Wherever you are in your home purchasing journey, the thought of improving your new home is probably high on your list. After all, American homeowners spent $353 billion in remodeling projects in the first quarter of 2021, and personalizing your space to fit your family’s needs is one of the perks of homeownership. But you’re also curious about value, and so you’re wondering about how to maximize your biggest investment, and when it comes to floors especially, you’re curious: what kind of flooring increases home value?
If you’re considering making some changes, an update to your home’s existing flooring might be in the cards. But how do you choose a flooring material? With homeownership median in the US at right around eight years, a properly timed flooring upgrade can not only improve your enjoyment of your home — but also help increase your home’s value when you list.
We talked to John Tae, an agent with five years of experience in Oregon, and Jillian Rowe, flooring expert at Roberts Floor Coverings in Denver, to get their advice on what kind of flooring increases home value.
Hardwood is king
Solid hardwood, as implied in the name, typically comprises oak, maple, or walnut, and the boards are made from a single, solid piece of wood. Solid wood flooring will stand the test of time, and it can last up to 100 years.
“Solid hardwood flooring will always give you the best ROI when it comes to flooring,” says Rowe. It will outlast most laminate and carpet products, and it can also be refinished to change the look and feel of your spaces without requiring a total replacement. It is both durable and cost-effective. What’s not to love?
According to NAR’s 2019 Remodeling Impact Survey, new hardwood floors have a return on investment of 106%, with consumers showing a 24% improvement in functionality and livability after the project is complete.
Hardwood works best when kept away from humidity and water, so think twice about using hardwood in kitchens, mudrooms, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, as well as basements. They are also “hard to install and hard to maintain,” according to Tae, who admittedly prefers newer materials.
As far as current trends? Rowe says that after a decade or so of popular dark finishes, her clients are trending toward a lighter Scandinavian aesthetic of really light, barely treated flooring finishes.
Engineered hardwood is a good choice
Engineered wood flooring looks a lot like solid hardwood on the surface. It is constructed by sandwiching a layer of premium quality plywood (for stability) with a few layers of hardwood bonded to the top and bottom.
A premium engineered hardwood floor will last 20 to 40 years and can be refinished once or twice. It tends to be more stable in the presence of humidity or water, so many brands are rated for basement and kitchen installations. It’s also available in wider planks than solid hardwood.
Rowe outlines that some of the benefits of engineered hardwood are the lower cost and the fact that it comes pre-finished, so the installation happens quicker than solid hardwood, which requires finishing on-site.
According to Home Flooring Pros, the ROI difference between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood is minimal, especially if you’re looking to install either for the first time.
Exotic wood flooring
A very popular choice in the ’90s and early ’00s, exotic hardwoods like teak, cypress, cork, bamboo, and pecan will almost always be more expensive than domestic hardwoods. Their vibrant colorways mean they showcase striking veining or color patterns, which are not currently in trend with most homeowners, but these details are appreciated in luxury real estate circles.
In addition to their price, there are environmental impact concerns with how some of these materials are harvested, and how their native areas are affected by the removal of slow-growth species.
Exotic wood flooring will vary in durability and resistance to wear and tear depending on the wood variety chosen. For installation, it is strongly recommended you rely on a National Wood Flooring Association-certified professional hardwood flooring contractor with experience in exotic varieties.
Some of the most common mistakes people make with exotic woods are buying from unknown sources, installing in areas with the wrong moisture level (as some exotic species are extremely reactive to changes in moisture levels), the potential for allergies, and not anticipating color and surface changes that are normal with light and temperature exposure.
Use luxury vinyl to get the look of hardwood for less
Heard of LVP? It stands for luxury vinyl plank (or LVT, for luxury vinyl tile), and it is the future of flooring. “It looks and feels like a hardwood floor,” according to Tae.
“But it’s waterproof, and pretty much bulletproof as far as the fact that it won’t grow mold, won’t warp, and won’t take in water.”
Luxury vinyl is a newer product in the market and does very well in remodels, as well as in areas where hardwoods are not recommended, like bathrooms, basements, and kitchens. According to Rowe, her clients like LVP because they don’t have to worry about the wear and tear of kids and pets scratching the finish.
“Newer generations are definitely more open to exploring and experimenting with these new solid surfaces, in a way that older customers won’t,” says Rowe. “We find younger homeowners prefer surfaces that require minimal maintenance over time.”
According to Home Flooring Pros, you might not get much ROI from your LVP flooring, but potential buyers will see it as a well-maintained surface that can be addressed and upgraded later.
The good news? The perception about vinyl as a flooring option is changing, and fast, as more colorways and options come into the market.
Laminate flooring for entry-level homes
Laminate flooring is one of the first man-made alternatives to hardwood floors. It’s made of synthetic materials sandwiched around an inner core board comprising medium density fiberboard (MDF) with a decorative, photorealistic image of wood on the top.
It is highly resistant to scratches and stains, and it can be installed quickly for homeowners who are not ready to commit to a long-term project. It’s inexpensive, and it can be installed over most existing floors, which saves on demolition and floor removal costs.
“We find that younger customers who used to be prime candidates for laminate flooring are now flocking to the LVP materials instead,” says Rowe. The limited color and finish selection of laminate make LVP an appealing alternative.
Dress your carpets up or down
Wall-to-wall carpeting had its golden age in the mid-1950s. “It’s the cheapest flooring material per square foot and the easiest to install. So, for a homeowner looking for a quick and inexpensive change in their home, replacing flooring with carpet is going to be a great bang for the buck,” says Tae.
Even though homeowners prefer solid surfaces in high-traffic areas, a lot of people still prefer carpets in bedrooms, according to Rowe. With more styles and textures than ever before, modern carpeting offers both stain resistance and more forgiveness in homes with young children.
As far as return on investment? You can expect to recoup 50% to 80% of your expenditure when you sell, depending on the brand, and whether you opt for upgraded features like extra thick padding. When it comes to name brands like Karastan, which have a lot of market recognition, the carpet can also become a selling feature in the listing.
Tile me crazy
For homeowners willing to go the extra mile, tile is a great choice. “Ceramic and cement tile are both very popular right now, at least in Denver,” says Rowe.
Ideal for high-traffic or wet areas like kitchens, bathrooms, mudrooms, and laundry rooms—as well as entryways—tile is also popular in more humid climates where hardwood floors are more likely to warp. Requiring minimal maintenance, tile comes in an infinite variety of colors and sizes.
The most expensive part of the investment when you choose tile flooring comes with the installation. So if you’re willing to put in some sweat equity and learn the ins and outs of properly installing a tile floor, you could be looking at a really high ROI on your flooring project.
Stone floors for days
When it comes to stone used for flooring, the most popular kinds are travertine, granite, marble, and terrazzo. Similar to tile, stone floors are preferred in humid climates where solid, hard floors like these can last for a long time.
The downside of stone flooring is twofold: there’s a very high upfront cost, both for the materials and the installation; and in some instances, stone requires frequent maintenance to avoid permanent staining, cracking, or other damage.
While the ROI of harder materials like travertine and terrazzo can be between 55% and 70%, the ROI of marble is less than 50% in most cases.
Factors to consider when choosing your new floors
Cost of demolition and/or removal
In many cases, you will have to remove the previously existing floor before installing a new one. As Rowe reminds us, in any building older than 1970, you will also want to run an asbestos test.
“When you take into consideration the asbestos abatement, it can really turn your budget upside down.” When asbestos is present, you can choose to encase it instead of removing it by installing the floor on top of it.
Your home’s price point
Look at comparable property in your neighborhood or area, and determine where the finishes are on par with your same median value.
In some entry-level properties, a combination of LVP and carpet are going to be perfectly acceptable; but in other, more expensive homes, buyers are expecting to see hardwoods, stone, and tile. On the flip side, choosing a high-end floor that’s not on par with the value of your home can be detrimental.
If you’re having trouble choosing, and you know your home’s value is important to you, call your real estate agent and ask for their opinion.
How is the project going to affect your lifestyle?
Some installations can be done in a day or two. But for more involved projects like a full solid hardwood installation, you are looking at several weeks between acclimation, installation, and finishing.
For tile floors, the wait can be equally long, as the subfloors need to be perfectly level before the tile can be installed — and then there’s the grouting and sealing process.
Will you enjoy this floor?
If you’re choosing this to enjoy and use it, choosing materials that fit your current lifestyle and your needs might be a better choice than focusing more heavily on what kind of flooring increases your home value.
Consider the members of your household (pets, too), how long you intend to stay in the home, the climate, and your preferences. Discussing your flooring options with a market expert (like a real estate agent) will give you insight into what buyers in your area want, and you can keep that information in the back of your mind while you start shopping for flooring.
Header Image Source: (Simona Sergi / Unsplash)