Find out the top five remodeling projects that pay off. Get tips on improvements you can make within a range of budgets.
LESLIE: Well, are you planning big remodeling projects for your home this year? Since we’re pretty sure that none of them involve planting a money tree, you really want to make sure that every dollar counts.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. It’s great to be here.
TOM: It’s an absolute must to make sure that your projects will really pay off. Not only do you want a great finished product but it has to make dollars and sense. So, what do you recommend are the best improvements to make to achieve that?
KEVIN: Well, I think without question, you should start thinking about the kitchen , OK? So the kitchen is the heart of the home and it’s the first room a prospective buyer looks at when they come into your house. And think about it: if they buy the house, they don’t want to take on a major renovation the first thing they do when they move in. And that’s what you’d have to do if you want to attack the kitchen. So, that’s a great place to start.
And the good news is it can be a huge job but it doesn’t have to be; you don’t have to go the full gut, redo the entire room. There’s lots of changes within a wide range of budgets. I mean you can just paint the cabinets; that would make a huge upgrade.
TOM: Yeah, people tend to think that the kitchen always is a tens-of-thousands-of-dollars makeover but there are lots of …
LESLIE: And a huge inconvenience, I think.
TOM: Yeah, there’s lots of steps along the way, lots of little things that you can do: like you say, cabinets, countertop, lighting, flooring. Pick one part of it, right?
KEVIN: Pick one part of it this year, pick another part next year. Do it in small increments. Change out the appliances. Put some nice appliances in there or just one nice appliance. It’s going to make a big difference.
The second room that I think that you have to look at are bathrooms , OK? (inaudible at 0:23:14) another space that’s really closely examined by the home buyers.
Now, bathroom styles can be a very personal choice, so if you know that you’re going to be selling in the future and you’re doing a bathroom project, just keep your choices fairly neutral; that’s where you’re going to get your biggest payoff. And again, even some modest changes here can make a big difference: changing out the fixtures or the hardware, maybe putting in some tile flooring, even the décor can make a big difference. And you can do a lot of those things on a tight budget.
LESLIE: Now, Kevin, if you’ve got the opportunity to expand or do an addition, are there rooms that make more sense to add onto the home’s structure over others?
KEVIN: Yeah, I think so. Where do we spend all of our time? We spend it in the family room, right? We’re either in the kitchen or it seems we’re in the family room.
So if you’re going to add on, I think choosing a room that gets a lot of use, like a family room, is a great place to start in terms of an addition. Lots of people these days also like home offices and those things appeal to a wide range of buyers. And I think when you’re doing a home office, you can be thinking about it, in some cases, as a guest bedroom, as well. So it’s one of those rooms that can really change uses.
TOM: Or do double-duty, yeah.
KEVIN: Do double-duty, right.
TOM: Now, one room that’s changed a lot over the last 20 or 30 years is the master bedroom . It used to be, simply, the largest bedroom in the house. But today, buyers seem to want to have an entire suite, correct?
KEVIN: Yeah. I think the "suite" is the right word and so that means that we’re now asking it to do a lot more than just be a bedroom. We’re looking for things like a roomy closet, maybe even a his-and-her closet. And we want a master bath attached.
And so if you’re going to be doing a renovation and you’re thinking about the bedrooms, a master suite is a great place to start.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I think a good time to think about that is if you’ve already got something going on and you’re expanding that first floor and you have the opportunity to go over it with a second story, that really works.
KEVIN: Yeah. The foundation is a big expense and typically, the master suite is going to be up on the second floor. So it is – you really – if you can do it while you’re doing something else downstairs and pop this up on top, you’re going to be in a good place.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. I think it’s also so important to consider outdoor spaces. And I think if you don’t have one, adding a deck  to your home could really be huge for resale value but also huge for usable space.
KEVIN: Yeah, it’s a big project that we get a lot of questions about this on the show. We’ve even built some on the show to show people. A lot of people can do these things themselves but to your point, Leslie, it’s additional space and it’s outdoor space. Those are two prime motivators for people.
TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor – he’s the host of TV’s This Old House – about the top five remodels that pay off.
So, Kevin, we covered kitchens, baths, family-room additions, master-bedroom suites and decks. What about an improvement that maybe doesn’t pay off? Any thoughts on that?
KEVIN: Yeah, well, here’s something that actually surprised me: a pool, right? And do you think, "Well, geez, everyone wants a pool"? Well, it turns out that’s not necessarily the case. Now, certainly …
LESLIE: Oh, safety issues, maintenance, insurance costs.
KEVIN: Right? And there are some places where you’re going to get a lot of use out of a pool , like in Florida, so it might make sense down there. But in other geographical locations, where you don’t get that much use out of it, a home buyer is probably just as likely to say they don’t want a pool as they do want a pool. So you’re not always going to get a big bang for your buck by putting a pool.
TOM: I can definitely concur with that because in all the years I spent as a home inspector, I used to get that question all the time: "How do I fill that pool in? How do I make it go away? I just don’t want it."
TOM: Always surprising.
KEVIN: It is.
TOM: But it really is a very personal decision.
KEVIN: It is.
TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, great advice on how to make sure we get the best return on investment from our remodeling projects. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Thank you, guys.
LESLIE: Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.