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One perk of homeownership is the ability to design your space just the way you want it — and the allure of digging into a meaty home improvement project has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic grounded Americans at home.
Some home renovation statistics show a 58% annual increase in project leads in June. HomeLight statistics echo this trend, with more than 2,000 top agents in a recent survey ranking summer’s most popular home improvement projects as kitchen remodels (28%), painting (25%), and landscaping or gardening (18%). What’s more, 76% of agents report that home remodeling is on the rise in their market as of Q3 2020.
Homeowners have good reason to ramp up the comfort and enjoyment of utility spaces like kitchens and baths, while reconfiguring existing space to accommodate home gyms, saunas, pools, and outdoor dining in a post-coronavirus world.
But with every redo comes the risk of pouring money into the wrong project, especially if you plan on selling your home in the not-too-distant future. Some specialized looks that are perfect while you’re cocooning could be home renovation regrets when you’re ready to sell.
“So many people have an idea of exactly what they want when they come into a property,” says Eric Broesamle, a single-family homes expert in the Mount Clemens, Michigan, area who sells properties more than 48% faster than the average agent there. “If you plan on selling within the next year, make sure you’re not adding any real flashy or personalized paint, lighting, or curtains.”
Here are some common home renovation regrets and how you can add comfort now without deducting from a potential sale down the line.
1. Garish paint and large themed walls
Design magazines such as House Beautiful often point to an accent wall as a way to add dimension and style to a room without committing to or wallpapering a whole room. While casting a huge entertainment center and its cubbies the same deep marine color can look striking, a bright color over the lower half of one wall or in a geometric pattern could inspire buyers to look elsewhere.
“Some people put these huge murals or pictures up as well,” says Broesamle, who also helps clients with staging.
“You really want to make sure that you’re staying as neutral as possible. A light blue-gray is really key on the walls right now with semi-gloss white trim and doors.”
According to one HomeLight Top Agent Insights Survey, Agreeable Gray by Sherwin-Williams, which blends warm and cool tones and operates more as a “greige,” is the no. 1 recommended home staging paint color.
Other good neutral colors include:
- Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore
- Accessible Beige by Sherwin-Williams
- Repose Gray by Sherwin-Williams
- Kilim Beige by Sherwin-Williams
- Off White by Behr
By going neutral, you’re maximizing value, adds Zinta Rodgers-Rickert, a top real estate agent who serves the Virginia areas of Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria. Updating the entire interior with fresh paint costs about $5,000 to $10,000 but spares you from a buyer thinking they need to do that. Even though it’s a quick fix, paint tends to be a big mental roadblock for buyers. “The buyer is going to come in thinking there needs to be a $20,000-$30,000 price adjustment because they’re going to need to paint,” says Rodgers-Rickert.
2. Hyper-specific finishes and fixtures
It’s tempting to splurge on a smart technology lighting system that you can adjust through your smartphone or voice commands to devices like Alexa and Siri. But how well do your new lighting fixtures mesh with your home’s architecture and decor? “There are some really new fixtures out there that clash with the decorating that [some clients] do,” Broesamle says.
Also be careful not to choose a finish or fixture that an appraiser will consider “undesirable” in the market because it’s in the wrong color. You might like your retro white high-end appliances or green quartz countertops, but even with a top brand name, some buyers won’t overlook the color.
“They’re still the same high-end appliances, but … they’re saying, ‘I don’t want white appliances; I don’t care how good they are. I have to replace these, and I have to replace that green quartz,’” adds Tom Heuser, a top-selling agent and single-family homes expert serving the Las Vegas, Nevada, area.
If you do invest in a kitchen or bathroom renovation, take inspiration from the decor of newer builds, advises Broesamle. In his area, compressed floors or tile in light gray or brown that looks aged or looks like wood are popular, as are Fantasy Brown countertops and white or espresso-brown cabinets. “That’s what a lot of people seem to be really drawn toward.”
