Vacation home improvement projects to consider

Vacation home improvement projects to consider

When it comes to renovation projects, your primary residence comes first. But if you own a vacation property or second home, needed improvements shouldn't necessarily take a back seat. Not keeping up with recommended remodeling there could cost you in the long run, the pros concur.

"Even if you don't use your second home that often, I always recommend regular upgrades, even if they're minimal," says Jamie Safier, a luxury real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in New York City. "For one, if you're continuously making small improvements it will be less of a financial hit when you eventually go to sell that home because you will have been consistently bettering it and keeping up with maintenance and upgrades - as opposed to making large, expensive investments right before you sell."

Secondly, he adds, you'll be able to enjoy the vacation home more when you're there. And third, "you'll potentially be able to rent it out for more money if you choose to do so using a short-term rental platform like Airbnb."

Chicago-based Pam Holt, attorney and real estate broker who specializes in second home properties, seconds those thoughts.

"While maintaining functionality always ranks high in home improvement justification, vacation rental owners must also consider remodeling as the cost of doing business," Holt explains. "It's critical for these owners to ensure high guest satisfaction, which results in stellar ratings and reviews. A modernized, well-maintained vacation home can help make that happen."

Ask Andrina Valdes, executive sales leader/COO for Cornerstone Home Lending in San Antonio, and she'll tell you that a new paint job is the home improvement project that offers the most bang for the buck.

"Costs for whole-house interior repainting by a professional start around $1,000, but will be less if you do it yourself," says Valdes.

Her No. 2 suggestion? New landscaping, "which can add up to 15% to your home's value due to its impact on curb appeal," Valdes says, noting that this project's bill can range from $500 to over $3,000.

Michael DiMartino, senior vice president of installations at Power Home Remodeling in Philadelphia, suggests window and door replacements, "which also help check the curb appeal box while keeping your ongoing utility bills down. If you leave your second home after a weekend stay and set your thermostat to 55 degrees, you want to ensure that heat will stay inside the house without leaking through unwanted cracks in your doors and windows."

Devoting dollars to two of your second home's most important rooms, the kitchen and bathroom, can also be smart, although you may see a diminishing return on investment (ROI) with bigger and more expensive remodels in these spaces. Remodeling Magazine's 2020 Cost vs. Value report shows that a minor kitchen remodel recouped nearly 78% of its cost, on average, while a major midrange kitchen redo only recouped 58.6% of its cost.

"A midrange bath remodel cost averages nearly $18,000 but returns just under $12,000, so you have to keep ROI in mind," Safier cautions. "That why it may be better to start with smaller upgrades, such as replacing the toilet with a more efficient higher-end model and installing LED lighting so that your bath not only looks better but saves money on energy bills."

Deciding whether or not to commit to high-end materials and items that can last longer but cost more or choose less-expensive alternatives that may need to be replaced sooner is a personal choice.

"When buying furniture, swapping out rugs, adding features to your bath or kitchen, and picking out new linens, you have to think about wear and tear, particularly if you'll be renting out your home," DiMartino says. "I recommend skipping the higher-end furniture and opting for IKEA products and then investing your cost savings into high-quality projects that matter more in a vacation home, like exterior projects."

If you rent out or plan to soon sell your vacation home, avoid the impulse to overspend on improvements, Holt advises.

"There comes a point where, regardless of the interior finishes, a home will not rent for substantially more than comparable listings in the area. The same is true in the resale market," says Holt. "Consult with a real estate professional or vacation rental manager to assess the current market value of your property."

Lastly, remember to shop around for and vet remodelers carefully.

"Ask family, friends and real estate professionals for their recommendations, and interview at least three contractors to find the right fit for your project," Holt adds.

Landscaping upgrades allow you to enjoy a vacation home now and get more for the property when you sell.
Spending money on two of your second home's most important rooms, the kitchen and bathroom, can be a need or desire. However, you may see a diminishing return on your investment with these more expensive remodels.
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