These days, it’s easier than ever to make upgrades around the home. The application and approval of home loans can be done online. And you can find plenty of instructions, tips, and video tutorials on how to undertake DIY projects.
As you do your research, one thing you’ll commonly hear about is ROI or return on investment. Many sites offer figures on the average ROI you can expect to gain by making an upgrade and selling down the line. Even if you’re not a full-time flipper, it can be enticing to think that you’re not only upgrading your living conditions but also making money in the future.
However, are these ROI estimates really as reliable as they seem? And how far can you use them as your basis for making improvements to your home?
Numbers aren’t everything
The first thing you should do before heeding any ROI figures is to vet your sources. The internet is generally prone to regurgitated information; basically, one source posts a piece of news or analysis, which is then reposted indefinitely across the ‘blogosphere’ and social media.
And just as in the kid’s game of telephone, even a reliable piece of information can wind up being distorted or diluted. Sources further down the line may cite the original, but are more likely to apply their own slant to the data to highlight their specific interests.
You can find better information on ROI for your home upgrades by sticking close to professionals and expert research in real estate. But even these reliable figures come with several caveats. The National Association of Realtors’ 2019 report acknowledges this in its disclaimer that several factors can lead to variations in the cost of remodeling and recovery.
When you think about it, most studies of the housing market work with a vast amount of data over time. They can’t drill down to the neighborhood comparison level or account for location differences. And a survey can’t predict changing trends over the years with full accuracy.
The final knock on ROI as a primary indicator of future profits is its inability to account for inflation. Basically, you’re paying interest on your home, and sinking a fixed amount of money into improvements. Unless you’re able to sell the property really soon, you want to recoup not only that initial amount but also the inflation-adjusted cost over the years.
Using ROI effectively
This doesn’t mean that you should disregard ROI estimates entirely. You just have to recognize their limitations, and you can begin to apply them effectively.
Many ROI numbers for a given improvement are reflective of its general sensibility. Functional improvements, such as fixes to structural issues, are more likely to end up recouping the cost. Kitchen upgrades are likewise on the safe side since the majority of prospective buyers will be using this area a lot and rate it highly in their considerations.
You’re more likely to experience a hit-or-miss cost recovery when it comes to upgrades that fall into the realm of personal preferences. Interior design choices, or swimming pools, may recoup value if they align with the buyer’s tastes. But buyers can also prove indifferent to such features.
With that said, some homeowners might still want to take the gamble. If you want to treat your home as an investment and use ROI as a guide to making it appreciate in value, it’s wise to consult with a local agent. They will be in tune with the state of the local housing market and what buyers are most likely to look for.
If dealing with an agent isn’t your thing, you can still draw upon the knowledge pool of the internet for insights. Real estate professionals use statistical tools as well as agent intuition to forecast the market. You may not have access to those, but you can do your own analysis by viewing things from a buyer’s perspective.
Check out listings and reviews in your area; what’s the profile of the average buyer? What do they find attractive in the location? What’s the available supply of homes in your target price range? You can also refer to news sites for a general economic forecast in your area; after all, a strong local economy tends to draw more people looking for work. That means more prospective buyers, higher demand, and better prices.
Given the uncertainty involved, it’s still best to undertake improvements guided by what’s necessary or useful to you or brings joy to your home. And if you’re determined to treat this as an investment opportunity, try to make small bets first, and diversify while you’re at it in case things don’t work out.