10 Home Renovation Myths You Might Believe (But Just Aren’t True)
January 12, 2021
by Valerie Kalfrin
When you’re ready to put your home on the market, it’s tempting to fall for the renovation bug. You know the one: You’ve wanted to redo that tile flooring in the kitchen, but you’ve never made the time. Why not do it now? Or you watch those home design shows and push, “We can do this. We just need a weekend to paint every room in the house, and we can add way more to our asking price…”
Real estate agent Adam Greer, who serves the Columbus, Georgia, area as well as neighboring communities in Alabama, sees this a lot. Unfortunately, it’s frequently with homeowners who aren’t as handy as they think. He’s noticed floors with unusually shaped tiles, walls with streaked paint, countertops that aren’t level, and drywall that shows seams.
“A lot of times buyers get in over their heads when they try to do things,” he says.
“It seems a lot easier if you’re looking at some of those TV shows and you have all the tools and money in the world to make sure it goes well.”
National spending on home improvements and repairs is expected to top $330 billion before the year’s end: a modest growth of less than 2% over recent years, but steady enough to show that redoing our homes is still very much on our minds.
The reasons why homeowners renovate vary. Some need to take on repairs before they sell, like if an FHA lender won’t approve financing because a home has a cracked window or chipped paint. According to one survey of about 142,000 homeowners, 16% said they renovated their homes in 2018 to address damage related to their home’s age or pests. However, the majority of those surveyed (57%) took the plunge because they’d long wanted to do so and finally had the time or financial means. Moving was another renovation inspiration, with 11% of respondents saying they planned to sell the home soon and wanted to increase its value.
Let’s sort through some home renovation myths so you can decide whether the projects suddenly calling to you are worth the time and expense before listing.
1. It’s cheaper to do it yourself.
If you’re a skilled DIYer, this may well be the case — but be honest with yourself. Angie’s List, a reputable online directory of service providers nationwide, recommends asking yourself these questions beforehand:
What’s the scope of your project?
How long will it take?
What materials do you need?
Do you have the equipment on hand?
Is the project you’re planning likely to affect the plumbing or electrical wiring?
Perhaps most important, do you have a good sense of how much this will cost? One 2019 survey of about 1,300 homeowners found that 90% planned a remodeling project at some point, but almost half of them weren’t willing to spend more than $5,000.
2. It won’t cost a lot.
That depends on what you have in mind. If you want to upgrade to hardwood floors, expect to pay about $5 to $15 per square foot for materials, says HomeAdvisor.com, plus $2 to $8 per square foot for installation, which throughout a large floor plan can cost more than $10,000.
Don’t forget to figure out how you’re planning to pay for this. The majority of homeowners in one home improvement survey (83%) used cash from savings from projects under $5,000 while about 38% put it on credit. Is either feasible for you right now?
3. Remodeling is fast…
No renovations are a one-size-fits-all proposition. The scope of your project, size of the work crew, availability of materials, weather, and even unforeseen problems such as finding mold or rotting wood during a demolition all affect a project’s timeline. In general, figure on 3–12 weeks to completely renovate a kitchen and roughly three weeks to redo a bathroom, according to House Beautiful.
4. …Or it always takes forever and goes over budget.
That said, there are many projects that wrap up relatively quickly. A crew can build a 16×20-foot deck in a week for about $16,000, including materials and labor. Replacing an old roof and installing a new one of asphalt shingles can take just a few days at a starting cost of about $4,000 for 1,000 square feet. Painting your home’s interior or exterior runs about $1,000 to $4,000. Want to replace your kitchen appliances? For about $5,000, you can purchase a refrigerator, range, microwave, and dishwasher from a midrange brand such as Samsung, GE, or LG (minus any sales tax and installation fee).
5. We can use a handyman instead of a licensed contractor.
A handyman, or handyman service, is a skilled jack-of-all-trades who is an economical option for patching drywall, cleaning gutters, unclogging pipes, replacing a broken garbage disposal, or installing a thermostat; those various projects where you need an extra set of hands or feel like all thumbs. The average hourly rate of a handyman ranges from $60 to $65 — the national average is about $77 an hour — with some services charging up to $125 an hour, according to HomeAdvisor.
