(MONEY Magazine) -- The road to bad remodeling is paved with good intentions. Anyone tackling a major project wants his home to look and work better -- and to get a reasonable return on investment. But renos are packed with so much stress and emotion that it's easy to go wrong.
"I see homebuyers discount brand-new kitchens and bathrooms all the time -- especially in this market," says Curt Schultz, a realtor-architect-builder in Pasadena.
Read on to learn how to keep from falling into these four common traps.
1. Being a slave to fashion
The more up-to-the-minute your project is today, the more out-of-date it will seem in five or 10 years.
Skip trends such as glass tiles, wire-hung track lighting, and vessel sinks (the kind that sit on the countertop like a salad bowl), says Schultz.
Instead, go with classic choices that match the house's original style.
For a bathroom in a 1920s colonial, for example, that might mean a white pedestal sink and subway-tile wainscoting, but those choices wouldn't look so timeless in a 1980s contemporary.
You can find retailers specializing in period products at traditional-building.com.
2. Skimping on the design
The payoff you'll get on a redo will diminish if the project isn't well thought out, says Omaha appraiser John Bredemeyer, spokesman for the Appraisal Institute, a standards-setting organization.
If you're building an addition or moving interior walls, it's worth spending $1,000 to $3,000 to hire an architect (to draw a plan, not project-manage).
True, many contractors and showroom salespeople/designers can provide plans, but they don't have an architect's specialized training.
3. Over investing in the kitchen
Yes, great kitchens sell houses.
But there's a limit to what you can recoup for granite countertops and commercial-grade appliances. Because the kitchen generally represents 5% to 15% of a home's value, limit your kitchen renovation budget to that range -- and do the work only if your kitchen is in really bad shape, says Bredemeyer. (Estimate your home's value at zillow.com.)
4. Counting on a big pay-back for going green
Greater energy efficiency alone rarely justifies a pricey project.
Take windows. Window companies may tell you that replacing old ones ($300 to $1,200 each) will knock 50% off your energy bills. But windows really account for only about 15% of a house's heat loss, says Jerry Thatcher of Energy Diagnostics, a green-building certifier in Valparaiso, Ind., so you'd save just $50 to $175 a year.
That's not to say you shouldn't go ahead with new windows. As long as they match your home's style, new windows will add value. They'll open and shut easier, tilt in for cleaning, and reduce draftiness -- they just won't pay for themselves too.
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