Home renovation projects can cost tens of thousands of dollars and disrupt the lives of home owners for months. Too often, home owners get to the end of this trying process only to wonder, Was it worth it?
That’s because, with certain types of renovations, the results may be less appealing than anticipated…cost overruns are common…and/or significant amounts of ongoing maintenance are needed.
ADDING SPACE AND ALTERING LAYOUTS
Modifying floor plans and adding rooms sometimes result in serious regrets…
Finishing an attic might seem like a good way to add a bedroom, office or family room without the high cost of putting an addition on the home. But even attics that are relatively roomy when unfinished often feel quite cramped by the time the project is complete. The attic floor typically must be raised to accommodate the stronger joists needed to support living space. Also, the attic ceiling might have to be lowered if the home’s ductwork has to be rerouted there as part of the renovation. And an attic ladder or narrow attic staircase usually must be replaced with a much wider staircase to meet code, reducing living space in both the attic and the rooms below. Finishing an attic also tends to be much more expensive than home owners expect—costs commonly climb above $35,000 and attic rooms are hard to keep cool. A conventional addition to the house usually is the better option unless lot restrictions make that impossible.
Finishing a garden shed or other outbuilding is a fairly common way to create a small private office or workshop away from the rest of the home. But home owners often discover that they use these new work spaces much less than expected for various reasons—for example, it may be annoying to trudge back and forth to the house each time they need to use the bathroom…and if they skip the added expense of heating and air-conditioning, these sheds might be uncomfortable for extended stretches.
Finishing a basement could be a mistake if the basement has ever had any moisture issues. Some home owners believe that their basements don’t have such issues because “there’s been water in it only once in all the years I’ve owned it.” Once is one time too many if you intend to finish a basement. Even very rare moisture issues can lead to water damage to furniture, flooring, wallboards and electronics, and they can cause difficult-to-eradicate mold and mildew problems. Remedying water problems can be very expensive.
Tearing out walls but leaving the horizontal support beams that they hid seems to some home owners like a cost-effective way to create an open-layout home. In reality, it usually looks terrible. Leaving exposed horizontal support beams in place after you rip out walls ensures that the renovation won’t produce the open-layout look you had in mind—it will look like a job half-done.
Removing interior walls to create open layouts and large master bedrooms does indeed make older homes appear more spacious and modern. But if you can’t afford the mid-to-high four-figure price tag that’s typically required to properly reconfigure a home’s support elements when you rip out a load-bearing wall, skip the project entirely.
KITCHEN AND BATH
Kitchens and bathrooms are the rooms most often renovated—but not all of the renovations turn out as well as anticipated…
Bathroom remodelings that emphasize style over utility might look nice in other people’s homes, but they soon become frustrating for home owners. No pedestal sink is attractive enough to make up for the fact that without a vanity, there’s nowhere to stash toiletries, spare rolls of toilet paper and all the other things that we need in our bathrooms.
Choose vanities that provide lots of storage space. Consider installing cabinets above the toilet, too, to use space that normally goes to waste. An eight-inch-deep cabinet will be flush with the back of the toilet so that no one bumps his/her head. Unless your ceiling is unusually high, opt for cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling—no one ever complained about having too much storage space in a bathroom.
Unconventional built-in kitchen appliances, such as built-in warming trays and wine fridges, tend to be expensive and underused. They also take up precious kitchen space, and they’re of such narrow appeal that home owners almost never get any of their investment back when they sell the home.
If you want an unconventional kitchen appliance, select a model that’s not built in so that you can stash it out of the way when it’s not in use and take it with you when you move.
Ultra-high-end kitchen appliances sometimes are installed as part of kitchen renovations. After all, what’s $6,000 for a high-end refrigerator when you’re shelling out tens of thousands of dollars on a renovation? Unless money is truly no object, that’s a splurge you might later regret, especially in a modest home. Ultra-high-end appliances from companies such as Sub-Zero, Viking and Wolf are indeed attractive, but some appliance makers now offer upscale product lines that effectively copy the look and functionality of these super-expensive appliances, only at significantly lower prices and with significantly greater reliability.
Examples: GE Café and Monogram product lines and Kenmore Elite and Pro product lines stack up well against the more expensive elite brands.
Tile floors and countertops look great in magazines, but the grout between tiles soon becomes stained…dirt, dust and crumbs are difficult to clear from the gaps between tiles…and the edges of the tiles often chip. Be particularly wary of small tiles, because smaller tiles mean significantly more grout and gaps to keep clean.
OTHER RENOVATION REGRETS
More oft-regretted home renovations…
White carpeting and white flooring look great in showrooms but require constant cleaning to look good and inevitably become stained. This is even true for white laminates—quality laminates can be very stain-resistant, but pure white laminates still show every scuff mark.
High-end flourishes in modest homes don’t make these simple homes look upscale—they just look jarringly out of place and sometimes even laughable. It’s better to leave the elaborate home theaters and wine cellars to the mansion owners.
Wallpaper often looks dated soon after it’s hung, as styles tend to go out of fashion quickly. Also, putting up wallpaper is much more challenging than do-it-yourselfers tend to imagine. If you’re not hiring a pro for the job, expect a frustrating weekend followed by years of noticing imperfect seams and wondering why you didn’t just paint.