Forget about resale value
No matter what you do to your house, some people will like it, and some people won’t
It’s all about resale value, right? Make a killing on one house, then move up to a newer, bigger home. Every move must be calculated: Select the trendiest colors and the most upscale appliances. You’ve heard this advice from builders, from designers, and especially from real-estate agents. But I say forget it.
I recently met a couple from Portland, Ore., who had just sold a house. Their real-estate agent told them that they wouldn’t get their asking price unless they spruced up the place. She suggested adding all new carpets, replacing a couple of aging bath fixtures, and most important, updating the kitchen. They took her advice, spent a lot of money, and almost got the price they wanted. The new owners, of course, gutted the remodeled kitchen, then brought in an interior designer to redo the rest of the house, including “those awful carpets.”
As a kitchen designer who has been in the business for more than 30 years, I teach design seminars all over the country, and in every one, the subject of resale value comes up. Each time I share a cool design idea, someone’s hand goes up. “Won’t concrete countertops hurt the resale value of my home?” or “I want electric appliances, but everyone tells me that people prefer gas.” Homeowners are obsessed with resale value, and it’s insane.
You can’t control all the issues that affect resale
Consider the following points. First and most important, are you really ever going to move? Lots of homeowners who are going to be carried out feet first still worry about the value of their home should they do anything slightly out of the ordinary. If you aren’t going anyplace, do what you want and to heck with resale. Let your kids worry about it.
Second, no matter what you do to your house, some people will like it, and some people won’t. There is simply no way to know what some future buyer wants. You can’t predict what they will like, so don’t try. Unless you paint all the walls fuchsia, you can always find someone who will either like what you have done or will like the “bones” of your home. So quit worrying about something that you really can’t control.
Let me share some real examples of things that people want to do in their kitchens, but hesitate to do because of concerns over resale value. My favorite is changing the kitchen-countertop height. More and more men are cooking today, and I often get requests about making the countertops higher in the kitchen. But what about resale value if your counters aren’t 36 in. high? My answer is always the same: How do you know that the person looking at your home won’t just love the kitchen countertops being 2 in. higher?
I also suggest to clients (or seminar audiences) that they move their kitchen sink out from under the kitchen window and put it into an island or peninsula where they can talk with their family and guests. I also recommend that they raise the dishwasher off the floor (anywhere from 6 in. to 16 in.) to make it more user-friendly. Clients love these ideas, but frequently, at the last minute, they get cold feet and revert to the more traditional approach. Why? Resale. Maybe potential buyers won’t like it. And this leads me to my third issue.
Remember the slogan “Location, location, location”? Potential buyers can’t change the location of your home, but everything else is malleable. Most homebuyers have no intention of keeping the kitchen, bathrooms, or any of the other decorating that you’ve done in your home. They are looking for a sound structure on a nice lot in a good neighborhood and in a great school district. And they’re going to tear out your kitchen no matter how nice it is. They’ll strip the kitchen and the bathroom to the walls and make them their own, along with every other room in the house—hardly a justification for doing without those high kitchen counters.
What if you can’t forget about resale value?
Even if you agree with my premise about resale value, I know some of you can’t let go. You’re thinking, what if I know I’m going to sell my house in a couple of years? Aren’t there some things I can do to improve the place for me while still getting a good return on my investment? In other words, what kind of things can you spend money on and feel relatively certain that no matter who the potential buyers are, they will like this addition to your home?
First, it inevitably will be something that people see immediately, and it will almost always be something that has the “gee whiz” factor. Such things include granite countertops, always a crowd pleaser. Corian (or other solid surface) counters are another big plus, but not quite as appealing as granite. If you have a Sub-Zero refrigerator, everyone is sure to notice it and be pleased. Indeed, most people will equate the above items with quality and assume that this level of quality extends to the rest of the house.
In the bathroom, two lavs at two different counter levels are a plus. Great lighting pays, along with a large shower. Even if you never use one, a bathtub is a must. And of course, everyone gets excited about jetted or whirlpool-style tubs. They have great curb appeal. But keep in mind that, according to American Standard, the average jetted or whirlpool-type tub is used only seven times in the lifetime of the unit. (That’s right, in the lifetime of the unit.) So given the price, don’t install one of these unless you’re sure you will use it.
If you are thinking about a bidet because you think it will have a gee-whiz factor, don’t. Most people have no idea why you would want a bidet.
One other general item is always a good idea: genuine wood floors. Wood is a forever floor, works well nearly anywhere, and holds its value.
But let me reiterate: Do these things only if they’re what you want. If you listen to all the experts telling you to do this and don’t do that because it will affect resale value, you’ll essentially turn your home into the equivalent of a motel room. It’s your home; do what you want.
James Krengel is a kitchen and bath designer in St. Paul, Minn.