Renovation Tips: Eat, bathe and relax in style

Are you considering updates and renovations at your house? This is the second in a short series written with my friend and local real estate agent Ryan DaSilva about renovation ideas that are “worth it.” Obviously, “worthiness” is always up to the homeowner. Whether you’re planning on moving in a year or living in your house for the next 50 years, there’s always something to update and improve the house to make it more enjoyable for you. 

The first article talked about upgrades to air conditioning in an older house. Now lets talk bathrooms, kitchens and basements. Everything that you heard about renovating a kitchen and bathroom applies here: you will get back about 80% of the money you spend on a kitchen renovation. Bathrooms, on the other hand, may have a lower return on investment (ROI) depending on the age of your current bathroom and the amount of work needed to bring it up to the level you’re seeking. For example, if you have to demolish the original flooring and switch out the plumbing lines, you’re looking at adding at least a few thousand dollars to your budget that you won’t get back when you sell your house.

Like all renovations, the ROI isn’t just about money — if ripping out an old bathroom (or adding a new one) is going to make you happy, do it and don’t worry about financial ROI. The return you’ll get will be evident every time you sit down, so to speak.

Before and after on a bathroom renovation

Before and after on a bathroom renovation

To be sure, adding a bathroom will make life easier for you and will increase your home’s value. If you are considering installing additional bathrooms, then in the interest of best ROI and “enjoyment,” I’d recommend you start with the master bathroom first, then add a basement bathroom and lastly, a powder room on the first floor. How much are we talking? New homeowners on Decatur recently installed a new basement bathroom with a shower for $20,000. 

Depending on the current status of your bathroom, you may have to use a higher budget for this small room than you otherwise expected. Re-facing a four-piece bathroom will cost you anywhere from $10,000-$20,000, depending on the existing conditions and what type of finishes you use. (Using hand-painted imported tile will cost you significantly more than the stuff from the big box stores.) 

That budget number can easily jump up $10,000 if you have to redo all of the plumbing and replace a waste line. If you’re planning on selling your house in the future, then you’ll want to go with features that will appear to all buyers. For example, I strongly suggest keeping a bathtub in a common bathroom. I’ve come across a few homes that removed a tub and replaced it with a super-sized shower. Yes, I’d love to shower in that giant thing too, but bath time with the kids would not be as fun. You don’t want to eliminate a majority of future buyers from your home because you put in a 8-person shower (unless that’s your thing, not judging here). 

Unlike the common bathroom, I suggest that you’re good with just using a large shower for the master bath and the basement. As for the powder room on the first floor, go with a simple pedestal sink and a standard 30” toilet. (Just make sure the toilet isn’t too close to the sink. You don’t want to be able to sit on the toilet and wash your hands at the same time.) Standard size powder rooms are 3’ x 6’. Try to orientate powder rooms on the first floor so that there is not a view of the toilet when you open the door.

Ok, lets talk about the kitchen. A lot of people ask me if they should open up a wall or keep it closed off, and the answer, not surprisingly is “it’s up to you.” Do what will make you happy! If you want to open up a kitchen and dining room into one larger space, go for it. If you want to redo the entire back of your home and put in a “U” shaped kitchen in the back of the house, go for it. 

That said, be careful what you put in the kitchen — don’t over-build the kitchen. You don’t want to put in a $100,000 kitchen in a home that is only worth $600,000. (Hey, it’s your money and you could do whatever you want, its just not suggested.) There is a house on the 900 block of Emerson that has an amazing kitchen! But the house sat on the market for months — all because the builder (flipper) over-built the kitchen.

A friend of mine and his wife who live in a 100 year old Petworth row house renovated their galley kitchen a few years go and ended up with a great ROI. They took down the shared wall between the kitchen and dining room (adding a long granite counter with bar stools and putting the sink in the island — it helps separate the kitchen and dining room while being visually open). New custom cabinets, new hardwood floors, new electrical, water and gas lines and three new appliances. Total cost was around $37,000. 