3. Forgetting to plan for storage and function
Kitchens and bathrooms are perennially popular rooms for renovations. But before drawing up your design plans, think of storage and utility. Walk-in pantries yield 76% of their average $3,400 cost, one HomeLight survey shows, while double ovens come with a similar price tag and an ROI of 71%.
Although Broesamle says that some buyers look for a dual sink or vanity in the master bath, others find this layout awkward. One Wall Street Journal writer lamented the amount of space for such a fixture, noting how she and her husband never used the sinks at the same time and she wished for a linen closet.
4. Missing out on affordable luxury touches
You’ve heard you don’t want to overspend for your price point (if you have heated floors in an otherwise totally dated bathroom, something feels amiss) but no one ever hated small luxury touches that make even average homes feel like a retreat. And that’s especially true post-pandemic. In fact, in our survey of over 1,000 agents for Q3 2020, 30% of respondents ranked “the desire to make homes a sanctuary from the world” as the top reasons motivating remodels.
A great example of this is upgrading your main or guest showers. One 2019 Consumer Insights and Products Survey of 31,000 participants by Meyers Research in partnership with NewHomeSource.com found that 77% of buyers wanted dual shower heads so much, they would pay $800 more for such a feature.
Broesamle says many shower systems for about $150 can add a spa feeling that buyers will like. “Those little adjustments can make you $2,000 or $3,000, and it might cost you only $500 for the install,” he says.
Try the 65-inch 8-Jet Shower Panel System in Space Gray Brushed Stainless Steel with Rainfall Waterfall Shower Head and Wand from AKDY ($292), or the Aqua 3-Spray Handshower and Showerhead Combo Kit with Wall Bar from PULSE Showerspas ($164), both at Home Depot.
5. Permanent hobby rooms
The home design show Trading Spaces became famous for its surprise reveals and themed rooms, such as one room painted with paintball guns (the force of the guns wound up damaging the drywall) and an indoor beach cabana, complete with sand for flooring.
While you might have a room for arcade games or another whimsical “den,” it’s unlikely that a buyer will share your particular interests or passion. Even if you’re revamping a child’s room to boost their mood during the pandemic, consider how you’ll neutralize the decor down the line.
“If you’re a buyer who has boys, it’s harder to imagine their family there if a bedroom is all frilly,” says Julie Dana, an interior decorator since 2002 and owner of The Home Stylist, an interior decorating and staging business in the Buffalo, New York, area. Go with the race car bed or ballerina canopy for now, but know you’ll have to make these rooms gender- and age-neutral later. For example, opt for paint — which is easier to remove than wallpaper, and furnish the room to your liking rather than customize with permanent built-ins.
6. DIY work that never quite holds up
The biggest remodeling mistakes, our agents say, are the ones where homeowners enthusiastically or mistakenly thought they could do something themselves that proved much more complicated.
Real estate agent Adam Greer, who serves the Columbus, Georgia, area as well as neighboring communities in Alabama, sees this a lot. He’s noticed floors with unusually shaped tiles, walls with streaked paint, countertops that aren’t level, and drywall that shows seams.
“A lot of times buyers get in over their heads when they try to do things,” Greer says. “It seems a lot easier if you’re looking at some of those TV shows and you have all the tools and money in the world to make sure it goes well.”
Broesamle often finds sagging molding that wasn’t cut or adhered properly, as well as fireplaces that clients have tried to refinish but mismatched the hearth and the mantel. “That’s typically what I see botched work on. It just does not come together well,” he says. “That’s a focal point, and you really want that to turn out right.”
If you think you’re over your head in your home renovation, consider calling a handyman (or handywoman) for a professional opinion. Your real estate agent may well have one on call. “I have a handyman that I use for everything,” said Chris Creegan, a top-selling real estate agent in Orlando, Florida.
Your home should be an enjoyable and secure space that reflects your style. But to avoid any home renovation regrets, be mindful of how your tastes align with current trends and interests.
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