Savings Talk: Joanne Cleaver on Home Renovations that Make Good Financial Sense

Headshot of Joanne Cleaver for Ally Bank Savings Talk Home improvements are on most homeowners’ minds. Seventy percent of them planned a project for 2012, and they planned on spending an average of $3,500, according to a survey by American Express.

To finance these projects, 80 percent of homeowners plan on using cash from a savings product, according to a 2011–12 survey by Remodeling magazine.

But even if you’re paying cash, pulling off a major home renovation that makes good financial sense can be tricky.

“You almost never get back the full amount,” says Joanne Cleaver, author of the column Money Matters Monday at “The longer you live with that improvement, the less new it is. The norm in your neighborhood will change, too. Other people will upgrade as well.”

But there are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most for your money. Cleaver offered three tips.

Call an Appraiser

“A well-informed local appraiser is your best friend,” says Cleaver. “Don’t go for the cheapest price. Work through the secretary of state database and find one that’s locally licensed.”

An appraiser who knows your neighborhood can give you insight to any added value, as well as steer you away from projects that might not make good financial sense.

Cleaver tells us, “An appraiser sees a lot of houses and can say, ‘You know what? Your kitchen is actually better than every kitchen in a half-mile radius.’”

He or she may also alert you to how original and historic details – like that wainscoting you’re thinking about removing – may sell better in your neighborhood.

Be Smart About What You Consider An Investment

A new furnace or roof will never hurt your home’s resale value, but don’t expect them to be huge selling points when it comes time to put your home on the market.

“If you’re selling in three years, that three-year-old roof isn’t going to be impressing buyers all that much,” says Cleaver. “They expect a house to come with a roof.”

Buyers usually expected decent windows and a good furnace as well, Cleaver says. If increasing your home’s value is important to you, attic bedrooms, deck additions and minor kitchen projects recouped an average of 72 percent of their cost in 2011–12, according to Remodeling.

Be Strategic

Cleaver suggests plotting out home renovations in stages, leaving you time to enjoy one benefit while preparing for another. This also saves you the stress of tackling multiple projects and helps you cut costs.

“Say you decide that you want to redo your first-floor powder room,” she says. “Maybe you could spend an extra $1,000 to get a line replumbed to reposition the kitchen sink for a major remodel of the kitchen in the future.”

Doing all this at once can save you the cost of having the plumber return 10 months later. And even if you don’t get to that new kitchen, a repositioned pipe may be a small but worthwhile selling point for the next owner.

Do you have a home renovation plan on the horizon? What will you do to ensure you’ll get the most out of your investment?

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