A sketch of a kitchen renovation in Petworth

A sketch of a kitchen renovation in Petworth

Regarding opening an interior wall or not, I’ve noticed a trend in the past year or so that buyers are getting tired of the same old “bowling alley” open floor plan, (a term one of my buyers used last year). My advice would be to try and keep some of the original character while modernizing the functionality of the kitchen. For example, you may want to consider keeping the wall that separates the living room from the dining room. I’d also suggest keeping the walls that separate the entry way from the living room. But again, its your home. If you want to take down all the walls, go for it. Like any renovation, cost is going to depend upon the features (fixtures, cabinetry, etc.) that you’re putting in. The more high-end you go, the higher the cost. If you’re planning on living in the house forever and a day, do what your budget and desires allow. If you’re going to sell, think about what features will make you happy now, and will keep your costs reasonable. 

Next lets talk basement, another hot topic among neighbors. The biggest question is “to dig or not to dig.” Most of us have basements with 6’ 4” ceiling heights. Some of us, especially those of you who have private front entry access, will have slightly higher ceiling heights. Digging out your basement to get that magical 7’+ ceiling height is probably one of the most expensive and time-consuming jobs you could do. My advice is to think hard and long about this.

A simple finished basement usually suffices. If you have space for a bedroom, great. Some homes have those attached garages that can be easily converted into a private room. You can close in the garage door with CMU blocks or brick, install a large window and level off the floor and now you have that fourth bedroom. Adding a fourth bedroom will increase the value of your home significantly. 

If you do have to level off the floor, remember to insulate the floor. I’ve only met one flipper that has done this. You always want a thermal barrier to help control the temperature and moisture. If you don’t have the space for a bedroom, then I’d keep it simple and just do a nice family room, “man cave” or in my case, a kids’ play room. Adding a wet bar in the basement is a great idea, as is adding built-in storage.

Cost for basement renovation also depends upon what you want to do with it — drywall, flooring and lighting will cost you less then a wet bar, kitchen or adding a bedroom. Think about how you want to use the space, and if you plan on selling it. A lot of buyers like the idea of renting out the basement to help with the cost of a mortgage; you’ll want to consider adding a room and a kitchen area if you’re planning on selling in the future.

Before and after on a basement renovation

Before and after on a basement renovation

Some other things to consider for improvements that we didn’t talk about are some basics, and in some cases may need to be done in order for you to complete any of the upgrades previously mentioned.

Plumbing is another one of those things that may need to be upgraded if it hasn’t been done in 80 years. Make sure a plumber inspects your pipes before they make any changes to your bathroom. There is nothing worse than putting in a brand new shower system only to find out you needed to upgrade the pipes. 

An old fuse box that needs replacement

An old fuse box that needs replacement

As a safety precaution, I recommend getting your electrical looked at before you do anything to your home. This is especially true if you suspect the electrical hasn’t been touched since Truman was in office. Your general contractor should be able to tell you if you need to upgrade your electric panel (fuse box) before you upgrade a bathroom or install new kitchen appliances. 

A laundry room/closet is “extra points” if you have space to add one on the second level of your home. A deck will add value to your home, but don’t eliminate grass or parking to add a deck. The backyard trifecta for home buyers is having parking, grass space and a deck/patio. If you have all three of these, you are good to go. Replacing the windows and doors will also go a long way, not only for keeping a modern look, but heating/cooling efficiency. 

Check out places like Community Forklift to find vintage doors to match the existing solid wood doors. I was able to find my door to the laundry room for $15 at Community Forklift, while hollow doors at the big box store were much more money. Skylights are also great features to add to your home. You can get one of these installed for around $2,500. They look great at the top of the stairs! (But if you add skylights, go with a really reputable company to do the install — skylights are a common source of water leaks, so a warranty and the confidence of knowing they were installed correctly will save you headaches and money.) 

So there it is. I’m sure there are other things we can discuss (like the importance of adding recessed lighting), but my neighbors are smart folk, I’m sure you guys will add some ideas in the comments section. If you have any questions and you want to talk about any future work feel free to give send me an email.  Happy renovating!

Feel free to leave your renovation story or a question for Ryan in the comments below.


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Ryan DaSilva is a licensed Real Estate agent with Compass Real Estate. He lives on Farragut Street with his wife and three boys.