Home & Garden

From kitchens to landscaping, home remodels that do and don’t pay off

Today’s bathroom remodels turn this utilitarian space into a spa retreat. Among the hot items in this recent project by Kitchen Mart are the oversize glassed-in shower, deep soaking tub and wood-look tile floor.
Today’s bathroom remodels turn this utilitarian space into a spa retreat. Among the hot items in this recent project by Kitchen Mart are the oversize glassed-in shower, deep soaking tub and wood-look tile floor. Leslie Kate Photography

Part of an occasional series.

Thinking of selling? You are not alone.

Maybe not this year, but sometime in the relatively near future, you plan to move, leave this home behind and (hopefully) make some money, too.

Before your house goes on the market, you want to tweak a few things, make improvements, small or large, that will pay for themselves in the eventual sale price.

Or not.

With prices on the upswing, California’s current real estate market tempts many homeowners to think about cashing in on their biggest investment. About one in 10 remodeling projects is tied to a prospective home sale. But most changes will cost more than they add to the final purchase price. That’s good news for buyers, who get something extra with their new home. For sellers, it can be a costly reality check.

“You’ve got to ask yourself: How long will you live in this home?” said longtime contractor Harry Headrick of Expert Design and Construction in Rancho Cordova. “If it’s five years or less, you’re remodeling for the next guy. If it’s 10 years or more, there’s plenty of time to recoup your costs.”

Fresh paint is the cheapest and most effective update for a home. For DIYers, the cost often stays under $100 a room. But if you’re selling soon, stick to neutral colors: Beige, gray and white.

“Pick very basic, neutral colors – nothing daring,” Headrick said.

Colors can be personal, and bright or strong hues can turn buyers off, say experts. Sellers want visitors to feel relaxed and at home, to the point that potential buyers can envision themselves in those rooms with their stuff. Neutrals help make that dream happen.

“Buyers nowadays are so sophisticated,” said Amber Dias of Showhomes Folsom Lake, which specializes in staging homes for sale. “The home must feel clean and fresh. (Buyers) want to see a house that’s kept up with trends. They like neutrals, but not bland. They want to feel they could live in this home.”

What’s out front counts most. It’s all about curb appeal. For many homes, that includes the garage door. According to data collected by Remodeling Magazine, a new garage door often adds more value than it cost to install. In Sacramento, an upscale garage door replacement (average cost $3,252) added $3,716 in resale home value.

As real estate pros say, make the house smile. A new front entry door and attractive accent plants will usually pay for themselves, too. If not replacing the door, at least make it look as nice as possible with fresh varnish, paint or hardware. That door makes an important first impression.

Also adding to that curb appeal are manufactured stone veneers, which bring back about 93 percent of their investment nationwide, according to the survey data. In Sacramento, those rocks actually add more value than they cost with a 110.4 percent return.

Put in some annual flowers to brighten the front yard. Turn on the irrigation. Bring brown lawns back to life, replace them with drought-tolerant alternatives or cover them with mulch. Remember that buyers don’t like dead trees and shrubs. Watering these landscaping investments is cheaper than replacing them.

“You want to make the outside look as appealing as the inside,” Dias said. “If the front yard looks horrible, people won’t go inside.”

Remember attic, basement

The improvement with the greatest return on investment is out of sight: New fiberglass attic insulation. According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report” for 2016, homeowners nationwide recouped almost 117 percent on insulation upgrades; in Sacramento, the return topped 120 percent. This energy-smart improvement also pays dividends for current residents with lower heating and cooling bills.

Averaging 27 projects rated in the Cost vs. Value Report, homeowners can expect a 64.4 percent return overall on their improvements if the house is sold within a year. That’s up from 62 percent in 2015, reports Remodeling Magazine.

Before shelling out thousands for a new kitchen or tacking on that extra bathroom in hopes of attracting a quick sell, remember that space counts.

“You can’t go wrong adding a bedroom or a large family room,” Headrick said. “Granny flats (or other apartment-like conversions) add immense value.”

