We asked home improvement and real estate experts for advice about how to spend wisely on a remodel.
“The first question we ask everyone is how long they plan to stay in the home,” says Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement, a division of Case Architects & Remodelers. “If you’re staying forever, it makes sense to do something you really want to do regardless of whether it enhances the value of your home. If you’re selling in three to five years or sooner, then you’re more focused on your [recoupment] on investment.”
No matter how long you plan to stay, you should always consider the resale value of the project to make sure you’re making a smart investment, says Mischa Fisher, chief economist at Angi, the home services platform formerly known as Home Advisor and Angie’s List.
“As much as we’d all like to tackle the ‘wants’ before the ‘needs,’ it’s important to prioritize the needs first,” says Fisher. “Always prioritize repairs that relate to safety. There might be repairs that seem small or insignificant now that could become much bigger, riskier and more expensive if they’re ignored too long.”
A $20,000 budget can buy a lot of remodeling, but it may not be enough to complete all your projects. Here are a few popular choices to consider:
Remodeling an average kitchen costs between $25,000 and $40,000, says Fisher. The recoupment on investment for kitchen updates can be more than 70 percent, he says.
“I’d scratch the kitchen off the list if you have $20,000 because that’s not enough to update it to make it worth selling,” says Craig McCullough, principal of The Catalyst Group with Compass real estate in Washington, D.C. “If your whole kitchen is outdated, it’s better to offer $50,000 to buyers to pay for their kitchen remodel rather than do a piecemeal update.”
If you are focused on spending your $20,000 on your kitchen, though, replacing the counters, adding LED lighting under the cabinets and installing a new tile backsplash provide a nice facelift, suggests Khiel, especially if your counters are in good shape. You can also paint the cabinets within that budget.
The cost to remodel an average size bathroom is $10,800, according to Fisher. How much you’ll spend depends on the quality of the fixtures and finishes you choose. Reconfiguring a bathroom and moving the plumbing and electrical connections adds significantly to the cost.
“You can paint the bathroom, change the vanity, the medicine cabinet, lighting, flooring and fixtures for under $20,000,” says Khiel. “You may be able to recoat a cast iron tub, too, within that budget.”
The big differential is materials, Khiel says.
“You can find good quality and attractive things in the middle range, but you can also spend $8,000 just on the cabinet,” he says. “Your [recoupment] on investment is in the 70 percent range if you stick to mid-level quality.”
McCullough suggests that sellers focus on updating the main bathroom with most of a $20,000 budget and then spending a small amount to replace the floor and wall tiles and the vanity in the guest bathroom if needed.
Completing a partially finished or unfinished basement provides more livable space and increases your resale value, says Fisher. He says the average cost to finish a basement is just under $20,000, but that can be much higher or lower depending on how much work is required. The recoupment on investment for finishing a basement can be more than 70 percent, Fisher says.
“Every jurisdiction in the D.C. area requires permits for partially or completely finishing a basement, which adds to the cost,” says Khiel. “You need permits if you’re framing or closing off space with walls, drawings for the permits and electrical, heating and air conditioning and insulation work.”
McCullough says a remodeling project that just requires changing the floors and painting could be accomplished for much less than $20,000 but completing a basement would cost well above that budget.
“Some of the main factors to budget for include labor, flooring, waterproofing, lighting, electricity, furniture, sump pump installation, ceiling, drywall, insulation, plumbing, painting, décor and permits, as well as doors, windows and walls,” says Fisher. “Start with the necessities and work with a contractor to make sure everything is done in the right order and up to code.”
Replacing or refinishing the flooring, painting or wallpapering the walls and ceiling, and building or redesigning the closet space are aspects of the main bedroom that have a good recoupment on investment and impact on your daily life, says Fisher. Those projects can easily fit in a $20,000 budget.
Khiel says most homeowners expand their closet space if they can and some request custom built-in cabinets for storage and a TV. He also suggests adding crown moldings or wainscoting or replacing the doors within a $20,000 budget.
“Changing the windows can also fit in the budget, but you have to be careful if they no longer match the windows on adjacent walls,” says Khiel. “Windows can be really expensive, so some people do one wall per year to spread out the expense.”
Adding a ceiling fan or recessed lighting can also improve the appearance of a main bedroom and are both items buyers appreciate, says McCullough.
Adding a deck or patio can improve your home’s resale value with a recoupment on investment of up to 65 percent, says Fisher. Increasing outdoor living space became especially valued during the pandemic. Fisher says adding a deck ranges from $4,000 to $11,250 for most homeowners, but the costs increase according to the size of the deck and materials used.
“A $20,000 deck would be maybe 200 square feet if it’s made of wood, but if you want a composite material like Trex, that size deck will cost you $30,000 to $40,000 because prices are so high right now,” says Khiel.
Fisher says there’s a sweet spot for the right size deck.
“Too small and you’re unlikely to use it much, too big and you can lose your whole yard,” he says.
For the biggest impact from a $20,000 investment in your home, McCullough suggests replacing or refinishing all the floors in the house.
“This is important even if you have a relatively new house, because developers often put in less expensive floors when they’re building a condo or cluster of homes,” says McCullough.