Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Big decisions - which house improvements are worth the investment

There are a few foreclosures on our block. Unfortunately they keep dropping in price. This is concerning because it causes the value of our house to go down. I’ve looked at some of the listings for these houses online. Generally they are in worse shape than our house and need a lot more updating . Most of them do not have the addition (which adds a lot of valuable living space). So we’ve got that going for us, but it’s still kind of stressful to think about. We’ve already put a lot of work into this place, and we’ve got many more projects lined up. But we have heard the advice, time and time again, that it doesn’t pay to put large amounts of money into a property that is limited by its surrounding properties. In other words, you don’t want to have the nicest or most expensive house on the block because the other houses will only drag down its value (making your improvements less cost effective and not as worthwhile of an investment).

We have hence decided to table a lot of the renovation plans we currently have on our list. We may change our mind if the housing market turns around a bit, or if some of the houses on our block start selling. But we just don’t think it makes much sense to keep shoveling money into a house that is losing value based on the houses around it. We aren’t looking to move in the near future, but we also know this isn’t our forever home. So we want to make some carefully planned and reasonable improvements, but nothing too extravagant.

With that said, here’s a few of the plans that have been cut:

  • Jacuzzi tub. We had hoped to knock out our old cast iron tub, move the wall a bit, and install a relaxing jacuzzi tub. This doesn’t seem too practical given our current situation. Cut.
  • New deck and patio. Again, just not practical. We did add the 6-foot wooden privacy fence last fall, and that should be appealing to future potential buyers. When the day comes that we look at selling, we’ll probably pop a fresh coat of paint on the deck and call it a day. It’s sturdy and fairly spacious, after all, and so it’s fine for now.
  • Counter tops and kitchen tile. Well, this one hasn’t been officially cut. But for now, we are not looking too far into this project. Many people would argue that counter tops are a good improvement that will definitely add to your home's value. But our laminate counter tops aren't all that old, considering, and they do blend in fairly well. I'm not sure that the price of granite or butcher block for our large center island would result in direct returns on our home. The jury's still out on that one. So for now, we will table (that's a pun) the counter top plans. We did some work in the kitchen last year that really spruced things up (ripped down wall paper, added spackling to repair wall cracks, painted, and got new appliances). So for now, the kitchen is A-OK.
  • Refinishing the wood floors in the dining room and/or just installing new floors. We’ll probably leave this room as it is for at least the foreseeable future. It would be nice to get some new floors in there, but let’s face the facts. We have a 124 pound dog who likes to hang out in there. A new floor might not look nice and new for too long (we have our share of dog claw scratches already). So if we do decide to sell in the future, we may look at fixing up the dining room floors. Until then, this project is on hold.
  • New washer and dryer. Unfortunately we can’t justify buying a new set since our old ones are still working. As much as I’d love new high efficiency models, we are going to hold off for now.
BUT there’s still some fun to be had. (Maybe “fun” isn’t the right word, for all of these examples.) Here are the projects we are still planning to do.
  • Plumbing. Earlier this year, Rob installed a new water heater. He did a great job, but unfortunately exposed some other plumbing issues. We have very old pipes that are past their prime. We’re going to be putting in new pipes (probably Pex). I’m not looking forward to this project. In fact, “dread” is probably a more accurate word. Rob and I ripped down the ceiling earlier this year, so at least there’s easy access for this job.
  • Basement. We made a lot of progress on the basement remodel last year, but it was paused when we discovered the plumbing problems. We will proceed as planned with most of what’s left -- putting up drywall, tape/mud/paint, electrical wiring and lighting, base boards, builing bookshelves and a workbench.
  • Bathroom. We aren’t going to do a total bathroom remodel like we once dreamed about. Instead we’ll be doing a modified plan with a few cost-efficient upgrades. There’s more to talk about here, so I’ll save it for a future post.
  • Some yard work. I really want to rip out the mismatched and awkward shrubs and bushes that line the front of the house. I envision a nice garden with some hostas and tulips to add some curb appeal.
That list seems smart and attainable. For the record, when we do sell our house someday, I’m proud to say that the future owners will be getting a nicely updated abode. They will hopefully appreciate all of these wonderful things we’ve done:
  • Removed all wall paper and painted. Filled in cracks and holes in the walls.
  • Added livable space by finishing the basement. Added framing, insulation, laminate wood flooring, and storage. Knocked out a wall to make the space more open and removed fake wood paneling.
  • Replaced furnace.
  • Replaced water heater.
  • New central AC unit. (We actually didn’t do this, but it was done shortly before we moved in. However after we moved in, we were able to get it properly set on a concrete slab so that the unit will last a long time and function most efficiently.
  • Six foot privacy fence in the back yard.
  • New kitchen appliances (stove, fridge, dishwasher). We also replaced some old gas parts - the stove hookup and the shut-off valve - to improve things.
  • Ripped out past-its-prime carpet.
  • Added custom closets to the master bedroom (though we might take these with us when we leave since they are modular and can be moved - it would depend on whether or not a future buyer would be willing to pay a little extra for them).
  • We’ll probably leave all of the window treatments and blinds that we bought since some of them are custom sizes.
  • (Soon) All new plumbing pipes.
That’s a pretty good list, huh?

