Kitchen and bath remodels are widely considered the best return on investment for homeowners. But designers caution that people should prioritize house updates that will make their lives more comfortable, especially if they will be staying put for a while.
Alan Zielinski, National Kitchen & Bath Association president and owner of Better Kitchens in Niles, would prefer that ROI really be called ROE, or return on enjoyment.
"Many homeowners are staying in place and upgrading their existing properties for their own enjoyment, not for resale," he says.
So what remodeling projects make sense to take on, whether an ROI or ROE? What is most important? We asked several remodeling experts for advice on whether these projects are truly worth the money.
Problem: My master bath isn't the spa-like sanctuary that I've always wanted.
Bathroom remodeling offers a 68.7 percent return on investment, according to a National Association of Realtors survey; bathrooms are second only to kitchens in renovations that help sell a home.
"For the most part, today's projects remove the tub in its entirety, since bathtubs were always too small," Zielinski says. "There should be a tub -- not a (whirlpool tub) -- in the house for resale value. In the life of a house, a Jacuzzi is used maybe 10 times and requires a lot of maintenance. Instead, air tubs are recommended."
The bathroom update can have widely varying costs. Those who shop for bargains and frequent outlet stores can create a beautiful space with just $5,000. For those with bigger budgets, a luxurious marble bathtub can cost more than $5,000 alone. Other costs that can climb quickly: tile, vanities and luxury amenities like heated floors.
ROI: For a master bath remodel, "You could even expect an 80-percent return," Zielinski says.
Problem: My kitchen and dining room are closed off from each other.
For many homes, the kitchen and dining room are separate rooms, but in today's newly constructed homes, great rooms are more popular. The open space makes it easier to cook and entertain family or guests at the same time, so the cook is not always sequestered to the kitchen.
"An open kitchen remodel can cost approximately $50,000 to $60,000," but homeowners can expect a huge boost to resale value, says Herman Chan from HGTV's "House Hunters" and "My House Is Worth What?"
"Now, you're not just cooking, you're entertaining and socializing. … People are willing to invest more money in that and pay for it as a premium," he said.
ROI: Chan says homeowners will recoup up to 95-percent of the cost.
Problem: Forget the gym, I want to work out at home.
Those who exercise a lot may want an at-home gym that will save time as well as money.
But be ready to pony up. It would take $20,000 to convert a two-car garage into a state-of-the-art gym.
ROI: "This is not a good return on your investment," Chan says. "Most people spend seven years in a home and the next homeowner is going to want that garage, so you'll have to put it back to a garage."
ROI is less than zero since you'll have to pay for the conversion back when it's time to sell. But don't forget that an at-home gym has other benefits, like better health and savings on gym membership fees.
Problem: My energy bills are through the roof.
New windows or doors can do the trick. They will improve energy efficiency and can offer greater privacy.
Some windows offer energy-saving layers of insulated glass sandwiching argon or krypton, which are colorless, odorless gases that minimize the heat penetrating the window.
Chan recommends dual-pane windows. The cost will be anywhere from $500 to $1,500.
ROI: The National Association of Home Builders puts window/door replacement ROI at 44 percent, not including the money saved on energy bills.