Updated on 08.30.17

Six Home Improvements That Just Aren’t Worth It for Us

What can I say? I'd rather have money in my bank account than a new guest bathroom.

As someone born and raised and central Indiana, I have been spoiled with cheap real estate all my life. The first home we ever purchased (and we still own as a rental property) set us back a whopping $102,500 and came with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Oh, and our first house payment was less than $700 per month!

Since then, we purchased a second three-bedroom, two-bath rental property for less than $100,000, and our second home for $155,000 (which we sold later for $160,000). Even our current home, which we plan to live in forever, only set us back $187,000. It’s around 2,000 square feet, and was one of the least expensive houses in our neighborhood when we bought it — back in 2013, before the housing market roared back to life.

Home Upgrades and Repairs I Just Won’t Make

Since we purchased our home, we’ve put in a ton of hard work to bring it up to snuff. We knocked out a wall to open up the downstairs floor plan, laid hardwood floors (doing the bulk of the grunt work ourselves), and painted this place from top to bottom.

We also replaced some non-matching kitchen countertops that made no sense, bought new carpet for our upstairs, and re-stained our kitchen cabinets, which are 30 years old. In total, we’ve spent $20,000 upgrading our home over the four years we’ve lived here.

And now, I’m done.

There is plenty more to do, but at a certain point, you have to know when to stop. While some upgrades are worth it because they truly increase the value and utility of your home, you have to know where to draw the line – or risk over-improving and losing money in the end.

While I’m all about dolling up my primary residence, here are some upgrades and repairs I’m not willing to make:

#1: Replacing Ugly Peel-and-Stick Floors

The person who owned this house before us had an interesting sense of style. When they remodeled the master bathroom, they chose peel-and-stick flooring that looks great from a distance but insanely cheap up close. The worst part about it, however, is the fact the floor pieces actually move sometimes because they’re literally “glued” to the floor boards with adhesive.

But, do I care? Not really. The thing about our master bathroom – and the reason I won’t replace this floor – is that nobody else sees it. I can’t think of a single person who has been in our bedroom over the last few years aside from our kids.

We might need to replace the floor if we wanted to sell our home, but it’s perfectly fine for our eyes. Instead of spending $1,500 to $3,000 on an upgrade nobody will ever see, we’ve chosen to pocket that money instead.

#2: Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

Our kitchen cabinets are original to this home, which means they’re 32 years old. They were in good shape when we bought our house, albeit slightly dated with a light oak stain and country theme.

I thought long and hard about what to do with our cabinets before we decided to sand and re-stain them ourselves. In the end, I couldn’t really justify replacing our entire kitchen when the cabinets worked fine, looked okay, and had the potential to be even better.

At this point, I doubt we’ll ever replace our kitchen cabinets. While we spent around $200 on supplies to sand and re-stain our cabinets and another $2,000 on granite countertops since the old counters were mismatched, not buying new cabinets is easily a savings of up to $20,000.

Our kitchen before:

Kitchen Before

Our kitchen after:

kitchen after

#3: New Windows

Our windows are also original to this home, which is part of the reason they would be so expensive to replace. Being 30+ years old, they’re made of beautiful wood frames that match our interior wood moldings and trim.

We have 18 windows, and 16 of them are still perfect. Two of them have noticeable gaps to the outside (which I’ve fixed temporarily with insulation), and one of those two has a compromised seal. Fortunately, the window with the compromised seal (which is always slightly cloudy) faces the backyard and not the front.

We have thought long and hard about replacing our windows a few times, even going so far as getting a quote from two different companies. While one wanted around $15,000, the other company wanted $18,000! I could get cheaper windows, but I know I wouldn’t be happy with them. So, why bother?

Either way, we can’t really justify the expense. Our windows work fine and our utility bills have always been exceptionally low. Since I doubt replacing our windows would lead to any real savings on gas or electricity, this is one repair we’ve chosen to ignore.

#4: Replacing an Old Fence

Our house came with privacy fence that fully encloses our backyard. This was a real benefit in our eyes because we have two kids, and the fence has continued to serve us well ever since we adopted a shelter dog in December.

The fence looks great from a distance — but up close it’s an entirely different story. When we took down part of the fence to bring in our new shed earlier this summer, we found that our fence is not nearly as sturdy as it looks. In fact, my husband had to do some repair work just to put the thing back together!

After that, we got a quote for new fencing: $8,000. We knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but we were surprised it would cost that much for a very basic shadowbox style. Needless to say, we’re going to continue accepting our fence as-is until it falls down.

#5: Repaving Our Driveway

While we’ll probably have to repave our driveway sometime in the future, it’s not happening any time soon. Our neighbors recently repaved their driveway for $8,000, and I’ve heard the job can cost even more than that.

Our driveway isn’t cracked per se; it’s more worn down and lacking the flawless black surface of comparable driveways on our street. We’ll have to live with it the way it is, and for now, so will they. I can’t justify spending $8,000 on a driveway upgrade when we have so many other, more important, goals to save for.

#6: Guest Bathroom Revamp

There are too many things wrong with our hallway guest bathroom to count. One of the double sinks is missing its “plug” or stopper completely. Some of the tile next to the toilet was cracked after a heavy piece of art was knocked off the wall.

The shower enclosure is original, thus not exactly the latest style. The bathroom cabinet is more than 30 years old, the countertop is made of cheap Formica, and all the hooks and hardware are completely mismatched.

This is one project that could happen in the future, but it’s not happening any time soon. Since the entire bathroom needs a re-do, the project could easily cost $10,000 to $15,000. We could do some of the work ourselves, but I’d rather not even bother if it’s not going to be exactly what I want. Like our master bathroom, people rarely see this bathroom anyway.

The Bottom Line

While I love this house and try to make it as beautiful as possible, I also know that some home upgrades and repairs will never pay off. If I did all the upgrades and repairs on this list, we would easily spend $50,000 or more without adding more than a few thousand dollars in value to our home.

At some point, you have to know where to draw the line – or risk over-improving to the detriment of your finances. For now, we’re choosing to be happy with what we have and to keep our extra money for ourselves.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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