I do love our house and wouldn’t mind staying at this properly forever, if it was just a little bigger (yard more so than house, to be honest). Anyway we feel good about our decision to postpone some of our original plans and instead tackle some smart projects while continuing to build our savings for the future. Hopefully our loyal readers (or at least Scott, who complains when I don't post enough) won’t mind if this blog takes more of a lifestyle/random happenings focus rather than constant home improvement projects.

Tell me about your planned summer house and whether or not you agree with our list of approved house projects. We appreciate all the insight we can get. Goodbye for now, Internet.


Jessica May 17, 2011 at 9:45 PM  

Well we just bought our first home, so there are quite a few things we need to prioritize as far as designing and getting done. I think our first will probably be to add an epoxy coating to our garage floor, then redoing the bathroom adjacent. THen I guess we'll look at the kitchen as it needs some updating as well.

I can totally understand your predicament, and not that you needed my input, but I think you are doing the right thing. I hope the market turns around, because I know a lot of people in your boat, and no one ever wants to be limited by factors completely out of their control. That's why we buy in the first place, among other reasons. :)

Cindy @The Flipping Couple May 17, 2011 at 10:20 PM  

Your list and thought process totally makes sense. We've been doing the same type of re-evaluating on our dream projects (like the french doors we recently nixed). It's all stuff we'd love to do, and that we probably *would* do if we were staying here forever. But we're not. So we need to look at what makes sense on the resale market. And you guys have done a lot already! You've definitely improved the value of your home a lot.

Danielle and Clint May 18, 2011 at 1:31 PM  

I hear you on this! We have decided to hold of on new siding since the old one is just fine for now. It doesn't make sense to pour money into stuff during this market. Sounds like you guys made the right choices for now.

Vonda May 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM  

I think it's totally smart since you already know it's not your forever house.

Alexis L., The Studioist May 20, 2011 at 1:14 PM  

I think your list is a good one and I don't see anything to critique at this point. We just bought a very different kind of home--a studio apartment in NYC--and we are struggling with the same fundamental questions about what is worth doing. We're starting with the kitchen and doing a sort of high/low mix, not changing the floorplan much, not moving electrical or huge upgrades but improving the appliances and flooring, refreshing the cabinets. Blogged here http://www.studioist.com/my-evolving-home-kitchen-progress/#comments

Cait @ Hernando House May 23, 2011 at 10:27 AM  

DO NOT use Pex. There have been several recalls/lawsuits/etc involving houses plumbed with Pex. The people who added house's guest bath in the 90's used Pex and a pipe burst in the wall leading to an unplanned full bathroom remodel thanks to black mold. Do yourself a favor and go with CPVC.

Amanda- Hip House Girl May 31, 2011 at 3:49 PM  

Good call. We have this dilemma a lot as well. Our pipe dream is to hold on to this house until the neighborhood is the next "hot spot" (if that ever happens). Our plan is to rent it out, even if we move. However, I'm sure that sometime we may reconsider that and sell the house, at which time we'd regret any huge upgrades that wouldn't pay off. That's why we didn't do granite counter tops either. It's a balance- fixing up the house the way YOU love it, but also keeping a realistic eye on the pocketbook and the market.

Argumentative Essay August 19, 2011 at 4:44 AM  

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion.

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