There's nothing wrong with a deep cleaning, sprucing up, or renovation project here or there to boost the value of your home (or just make it more pleasant to live in). However, some of those projects may be scams, or completely unnecessary. Let's look at some of the worst so you don't throw your money away.
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Some home improvement projects may be a huge benefit to you or your family, but they can actually be huge money sinks. In other cases, companies that offer specialized services and repairs make a mint off of gullible homeowners. We've highlightedspecific renovations that can cost more than you'll get back, but this time we'll look at some broad repairs, improvements, and services that aren't worth your money.
Regular Duct Cleaning
Often billed as a service that homeowners need periodically to keep their ventilation systems clean and efficient, it turns out that duct cleaning is a lot of money for no real payoff. There are some circumstances where a full cleaning is worthwhile, but regular duct cleaning is almost always a scam designed to get you into a lucrative contract (usually between $400 to $1000 per cleaning). Even if you do need duct cleaning once, that's usually enough to the point where you'll never need it again. 1
The National Institutes of Health says the only times you may actually need it is if you notice moisture or water damage in your ducts, microbial growth like mold, mildew, or slime, see debris or dirt that's blocking airflow, dust discharge, or smell unpleasant odors. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency has a whole page dedicated to the topic, and notes that you may consider it if someone in your household has allergies or asthma, has come down with a mysterious respiratory illness, if you've recently had a pest infestation in your ventilation system, or, of course, if the ducts are clogged. We would add that if you're moving into a home where a previous owner had pets, was specifically dirty, or were heavy smokers, it's worth considering as a one-time thing. Regular duct cleaning, all of those sources agree, is largely unnecessary.
Chimney "Shakers" and Gutter "Repairs"
Part scam, part valid improvement, chimney inspections and regular gutter cleaning are all necessary tasks that a homeowner needs to take on at some point or another. The real key to handling all of those things is to make sure they're done by licensed professionals you can trust. You can choose to go with a responsible handyman if you choose, but the reason they made this list is because they're all too often unnecessary, overly expensive, and because the people begging you to let them do the work usually don't have your best interests in mind.
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The Better Business Bureau explains that all too often, contractors looking to "inspect and repair your chimney" (when they really just damage it and remove damaged brick to "prove" to you that you need more costly repairs) or "repair your leaky gutters" (when they may do more harm than good, or nothing at all) will show up unannounced, or solicit you by phone. They'll offer to do the work for exceptionally low prices because they're "working on a house nearby," or because they "have leftover materials from a previous job. As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Cleaning your gutters and regular inspections of your chimney (if you have one) should be part of your regular home maintenance schedule, so there shouldn't be a need to have them done by an unknown on the spot, without a contract or warranty for the work, even if the price is nice. It doesn't take much research to find stories of people scammed by these tactics.
To be fair, you should have your chimney inspected, repaired when it needs to be, and regularly cleaned if there's a buildup of soot or ash, usually every few years. You should also clean your gutters regularly to keep them draining and free of debris, usually every year (sometimes more often if you live somewhere with a lot of trees.) All of that said, even if you pay more to hire someone reputable and professional (or choose to DIY, if you know how to do it properly), you'll be better off avoiding a fly-by-night or on-the-spot job by someone looking to make a quick buck.
Driveway Sealing is in a similar category as chimney repairs and gutter cleaning. It's a necessary part of maintaining your home, but the people who solicit you to do the work usually don't have your best interests in mind. HomeAdvisor explains that how often you get your driveway sealed depends completely on the weather in your area and the wear and tear you put on it. If you live in an area with lots of rain, ice, and other conditions that can damage your driveway, you may want to do it more often (or learn to do it yourself) than someone in a milder climate. Most homeowners, however, don't need to jump every time they get a flyer in the mail offering a summer discount on their "annual" driveway sealing.
If you have no idea how to do it on your own, leave driveway sealing to a professional who'll warranty their work. The guy who comes to your door with "leftover sealant from a house up the street," willing to do yours for $50, is likely to just spread crude motor oil on your driveway, collect the cash while it's shiny, and drive off. Don't fall for it. Check with your real estate agent for recommendations if you've just moved in, or talk to your neighbors. Even better, judge with your eyes—if you see the asphalt on your driveway starting to crack and show signs of wear, it might be time to get it sealed. Otherwise, don't go in for this often-pricey money-sink.
Unnecessary Appliance Upgrades
Shopping for appliances can be fun, and a newly remodeled kitchen, or updated range, oven, and fridge can all make an old kitchen feel like new, but if you're buying with the illusion that you'll save money on energy—or because you think they'll automatically boost your home's value—you're probably wasting your money. Of course, if you're buying new appliances because you want them, then go for it! But if you think there's going to be a quick return on your investment, there are a few things to consider first.
First, while it's true that appliance upgradescan increase the value of your home, that usually applies when the appliances are brand new and you're getting your house ready to sell. Second, if you're buying to save money on energy, do the math first, or get an energy audit from your local utility or a company that specializes in them. You'll find out pretty quickly if the upgrade will pay for itself, and when. If you plan to live in the house for that long and you want the upgrade, it may be worthwhile. Don't spend your money for the wrong reasons—or without the data to back up your decisions.
Extremely Personal Permanent Changes
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While we're generally advocates of making changes to your home if you want them and know you'll enjoy them, there is something to be said for avoiding extremely personal, expensive alterations that will be costly to reverse, make your home difficult to sell if you ever need to, and that you can't take with you if you move. There's a fine line here though—we've talked about why you shouldn't always consider your home an investment in the past, and you should definitely spend money to make it your own and a place you enjoy living in. However, the fact remains that most people eventually need to move at some point for some reason, and at that point the renovation is wasted money.
We mentioned some of those specific renovations before, like adding in a pool or converting a bedroom into something difficult to turn back into a bedroom. The same rule applies to other personal additions, like a massive aquarium, space-eating permanent storage, or extremely colorful and splashy kitchen or bathroom remodels. They may all be fun, but they can also be really expensive for little utility or payoff. If you can do it on the cheap to suit your needs and then change it back when you leave, by all means go for it. If you can walk that line, you'll be successful.
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Beyond scams and useless "improvements," remember not to jump at home improvements simply for value's sake. Chasing increased home values in artificial upgrades can quickly drain your bank account for no real return. Instead, invest in modifications and improvements that are timely, suit your needs and your tastes, have general appeal, and most importantly are within your budget.
There are plenty of home improvements and maintenance projects worth doing, and even some of the ones we mentioned can be good if they're done properly and at the right time. Even so, make sure you're not throwing your money away. As long as you keep an eye out for scams and spend wisely, you'll be able to save money and make your home a better place to live.