Four Housing Upgrades That Don't Pay

Most people's idea of a dream home is a haven they would live in for the rest of their lives. But the reality is, you're probably going to be selling your house someday.

In fact, in a 2007 report, the National Association of Realtors said the median length of time recent sellers had spent in their previous homes was six years.

Oliver Quilla,

So before you dive into a major renovation project to give a house your special signature, consider how long you're likely to stay.

"Where a lot of people get into trouble is that they go into a home that they're only going to be in for a relatively short period of time, and they start doing renovations and additions that are sort of on their fantasy list, but that they're not going to be there long enough to really enjoy," says Jeff Beneke, author of more than a dozen home improvement books, including his most recent title, "The Fence Bible."

"And when they turn around to sell, they're just not going to get their money back."

Here are four reasons to proceed with caution, particularly if you want to maximize your chances of a profitable resale later on.

1. High maintenance
If your upgrade requires too much upkeep, buyers may view it as more of a nuisance than an asset.

A prime example is an in-ground swimming pool, which can cost a small fortune to install, secure, heat and clean. That may not be an issue in California or Florida, where the possibility of year-round pool parties makes it easy to get your money's worth. But in a location where the season for outdoor swimming is much shorter, a pool can be a risky investment.

"Real estate agents anywhere, except in exclusive neighborhoods of warm climates, will tell you that a swimming pool can be more of a negative than a positive on resale," Beneke says.

"My sense is that for what it costs to put a swimming pool in your backyard and maintain it, you can join the nicest swimming club in town, buy a car to get you there and back, and still have some cash leftover."

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Tim Carter, the syndicated columnist from, says homeowners often assume that a swimming pool adds value to a home.

"But if you talk to real estate brokers, some people may not look at a home that has a swimming pool because they think it's a liability," he says.

2. Overdressed
Don't make your house look like the guest who wore a ball gown to a picnic. Luxurious amenities can be a good selling point, but only if they blend in with rather than outshine what the neighbors have.

"Buyers are becoming more and more savvy, and they understand that having the nicest home in the neighborhood can be a bad thing when it's time to sell," says Columbia, S.C., Realtor Brandon Hoffman.

"A lot of times, if an owner overimproves for the value of the neighborhood, they won't get their money back. It can also make the home more difficult to sell at fair market value."

A case in point: While homebuyers love a kitchen renovation, it is possible to get carried away.

"I don't think we need to see granite countertops in entry-level housing," says Pat V. Combs, a Realtor in Grand Rapids, Mich., and immediate past president of the National Association of Realtors. "I think that's overkill. You have to improve for your specific marketplace."

While those glossy, upscale shelter magazines may be great sources of inspiration, trying to copy a cover story kitchen can be a dangerous move.

"One of the biggest-ticket items anybody does in remodeling is the kitchen," Beneke says. "From a resale standpoint, I think it's crazy to start drawing your kitchen remodeling ideas from high-end home magazines."

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