8 most overrated home projects

August 22, 2010 | 32 Comments

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

8 most overrated home projects (© Ivan Hunter Photography, Fuse/Getty Images)


If you’re considering upgrading your home these upgrades may not be worth the time or money….In these uncertain times, remodels are more about wringing day-to-day enjoyment out of your house than simply boosting its resale value. But not every project delivers on its promise of luxury and enjoyment.

Some delightful-sounding home improvements can be problematic or overly expensive or simply wind up collecting dust while you’re still paying the tab.  And some are destined to become white elephants, in the same kitschy category as that 1970s wet bar, sauna or intercom system.

MSN Real Estate consulted with contractors, designers and other home-improvement gurus — as well as homeowners themselves — to come up with a somewhat subjective “honey-do” list that’s better left undone.

1. Whirlpool bath
This upgrade, which had become synonymous with luxury in years past, is now on the most endangered list, contractors say.

“We’re taking out these bathtubs and making (walk-in) showers out of them,” says Fred Spaulding of Quality Home Improvements in Kingwood, Texas.

Indeed, while they became a standard feature in many upscale homes, a hefty percentage of people who have these big whirlpool tubs report never having the time or inclination to soak in them, in part because of the noise and amount of water required to fill them and keep them warm.

“In almost four years, I have never used it,” says “sisb” on a home and garden forum.

2. Room additions
These days, the name of the home-improvement game is conversion, or using existing space in a new way, says Don Van Cura, a Chicago-area remodeling contractor who sits on the board of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen a change in is less room additions,” Van Cura says. “Before, it had to be bigger and more, more, more. Now we are seeing more people taking advantage of attic or bedroom space.”

Dining rooms are becoming home offices. Basements are becoming family rooms, and there are a lot more unpermitted (and some legitimate) attic-to-bedroom conversions, contractors say.

Forking over an average of $82,756 to build a new family room from the ground up —  including foundation, framing, drywall and electric — is more expensive, architects and designers say, than converting your basement. And the addition recoups only 65% of its value at resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report. That basement remodel, on the other hand, costs just $62,067 on average and recoups 75% of its value.

3. ‘Versailles’ kitchens
In contrast with Europe, Americans — with their comparatively shorter history — just love anything that looks old and ornate.

If you look at European design books or websites, you’ll find page after page of simple, streamlined modern looks. Here, our McMansions boast elaborate Tuscan villa-style kitchens with ornate cabinetry, hardware and tile.

Call it the Bellagio effect.

“People will go into hock finding themselves surrounded by $150,000 of polished granite and fancy French or English cabinetry,” says TV home-improvement veteran Bob Vila, who coaches people through remodeling projects on BobVila.com.

They’ll wind up saying, ‘I’m still paying on that and what the hell pleasure am I getting out of it?’ Going overboard with any aspect of home remodeling can be a mistake.”

Indeed, upscale kitchen remodels carried an average price tag of $111,794 last year, according to Remodeling Magazine, but recouped just $70,641, or 63%, of their value at resale, a decline from the 2008-2009 survey.

4. Marble counters (or other porous surfaces)
Marble is a luxurious material that has been long-favored in kitchen and bath remodels. But it is losing its luster.

Sure, it has a lovely, natural look and a rich history in castles and palaces, but it requires more pampering and attention than a spoiled princess, experts say. Marble can scratch more easily than other surfaces, get burned by hot pans and stain easily, just like limestone and other porous materials. That, coupled with a price between $50 and $100 per square foot, should persuade you to leave it to the museum.

Indeed, while much attention has been focused on the drawbacks to granite countertops, contractors say it and other nonporous surfaces such as man-made quartz counters are better long-term picks than marble, limestone or even heavy poured concrete, a trendy surface that can crack as the cabinets underneath shift over time.

“It’s very dependent on well-built cabinets below it,” Van Cura says.

5. Deck off the master bedroom
Now here’s a project that seems really luxurious, promising views and fresh air along with your morning coffee. Of course, the coffee maker is downstairs or on the other side of the house, so for most people this winds up being one of the most underutilized living spaces, says Stewart Davis, design director of CG&S Design-Build in Austin, Texas.

“90% of the folks we talk to never go out there,” Davis says.

Yet it’s not an inexpensive project, costing at least $10,000 and requiring regular waterproofing and other maintenance.

6. Elaborate home theaters
Just as McMansions are falling out of favor, so are rooms that serve just one purpose.

With so many nice home-theater packages containing surround-sound speakers, amplifiers, bass modules, media centers and other controls and costing $3,500 or less, you can turn your flat screen in any family room into a home theater, instead of shelling out $20,000 or more for the whole shebang, including cinema seating, tacky red carpeting, projector, Blu-ray player and big screen.

And there’s no guarantee that the next buyer will want the “Metropolitan Opera meets bordello” look of many theater rooms.

Another plus to updating your family room’s acoustics instead: If you work with what you have, you’re not bringing in a lot of new synthetic material, Vila says, and therefore don’t have to deal with all of the outgassing, or release of fumes, from these materials.

7. Hot tub
This bubbly oasis seems relaxing and luxurious and is certainly much cheaper to install than a swimming pool, but many homeowners find that its upkeep, heavy energy use and repairs become a burden when compared with the time they actually spend using it.

Moreover, it gobbles up backyard space that could be used for seating, an outdoor kitchen or garden, designers say. And like the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine,” it almost transports your backyard décor back to the 1970s or ’80s.

Some homeowners weighing in on these fiberglass tubs on gardening websites actually wound up using them as raised beds for gardening, rather than forking over the bucks to rip them out or get them working properly.

If you simply must have it, the better option might be to buy a portable unit. That way, you can take it with you or stash it out of sight when marketing your house.

8. Overly complicated home automation
It’s hard to tell people to stay away from something that sounds smart and could save them on their home-energy costs. But it’s easy to go too far with home automation, the centralized control of audio, video, lighting, heat and household appliances, experts say.

“You shouldn’t aspire to that without knowing that maintenance for that kind of system might be costly,” Vila says. “Obsolescence is a matter of fact.” 

Indeed, “montalvo,” a homeowner on a home-remodeling forum who spent $100,000 on a system that controlled everything from audio and video to lighting, security and temperature in his 7,100-square-foot California home, said the convenience continued to cost him even after he built his home.

“It entails significant monitoring, maintaining, repair and replacement costs,” he said in a recent post. “For the first two years, the system’s installer was at our house several times a month, doing reprogramming, system upgrades, etc.”

While some simple radio-frequency lighting systems can be installed for about $2,000 to $3,000, says Brian Scott, president of San Diego Automation, the wiring and equipment involved with more comprehensive systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And even software-based solutions are not without costs on the back end, as people feel the need to upgrade.

Scott’s firm is now installing wireless systems for audio, video and lighting that are controlled via an Apple iPad. But just as many iPod users have traded up to an iPad, so, too, may many homeowners feel the need to upgrade to the next generation of controllers.

“It will evolve,” Scott says. “But it’s more about having all the features — the latest and greatest.”

The best advice for people without a big budget or the patience to learn the intricacies of a big system is that old acronym KISS: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Source: www.msn.com


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