Although some of these professionals specialize in certain types of home maintenance, such as tiling, carpentry, or painting, real estate agents like Chris Creegan, a top-selling real estate agent in Orlando, Florida, recommends hiring a contractor for any maintenance issue where a home inspector will want to see receipts and warranties. A contractor will ensure that any roofing, plumbing, electrical, AC, or structural modifications meet code requirements as well.
6. We won’t need a permit.
Better pump the brakes on that idea, says Randal G. Winter Construction. He’s been a residential licensed general contractor since 1980 in Santa Clarita, California. In general, you don’t need a permit to paint, install carpeting or flooring, or add kitchen or bathroom cabinets. However, any type of demolition where you’re changing a window or door size, adding or demolishing part of a building, or tinkering with the plumbing or heating requires a permit.
“You can definitely see when people do additions to a house that aren’t up to code,” Greer adds. “People attach trailers to a brick and mortar home, and that’s the addition. I’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
Winter Construction notes that if you live under the governance of a homeowners association, you’ll likely need the HOA’s approval before any project, in addition to any permits. There are “many instances” where projects have to be put on hold because the HOA didn’t approve the components or the products.
7. We’ll get a dollar-for-dollar return on the investment.
Some renovations are worthwhile. One 2019 study from the National Association of Realtors ranked both a complete kitchen renovation and a kitchen upgrade as projects most likely to appeal to buyers and boost a home’s resale value.
But no renovation recoups its entire cost. Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost versus Value Report compared average costs for 22 projects in 101 markets nationwide and found that a major kitchen remodel cost about $68,000 but recovered only about 59% at resale. A minor kitchen remodel cost about $23,000 but recoups roughly 78% at resale. The best upgrade? Removing 300-square-feet of vinyl siding from the bottom third of a home’s street-facing exterior and replacing it with manufactured stone veneer, a job that cost about $9,400 but recoups about 96% at resale.
8. Incorporating design trends is always good.
Sherwin-Williams may have announced a rich navy blue, aka Naval SW 62444, as its 2020 Color of the Year because it “strikes a balance between calm and confident.” But neutral colors — warm whites, grays, and beiges — are still the interior colors that designers and real estate agents recommend when selling your home. They’re soothing and unify the space so that buyers can visualize themselves and their belongings in your home.
Interior design and decorating trends in general tend to wax and wane, and no seller wants to be caught with what’s considered an outdated house. (The “farmhouse chic” look is on its way out, as is white subway tile for the bath or kitchen backsplash.) Pare down your clutter, and decorate around how the light naturally falls in your rooms to divide a space more organically for reading and socializing, designers say.
9. We can opt for the least expensive materials.
A lot of products look relatively similar, but the cheapest one isn’t always better. A less-expensive countertop in a basement three-quarter bath might be fine, but a plastic kitchen faucet for about $150 will need to be repaired or replaced much sooner than a $500 one, says Built by Design, an award-winning remodeling service operating since 2004 in Overland Park, Kansas. Rather than make such decisions yourself, however, why not speak with a contractor or design consultant about where you can save on your budget without creating something a buyer will consider faulty down the line?
10. A pool always adds value.
A well-marketed in-ground pool could boost your home’s value by as much as 7%, according to one statistic, but pools are an extremely personal home investment. If you live in a warmer climate where pools are popular, or your home is in a price point where buyers will expect a pool, that’s definitely a draw, says top luxury real estate agent Pam Zaragoza of Burlingame, CA.
However, there always are buyers who are “not pool people” who see it as too much hassle. Talk with your real estate agent about how your home stacks up against the competition without a pool. If you’re selling, you won’t be there to enjoy it.
Before considering any home improvement project, experts recommend assessing not just the financial costs and return on investment but how much it eats into the time you’ll spend in your home.
“If you’re in a luxury house or if the house is in disarray, then some of that’s going to be necessary,” Greer says. But don’t think that you have to redo the house from top to bottom to put your house in the best possible position to sell. Ask your real estate agent to help you crunch the numbers instead.
“If they want to go the repair route because it nets them more money, then that’s what we’ll do,” Greer says. But if it’s difficult to justify the renovations, “they can just price the house correctly and still have the same bottom line.”