Particularly in terms of return on investment, usable floor and storage space deliver the highest impact. According to industry statistics, remodeling money spent on turning basements or attics into functioning, people-friendly spaces delivers a high return.

“There’s great value in basements,” said longtime remodeling pro Tim Shigley, national remodelers chairman for the National Association of Home Builders.

Common in older homes, basements and attics can become media centers, bedrooms, man caves, wine cellars, play areas, home offices, walk-in storage or other bonus rooms for modern families. That makes them a good investment both for now and later.

“People say they want a room addition and the first question I ask is, ‘Do you have a basement?’ ” Shigley said. “They say yes, but they don’t use it – it’s dark. That’s fixable. The basement can be a destination. The value is so much better than a room addition. (These home owners) already have the extra space they want right under their feet.”

Basements cost less to remodel than building an addition because the basic framework is already in place, he added. They just need finishing: drywall, paint, flooring, wiring, lighting, plumbing, etc.

Not every attic or basement is a makeover candidate. For example, attics may be crowded with insulation or ductwork. Likewise for basements, which are usually home to furnaces and hot water heaters. What about head space? Would you need to raise the roof or dig deeper to keep from bumping into beams?

The biggest issue usually comes down to access: How easy is it to get down into that basement or up into the attic? Architects and design experts can craft creative stairways – or elevators – that make the new room feel like it’s always been part of the floor plan.

Extra space attracts buyers because it’s easy to see on a real estate listing, say experts. Remodeling an unused basement under a large home can add 600 to 800 square feet or more to the home’s total space without altering its footprint.

Kitchen caution

Sparkly new kitchens draw oohs, but more expensive remodels tend not to recover their high costs. While a “minor” kitchen remodel (under $20,000) will recoup about 93 percent of its costs, major remodels ($100,000 or more) bring back only about 70 percent of that investment, say remodeling experts.

If the kitchen desperately needs updating, focus on countertops, sink and flooring – again in neutral or classic colors. Easy-clean quartz or composite counters have more positive selling points than real marble or granite.

“Most people are asking for quartz countertops,” said interior designer Kathleen Jennison of KTJ Design Co. in Stockton. “For the kitchen backsplash, spend a little money on tile if you can; you don’t need a lot and it will be a showstopper.”

Consider lookalike laminate counters as well as luxury vinyl flooring that mimics wood, tile or stone; both budget-minded products look and perform well, whether selling or staying.

Cabinets rank among the most expensive parts of kitchen remodels. Instead of replacing them, renew finishes on wood cabinets or paint them white. For a quick update, replace or add hardware; brushed nickel, oiled bronze and chrome are the current “hot” metals.

“If the cabinets look good and are good quality, keep them,” Jennison said. “There’s no reason to change. Quality never goes out of style.”

Make sure the appliances work, but don’t feel compelled to go all stainless or high-end. That’s up to the buyer.

Don’t forget the sink and its fixtures. The proverbial kitchen sink is not a throw-in, but an attention getter, for good or bad. If the sink is worn out or rusted, replace it along with its fixtures. Match new faucets to the cabinet hardware.

Also, bring your plumbing fixtures up to code. In water-conscious California, toilets and faucets need to meet low-flow standards when older homes are sold.

When choosing styles, keep in mind who may be shopping for your house.

“Look at the market of who’s buying in your area,” Jennison advised. “If 30- to 40-year-olds are buying, then go modern. Younger buyers want more high tech, more minimalistic looks. But if you’re aiming at buyers (age) 55 and up, go traditional.”

Another word of caution: Simple updates in some parts of the house may make other rooms look worn or dated. Your house may need more TLC than you originally anticipated.

If selling soon, keep a tight budget and don’t spend too much on remodeling, warn experts. Most major changes are not that cost effective and the buyer likely will change what you’ve done, anyway. More than a quarter of all remodeling projects follow recent home purchases, according to home renovation experts Houzz.

“I did a house in Dublin and the client spent well over $100,000 readying the house for sale,” Jennison said. “The buyer then just ripped everything out. It was a sick feeling; it was a beautiful new kitchen, a lot of work. But the buyer just wanted something else.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington