Top real estate agent Jacki Shafer recently put an expired listing from another Realtor on the market. Before doing so, though, she wanted to know why the home didn’t sell.
So she asked.
“Time and again, people were disappointed to go down to a finished basement and not find a bathroom,” Shafer said. “The otherwise very nicely finished basement lacked that bathroom space. So they added one and it sold.”
Case in point: bathrooms are deal breakers (or makers) in a home sale, and buyers will place a hard minimum on their number of desired baths. But does a bathroom remodel increase home value?
Quite simply, bathroom remodels won’t necessarily recoup at resale everything you spent to update it, but they are one of the higher return projects you can do. Anecdotally, a brand new bathroom also helps inspire offers on your house, and small, inexpensive updates to this space could help you fetch 2-3% more for your house.
The catch is every little decision you make (from gutting the tub to the marble pattern of your tile) is high stakes. We looked to top real estate pros and experienced contractors for their best advice on how to tackle a bathroom remodel with an eye on the ROI.
The average cost of doing a bathroom remodel
How much your remodel costs will be based on a few different things: who you use, the materials and timeframe, and how much you want changed.
Aaron Glenn, owner of the five-star interior remodeling firm Total Home Improvement in Grayslake, Illinois, has done bathroom remodels ranging from $12,000 for minor upgrades to upscale remodels for $90,000.
The Remodeling Magazine 2018 Cost vs. Value Report shows that a mid-range bathroom remodel generally costs about $19,000, an upscale remodel costs about $62,000.
Keep in mind, though, that an upscale remodel won’t bring the same high returns as a low to mid-range one will.
In fact, Consumer Reports recommends simple improvements like re-caulking the tub, installing new bathroom fixtures and adding new toilets over a full-blown remodel.
Recouping your bathroom remodel spend
According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, if a bathroom remodel is tackled properly, homeowners will recoup 50% of the cost put into the project.
The biggest factors to increase the value include updating worn-out items, modernizing fixtures, and creating a more functional space.
“In most cases, almost overwhelmingly it is beneficial to get a bathroom remodel done before selling a home,” Shafer said. “My attitude has always been to put your very best foot forward whenever possible. If your bathrooms are tired and need sprucing up, it’s always a good idea to do that.”
The bathroom remodel “Joy” factor
According to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Remodeling Impact Report, 75% of homeowners want to be in their homes more after a remodeling project, and 65% have more fun in their homes.
A new bathroom in particular achieved a Joy Score of 10—the highest ranking—and a remodeled one ranked at 9.6. Joy Scores indicate how happy someone is with a project they’ve done in their home; the higher the number, the higher the satisfaction level.
Top 3 bathroom projects with the best ROI
Want to remodel your bathroom but don’t have the budget to completely gut it and start fresh? These three smaller projects will get you the best return on your investment.
According to Glenn, this is one of the best projects to do for the biggest return—but it may be a bit more expensive than the others. He says that updating the vanity will generally also include the countertops, faucet, and sink, which can eat up a lot of your budget.Most homebuyers these days are looking for vanities that hit a comfortable height and have granite countertops so pay close attention to overall cost of your materials.Recommended Products:
Double Vanity with Granite Top ($850); Brushed Nickel Faucet ($98); Brushed Nickel Sink Drain ($25)
Replacing the flooring will go the farthest in giving your bathroom a new overall appearance. Inexpensive porcelain or ceramic style, or even vinyl, can be engineered to look like classic wood or stone but is still completely waterproof and durable to any level of moisture.For less than $150 per 6 feet of mat, you can also install radiant-heat mats underneath your bathroom flooring of choice, an attractive feature for buyers in colder climates.Recommended Products:
Electric Radiant-Heat Mats ($146); Vinyl Wooden Floor Planks ($1.89 per square foot)
Particularly with a master bathroom, the current trend is to pull out the bathtub and install a larger, walk-in shower. Soaking tubs are still a valuable option if there’s space (and definitely don’t remove all the tubs from the house), but whirlpool jet bathtubs are on the decline.They’re hard to maintain and break down frequently, Shafer said. Glenn agrees, noting that the reasoning behind removing the tub is that homeowners only use it a few times a year, as opposed to using the shower every day.It’s a comfort level change.
- Recommended Products:
Freestanding Soaker Tub ($800); Freestanding Tub Faucet ($325); Shower Door ($480)
How to keep costs low during your remodel
Find the right materials for your bathroom remodel
Your bathroom costs will vary based on the materials, not just because of the type of product being installed, but also the labor put into the installation. A steam shower and heated tile floor, for example, will be substantially more expensive on both fronts than a standard walk-in shower and laminate floors.
“The cost of materials will vary whether you’re going with an expensive European brand or a generic American brand,” Glenn said. “There are different materials, too. Luxury tiles or flooring can be much more expensive to install than a laminate floor but it’s going to give you almost the same look. Different products can be installed that can give you a phenomenal look at a much lower cost. Shop around. Don’t go with the super cheap stuff, but keep the cost down by going with cheaper reliable brands.”
DIY the design, rather than pay upfront fees
To save on costs, it’ll help to go in to the remodel process knowing exactly what you want.
Some contractors will charge a fee to design the bathroom for you, but if you go the more DIY route and pick out materials yourself, you could save a bundle.
Shafer recommends that if the bathroom is in nice shape with a retro ‘50s or ‘60s feel to it, just leave it and replace minor things, like vanity hardware or paint colors. New homeowners, she says, are gravitating toward the retro style. For paint colors, she suggests the whole spectrum of subtle greys, like a sage green with grey tones, or just a solid light grey.
“A bathroom really needs to look sharp,” she said.
“It needs to be up to date. As far as how to finish it, you don’t need to do much in order to get your money back. People want things clean and neat. They don’t want overly ornate fixtures or mirrors, just nice clean lines. Don’t wallpaper the room. Just keep it neutral, neat, and clean.”
Hire the best contractor for the job
Glenn notes one of the most effective cost-savings measures is to vet potential contractors. Don’t pick one out of a hat and go with them for no real reason.
This is especially important in light of the reality that contract work is only getting more expensive.
“Reach out to a couple people to get a better understanding of different companies, what they can offer, and how they work,” he said. “When looking at an individual contractor or company, take a look at the knowledge and expertise of that company. Take a look at what the company can offer. It’s not always the same.”
For Houzz, navigate to the “Kitchen & Bath Remodelers” section of the “Find Professionals” dropdown. The site should recognize your location and give you a list of nearby companies.
You can expand your search to other areas, too. But each one will have a star rating, reviews, and photos of past projects for you to peruse. You can contact them straight from the website.
Angie’s List is a bit more complicated.
Type in your search, and then you’ll go through a list of questions to determine your location, the amount of changes you want, where you are in the process, desired completion timing, funding, and more details about the building.
At the end of the questions, you can either have a matched list emailed to you, or browse a directory. You’ll instantly see a list of Angie’s List Certified contractors.
Click on one and you’ll be taken to a profile with contact information, services offered, and reviews.
How to make every dollar of your bathroom remodel count
All in all, although you’re not guaranteed to get back every penny you spent on a bathroom remodel at resale, a fresh, updated bathroom will get buyers’ attention and also bring joy to you during the time that you get to enjoy it as a homeowner.
Keep it simple and inexpensive, rather than going crazy with the highest-end finishes, and it will be a project you won’t regret.
But if you’re looking to sell in a few months or even a year’s time, talk to a real estate agent before you start making any major improvements. Oftentimes, it’s better to save your money on minor fixes and repairs that would get flagged in the home inspection and put the for-sale sign up, rather than drag out your listing with last-minute renovations.