Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?SEXPAND


Dear Lifehacker,
I'm getting ready to do some home remodeling. While my options for hardware finishes and cabinet styles are seemingly infinite, my budget is not. Where should I spend more and where should I cut back to get the biggest bang for my remodeling buck?P

Resourceful RemodelerP


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Dear Resourceful,
Regardless of your budget, remodeling is definitely a balancing act. Whether you're remodeling your kitchen, bathroom, or other area of your home, you'll face a ton of options—and will have to make tradeoffs. You want to make all your choices really count, not just for your lifestyle, but also because these choices will likely affect the resale value of your home. No pressure, right? Don't worry, here's what you should keep in mind for just about any remodeling project.P

Splurge: Prioritize Your Spending Based on Your Values and How You'll Use the SpaceP

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?SEXPANDVery few, if any, remodeling projects will return 100% of your investment, so the decision to remodel should be more about your enjoyment of your home and getting more out of it. For any space, think about your family's lifestyle, and spend more on the areas that support those priorities. For example:

  • Kitchen: If you're a gourmet cook, a professional range would likely be worth the investment to you. For busy families, a large kitchen island/breakfast nook might be more important.1P
  • Bathrooms: In a high-traffic powder room, a high-quality low-flow toilet might be most important, whereas in the master bath you might focus more on a double sink vanity.P
  • Other spaces: Sound, lighting, and Ethernet wiring might be more important in an entertainment-focused den—or if the space is used more for relaxing or hobbies you might make other decisions (a skylight, maybe, or more built-in storage).P
  • Appliances: When it comes to appliances, you should likewise think practically. Spend more on those appliances and their features that you'll use more often and get the most savings from upgrading. It doesn't pay (in terms of energy savings) to replace a dryer, but other old appliances might be worth it, depending on how old they are. Bankrate has a great article on features to spend extra for when buying appliances (for example, choose the steamer function on a dryer to reduce wrinkles; skimp on the electronic features). P

Remember to keep in mind how long you'll likely live in your home and enjoy these upgrades, though, to make sure they're worth it.P

Skimp: Don't Over-CustomizeP

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?


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That said, your remodeling choices should also take future homebuyers into account and how much you'll be able to recoup your investment. You don't want to overspendand possibly price your home way out of proportion to the rest of the neighborhood. P

Lean towards neutral options: Similarly, remodels that are too customized or unusual can turn off buyers. Purple wall-to-wall carpet or a walk-in-shower bathroom might sound great to you, but probably wouldn't fit the majority of most homeowners' needs or wants. P

Avoid non-standard sizes or finishes: Custom, non-stock choices—in cabinets, countertops, exterior finishes, and more—will also add (painfully) to your remodeling cost. This isn't always necessary. For example, Seacoast Online says you'll get little return on investment from a full line of custom kitchen cabinets, when semi-custom would do. Even better, if your cabinets are structurally fine, refacing or staining the doors will be cheaper than replacing them altogether—and still give you that brand new look—or you could get custom doors put on stock IKEA cabinets for a nice compromise. The same goes with other areas of the home. P

Splurge: Invest in the Most Permanent, Fundamental ItemsP

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?

When you're spending big bucks on a remodel, you want the improvements to be lasting and make the biggest different over the long haul. P

Spend more on quality items that are hard to replace: Permanent fixtures (e.g., the bathtub) should take priority over ones that you can improve later when you have more money (e.g., the faucet). Likewise, radiant floor heating isn't that expensive to install—if you do it when you're replacing a floor.P

Architects Beth Reader and Chuck Swartz took their own advice when remodeling their home:P

Put money into the permanent parts (in this case, a standing seam metal roof, steel structural frame, and exterior cedar cladding), and go thriftier on interior finishes, which tend to be more ephemeral anyhow. The kitchen takes this ethos to heart, featuring birch veneer flat slab Ikea cabinets, drawer pulls from Lowe's, and laminate countertops.

"We were running out of money in a big way, so the kitchen is pretty basic except for the appliances," says Reader, estimating the cost of the remodel at around $144 per square foot. "We figure we can always replace the countertops or cabinets down the line."P

Invest in insulation, windows, and doors: Similarly, it pays to invest extra in adding insulation when replacing your siding, as opposed to splurging on creating the landscape of your dreams (which can be done in phases). P


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In addition to insulation, don't skimp on windows or doors. You don't need to get the ultra-brand name doors or windows, but avoid the cheapest ones, because these affect your security, safety, and home comfort (as well as energy savings). The extra you spend on energy-efficient doors and windows could also be made up from possible energy tax credits and rebates.P

Skimp: Buy Cheaper Alternatives That Look the Same as Premium MaterialsP

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?

Often, you could buy lookalikes for a lot less than the premium versions of certain materials. P

Decorative tile: If you're tiling a basement bar area, kitchen backsplash, or bathroom, for example:P

"Two-dollar tile can look just as nice as $10 tile," [contractor Steve Iverson onHGTV] says. "No one will know what you spent." P

Molding and trim: Instead of opting for expensive molding and trim, you can stain cheaper lighter woods to look like more expensive varieties.P


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Floors and other materials: Laminate flooring, if installed properly, are a pretty good looking alternative to hardwood floors. (Or if you already have wood floors, refinish them instead of replacing them.)2P

A few other examples include: fiber-cement siding instead of wood, solid-surface countertops or tile granite instead of slab granite, and vinyl windows instead of wood.P

Splurge: Spend More on Your Room's Focal PointsP

Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save in a Home Remodel?

As an alternative, choose to use high-end materials selectively in a room, where it counts the most. Go for impact, and pick the focal point where your splurge will matter most.P

For example, in the living room, you might spend more on the fireplace surround or entertainment center, whereas in the dining room, more on the chandelier. Likewise, expensive tile or other materials you've fallen in love with could be used selectively in one area while the rest of the room gets a cheaper treatment.P

Start Off on the Right FootP

Finally, make sure you've set up a realistic budget (check Houzz's remodeling costs examples)—and add 50% to that just in case! Pick all your materials before the start of the project to avoid as many problems as possible. P

If you're selective with your choices (perhaps buy materials at a reuse center and maybe even tackle the parts of the project you can do yourself), hopefully you'll find that nice balance between the perfect space you've been dreaming of and saving as much as possible for the next project. P


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Good luck!P

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Varinder Puaar

Varinder Puaar

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CENTURY 21 Legacy Ltd., Brokerage*
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