NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Want a summer home improvement project? Dig a big hole on your property, throw a bunch of money in it, throw a match in and bury it once the flames subside.
This is basically what a select, wrongheaded number of Americans do every year when they see the sun peek out in June and head to
without much of a plan. That yard may seem like it's begging for a pool and your front porch may look inferior to a sunroom, but that doesn't necessarily make them good ideas.
The National Association of Realtors' National Center for Real Estate Research says an in-ground pool can add about 8% to a home's resale price -- but it might not.
In some cases, it's never a good year to make those ideas happen. We asked those in the know which projects homeowners should stay away from this summer. The following is a list of home "improvements" in which the return on the investment is at best subjective and, at worst, a money- and time-draining waste of warm weather:
An in-ground pool is a $25,000 to $50,000 gamble before a homeowner even considers tucking into their first cannonball.
That same pool costs about $2,000 more a year to maintain, hundreds more to heat and insure and hundreds more in filter and pump repairs within less than a decade. When cracks inevitably appear, resurfacing can cost upward of $10,000 shortly after that first decade.
Sure, the National Association of Realtors' National Center for Real Estate Research says an in-ground pool can add about 8% to a home's resale price, but that value swings from 6% in the frosty Midwest to 11% in the most toasty Sun Belt. An aboveground pool with have cheaper upfront costs, but the Center for Real Estate Research says it adds no value to a house and can actually subtract 1.9% of a house's value if the buyer decides the eyesore needs to come down.
An outdoor kitchen
Installing steel grills and gourmet pizza ovens outside in a fenced-in area in Arizona or California adds to your square footage and optimizes great year-round weather. In Traverse City, Mich., it does neither. If your outdoor kitchen is considered an actual kitchen, the return on a major remodel -- in this case, 65.7% -- would be roughly the same. While such things as range hoods and portable heaters make outdoor kitchens year-round propositions in markets as seasonally chilly as Nantucket and Northern Michigan, it's never quite as comfortable and can cut your returns in half if residents start to shiver during a February pig roast.
A master suite addition
So you have a little extra space on your property and always wondered what it would be like to have a full bathroom and walk-in closet all to yourself. Here's the answer: Not as great as you'd think.
Cost Vs. Value
report cedes that homeowners will get their 24-by-16-foot master bedroom with walk-in closet/dressing area, whirlpool tub in ceramic tile platform, separate 3-by-4-foot ceramic tile shower, and double-sink vanity with solid-surface countertop. Those homeowners should just be prepared to sink more than $106,000 into a project that will add $63,000 to the price of their home at best. It's a 59.2% return on their investment that's actually a worse deal than remodeling the kitchen, refinishing the basement (66.8% return) or putting a bedroom in the attic (72.5%).
Did you lose shingles in a nasty storm? Did the neighbor's kid make your roof a roman candle target once school let out? Did a 747 lose an engine and send it crashing through your sewing room?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, don't go tearing the roof off the joint. There's a reason your parents and great-grandparents before judged their roof's value in years and not dollars: Because it's something you want to replace as infrequently as possible.
puts the average cost of replacement around $21,000. That's less than the cost of replacing leak damage, calling exterminators to get the rodents out or watching your heating bill spike. If your roof is in less-than-dire straits, though, that replacement will recoup only about $12,000 of its cost once the house is sold. Sometimes a roof replacement can't be helped, but if you're planning one just because you don't like the look of it, you may as well just shingle it with singles.
How badly do you want to keep your car out of the rain and sun?
If you have a driveway or a one-car garage and are thinking of expanding it to a two-car indoor paradise, that 26-by-26-foot dream home drains cash faster than your car drains 10W-40.
All that carpentry and electrical work adds up to nearly $58,000 on average and adds little more than $33,000 to the value of your house. Never mind that you just tacked an extra room on to your electric bill and gave yourself yet another roof to eventually replace. If you have a one-car garage, do yourself a favor and consider just replacing the door instead. It's a far lower starting price ($1,500 to $3,000) and retains more than 70% of its value come selling time.
Replacing a fiberglass entry door
You love your old, scuffed-up fiberglass door. It looks like home and, for all you know, has been saving you hundreds in heating and cooling costs for years.
It's just too bad that door's been lying to you this whole time.
Not only is a fiberglass door nearly three times as expensive as its steel counterpart, but it's also not doing your house any big favors. A $3,600 fiberglass door loses roughly 44% of its value the minute it's installed. A $1,000 steel door, meanwhile, isn't nearly as aesthetically pleasant, but retains 73% of its cost. At that rate, it's the most valuable single remodel you can do to your home.
This one's a really tough call families in one and one-and-a-half bathroom households struggle with every year once it's time to host holidays and family reunions.
If you love your old home but would love it more of the folks who built it a century ago took 21st century personal space needs into account, the cost of another bathroom is probably the deciding factor. Even on the cheap, a 6-by-8-foot bathroom addition can cost upward of $40,000. While your family and visitors will no doubt appreciate it, it'll be underwhelming to homebuyers who've been looking at properties with the same number of bathrooms all day.
A bathroom addition automatically drops 50% of its value, which means the $40,000 you spent to stop your family's ceaseless complaints tacks on only $20,000 to your selling price. Thanks for the $20,000 loss, kids.
Backup power generator
Emergency preparedness comes at a price, especially for worrywarts.
Yes, there are some folks who live in areas of the country where the grid isn't all it could be and where power gets knocked out on a fairly consistent basis. Then there are those who lose power for a day and wonder how they're going to do their hair.
The latter may not think dropping $15,000 for 70 amps of emergency power is a big deal and may dismiss the 53% of the investment that never makes it into a home's resale value. The former may want to reconsider paying $15,000 to get $7,000 if the only reason they're getting a generator is to prevent $30 in groceries from spoiling the next time a transformer blows.
This is an idea that seems better and better with each passing summer, but never quite lives up to its potential.
puts together a bare-bones 200-square-foot sunroom with 14 windows, 10 vented skylights, a sliding door and wiring for ceiling fans and sconces and still manages to to spend more than $74,000. A homeowner will be lucky to get $34,000 of that back in the sale price; a sunroom's value tends to drop by 54% or more.
That's assuming you've built a sunroom in a climate that actually, you know, gets sun every so often. If you've made this splurge in the Northeast, Great Lakes or the Pacific Northwest, expect buyers to put a bit less of a premium on your view of the clouds.
Home office remodel
Listen, we fully understand the home office. There's a lot more telecommuting these days, there's still a need for a professional working environment and this keeps everything nice and clean when the expense reports need to be mailed out and the taxes need to be filed.
That's great, but
says it's perhaps the least valuable home improvement you can make. Converting an existing 12-by-12-foot room to a home office with custom cabinets, 20 feet of laminate desktop, new wiring for electronics, cable and telephone lines and drywall and carpeting to cover it all up costs around $28,000. That same office won't be worth $12,000 when you try to sell the place to someone who actually likes the doughnut shop on the way to work and listening to the radio on the ride home.
That's a 57% that may be worth consulting the accountant about before the next W-2 arrives.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.