the right reasons
While many experts focus on resale value as the deciding factor on whether to take on a home improvement project, the important thing to remember is that you live in your house now. Deciding which home renovations to work on based on what someone else might like is the way madness lies.
When you make improvements to your home, make sure you take your own comfort, your plans for living in the home, and the potential resale value into consideration. They all matter.