Home remodeling TV shows may have you believing that the money you spend improving your digs will somehow magically return to you via a higher listing price when you sell. But it doesn't always work that way.
"Spending a lot of money does not automatically mean your house will just ride the escalator up and be worth a lot more," cautions Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of Remodeling magazine.
We count down the home renovations that Remodeling's annual Cost Vs. Value Report says offer the worst returns on your investment. You might be lucky to get back half the money you spend on them.
10. Swimming pool
Return on investment: Varies
Depending on where you live, a swimming pool may be a necessity or a liability.
Expensive to install and maintain, this backyard luxury is a real estate deal-maker in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Gulf Coast seaside locales, but a costly oddity that may require negotiation to close home sales in the rest of the country.
“They’re very market-dependent,” says Justin Pierce, an ex-Marine turned flipper and president of Snow Goose Homes in Woodbridge, Virginia. That's in the Washington, D.C., area — where pools are not too popular.
"Buyers don’t want the pool; they’re afraid of the cost of maintain it, they can only use it part of the year and they’re afraid of their kids falling in and drowning," Pierce says. "It eliminates more potential buyers than it motivates."
9. Wood-frame windows
Return on investment: 70%
Most homeowners don't think much about windows unless their windows lose a seal and cloud, crack or otherwise become hard to see through.
But should you invest in upgrades like wood-frame windows, you may be spending too much for the touch.
“Wood-frame windows look beautiful, but you’re really talking about three, four, five times the cost of a midgrade metal or vinyl window,” says Pierce.
"Unless it’s a really, really high-end home that people are going to pay that kind of money for, I would choose a midgrade-quality window and then trim it out with wood trim, if that’s what you like," he says.
8. Upscale grand entrance
Return on investment: 68%
To house hunters, your home’s entrance serves as its handshake and their first impression of the comforts within. Unfortunately, tricking out the entrance can be a waste of money.
“Anything that’s really high end, you’re probably not going to get a good return on resale because most retail buyers don’t recognize the value," Pierce says.
His advice? Keep material costs moderate and focus instead on the installation.
“You want the doors and windows properly insulated, square and plumb, and make sure the entrance matches your home,” he says. “If you have a Cape Cod-style house and you put a Victorian-style front door on it, it can be counterproductive.”
7. Major kitchen remodel
Return on investment: 59%-54%
Major kitchen remodels remain a staple on home reno TV for one very good reason: their intriguing design possibilities, from retro to postmodern, cartoon to kooky, and everything in between.
Unfortunately for homeowners, the current cost to give your kitchen a high-end makeover runs $50,000-plus.
Depending on your taste and comparable sale prices (comps) for homes in your neighborhood, you may wind up eating most of your cost when it's time for you to sell.
"If your idea is to have something from the 1970s with avocado ovens, the next person could walk in and say, 'That's ugly. I don't care that you spent $75,000 on that, let's tear it out anyway," says Webb, of Remodeling.
6. Closet remodel
Return on investment: 57%
Whether you call it a sign of the times or just human nature, consensus among home buyers is that closets should be larger.
However, spending $5,000 and up to borrow space from an adjacent bedroom to enlarge a closet will return little more than half what you paid for it at resale.
Despite the arithmetic, Pierce, of Snow Goose Homes, can get behind a modest closet expansion.
“People nowadays have a lot of junk. That is a good option if your home is conducive to it,” he says. “If it’s an easy build and doesn’t kill a bedroom, it can work, especially for the master bedroom. It works if it’s easy to do."
5. Master suite addition
Return on investment: 57%-48%
Statistically, messing with your master suite poses far more risk than reward.
Making it larger by stealing square footage from another room poses the possibility that you’ll create an awkward space in the master, the adjoining room or both.
And, by knocking out a wall, you could unwittingly unearth some troublesome and costly structural surprises to repair.
Should you decide to expand your master by expanding your home's footprint, the cost to add foundation alone could easily tip your bill to six figures.
Saving up for a remodeling project? Find out how much you need to put away each month to reach your savings goal.
4. Upscale bathroom remodel
Return on investment: 56%
As with the tricked-out entrance, it’s easy to overdo an upscale bathroom remodel, given the expensive but appealing enticements such as whirlpools, fireplaces, waterfall showers and through-the-roof-expensive imported tile.
The further you pursue your own beatific bathroom, the greater the chance that its unique character won’t suit the tastes of cost-conscious buyers, who may see only endless upkeep.
"Appraisers and buyers basically walk in the door and see one bathtub," Pierce notes. "They don’t see the difference between a $100 fiberglass tub and a $1,000 bathtub. It's just a dang bucket."
He also advises that you don't splurge on $10-per-square-foot tile if you're looking purely for a good return on your investment, because you're not going to get it.
3. Upscale bathroom addition
Return on investment: 55%
Most homeowners choose to endure the cost, noise and general household pandemonium of adding on a bathroom for the years of blissful bathing ahead.
But they may be overlooking the potentially adverse effects the addition may have on their appraised home value. If you make your house the biggest on the block, that can be a problem.
“That extra square footage is probably going to cost you between $150-$200 per square foot, depending on the market," Pierce says. But an appraiser is going to look at it and probably assign some cursory value, maybe $25-$50 a square foot."
Suffice to say, it’s risky to add square footage and expect a favorable return on the investment.
2. Sunroom addition
Return on investment: 49%
According to Remodeling, a sunroom addition can cost between $30,000 and $50,000, making it one of the most expensive home upgrades.
Because the value of sunrooms themselves are location- and market-dependent, their returns on investment tend to be higher in temperate southern states than in the four-season north.
Pierce sees sunroom expansion as prohibitively expensive for one reason.
“If it requires putting additional foundation on your home, it’s usually going to be a killer, because foundation work is really expensive." he says. "I don’t see any scenario where adding foundation to your home is going to pay off."
1. Midrange backyard patio
Return on investment: 48%
Outdoor living has become so popular in recent generations that it has changed our expectations of our home amenities.
That said, fancy patios return less than half what they cost to install.
Pierce says people like to spend time outside, especially around a grill. Moderation is the key to finding the sweet spot for spending on a patio.
"If your home is high enough to do a deck, that’s always going to be cheaper and a better ROI than a slate patio," Pierce says. "But if you can do Home Depot pavers instead of slate, it might be a better choice."
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