Selling your home? Three projects you should and shouldn't tackle

If you're remodeling your home to sell it, learn which upgrades might be worth your time and money, and which should be avoided.

Are you trying to sell your home, but you're worried that the pink tile in the bathroom will turn buyers off? Maybe it's the shag carpet in your living room that's got you worried?

Well, it might be time to make some small updates. But be warned: Some remodeling projects could not only be huge money suckers, but they might also fail to add resale value to your home.

When deciding which projects are worth completing, you don't want to over-invest your time and money. Expensive projects are rarely worth it if your goal is simply to sell the house.

"Beware of projects that could run into delays," says Ben Bowen, a third-generation landscaper in Portland, OR. "You don't want to end up in a situation where you have to either put off listing the house or trying to sell it with an unfinished project going on."


[Need to make some updates on your home before your sell? Find a contractor who can help.]

So, which projects are worth it and which aren't? Here are three renovations to tackle and three to avoid before you put your house on the market.

Project-to-Avoid: Adding Unconventional Appliances or Features

A built-in wine fridge, custom closets, or a hot tub may sound like a dream addition to your home, but what happens if the buyer hates wine or thinks the hot tub is an eyesore?

"You are not going to get very much extra money for your wine cellar if the prospective buyer is looking at it as a great thing to tear out and replace with a home theatre," says Jeff Moeslein, president of Legacy Remodeling, Inc., a specialty remodeling company in western Pennsylvania.

Adding unique features to your home makes sense if you like those things and are planning on enjoying them yourself, according to Moeslein. Just don't expect to recover the total cost when you're ready to sell.

Other contractors agree: "If you are considering adding a 'special touch' to your home to entice new buyers, save your money," says Aja Covell, a certified general contractor and the owner of Investcove Properties, a residential development company.

Why? These personal touches - anything from funky kitchen tile to accent paint to wall decals - make it harder for other families to picture themselves living in the house.

Try This Instead: Middle-of-the-Road Kitchen Upgrades

Instead of adding unconventional touches to your home, consider updating different elements in your kitchen - like your cabinets, for example. Complete kitchen remodels can be complicated and costly, but small upgrades take less time, cost less, and can often be done without even hiring a contractor.

Erica Lugbill, the owner and lead designer of Lugbill Designs, a Chicago-based residential design firm, recommends focusing on small "face-lift" projects, such as painting your cabinets, switching out your hardware, installing a tile backsplash, or replacing the countertops.

And there are ways to make the latter project even more cost-efficient: "You can go to a stone remnant yard where there is often a large selection of discount pieces of granite or quartz that can be installed for a fraction of the cost," says Lugbill.

[Ready for new kitchen countertops? Click here to find a contractor in your area.]

If it's going to take a little more than elbow grease to get your kitchen in shape, Moeslein recommends what he calls a "replacement kitchen." This is a kitchen remodel in which the existing cabinets and countertops are replaced with new ones, but the layout of the kitchen is not changed.

"If you stick to moderately priced materials, a replacement kitchen is a smart investment for homeowners looking to sell," he adds.

Project-to-Avoid: Room Additions

Want to increase the square footage of your home? A room addition might sound like a great idea, until you realize that doing so could cost you as much as $100,000.

In fact, according to Remodeling magazine's 2011-2012 "Cost vs. Value Report," a master suite could cost over $106,000, while adding a family room could run you around $83,000.

Large projects like additions, sunrooms, and master suites are also not worth pursuing because they typically stretch across a long period of time, according to Moeslein. "From planning to obtaining a permit to completion, a large addition may take six to nine months," says Moeslein.

And Moeslein has another interesting insight about the drawbacks of room additions. "If you put a large addition on your home, you may help increase the value of the homes around you, but you won't do anything for yourself, except make it harder to sell your house at the price you want." After all, your house would look very similar to the ones around it, but you would have to charge a much higher price to recoup some of the investment.

Try This Instead: Roof Replacement

Rather than extending the size of the house, worry about making the outside look inviting.

And if your home has a leaking roof, you should absolutely talk to a contractor about having it repaired or replaced immediately. "A leaking roof will either push away prospective buyers or lead them to demand large price concessions," says Moeslein. Not to mention the other problems a roof can lead to - drywall damage, mold, and eventually, structural issues - which a home inspector will undoubtedly look for if you have a leaky roof.

Fortunately, getting your roof ready for the market isn't too difficult. "Correcting this problem will save you a lot money, as the repairs generally can be made for as little as a few hundred dollars," adds Moeslein. "This is much less than the concession a potential buyer may expect if they are being saddled with this issue."

[Is your roof looking a little worse for the wear? Click here to find a contractor who can help.]

An entire roof replacement will greatly improve the overall appearance of your home, according to Moeslein. Just make sure your roof is easily visible from the street so that potential buyers can take in its stunning beauty.

Project-to-Avoid: Major Bathroom Updates

Are you worried that your outdated bathroom will scare buyers away? A major bathroom remodel might be in order, but just remember that it will be expensive, and in the end it still might not suit the buyer's tastes.

According to Moeslein, bathroom renovations typically cost about $250 per sq. ft. or more, which means a 5 x 8 ft. bathroom may cost upwards of $10,000.

Why so expensive? Well, a complete overhaul would typically require a contractor and replacement of the floors, walls, and fixtures in a bathroom. Depending on the specifics of the project, it may also involve relocating the plumbing in order to place the fixtures (shower, tub, sink, etc.) in a different location, says Moeslein.

And if the buyer doesn't share your taste in grout, you'll end up limiting your audience. Because bathrooms are a highly personal space, says Moeslein, some homeowners could be better off letting the buyers do the remodeling after purchasing the property.

Try This Instead: Fixing Up Bathroom Flooring and Walls

If bathroom renovations are necessary and time is limited, think small. A number of smaller improvements can improve the condition and look of the bathroom without digging too deep into your pocket.

You may be able to install a one-piece vinyl floor, or replace the vanity, sink, and faucet. These types of projects can often be completed by the handy DIYer for about $1,000 or less, according to Moeslein. Of course, if home improvement is not your forte, it's best to consult a home contractor.

[Does your bathroom need a little spit and polish? Click here to find a contractor today.]

Along the same lines, a new coat of paint can do wonders, particularly in a bathroom environment where the humidity can cause paint to deteriorate faster than it might otherwise. If you do decide to paint prior to offering a home for sale, Moeslein says it's important to stick with neutral colors that offer a wide appeal.

Moeslein adds these words of wisdom: "While you may think that new bright pink paint is awesome, it may not be for everyone."