An outdated bath with leaky plumbing and yellowing grout is just the place to start and end the day — said no one ever. If there’s one room in the house where the glossy sheen of newness is appreciated, it’s the bathroom, which is why bath remodels tend to offer a high return on investment.
Still, if getting the most money back out of your reno is your goal, it helps to think strategically before you schedule demo day. Herewith, tips from the experts. Bathroom Furniture
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“One of the most important things to keep in mind for [return on investment] is the comps,” says Sarabeth Asaff South, home expert for Fixr.com, a remodeling resource website. Her advice: Look to renovations done nearby for guidance (try scanning Zillow or Redfin for recent sales). For instance, a renovation in a high-end area might feature a stand-alone soaking tub and heated floors. “If you include those things in a non-luxury setting, someone might be happy to find them, but they won’t necessarily want to pay more money for them,” she says.
Generally, spending on cosmetic improvements will yield more bang for your buck than a gut renovation, especially if you’re planning to move in the near future. According to Zillow, a midrange bathroom remodel can yield a return of $1.71 for every dollar spent, especially if the bathroom is over 25 years old. Such a remodel might include updating the plumbing fixtures, tile and lighting.
If budget is an issue, think twice before deciding to rearrange the room. “The best option is going to be when you don’t have to move plumbing lines, waste lines, and relocate electrical circuits for lights or outlets,” says Dean Turner, owner and CEO of Evolution Design Build in Reston, Va. Remodeling within the same configuration is called “a pull and replace, and it’s going to be the most cost-effective.”
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More homeowners are replacing tubs in the primary bath with larger, high-tech showers with multiple heads, says Shannon Kadwell, of Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md. “If a family has younger children or a pet, they still want to keep one tub in the house somewhere,” she says, “but otherwise we are seeing the majority of tubs being switched out.”
According to the Houzz 2022 bath trend survey, simple Shaker-style cabinet fronts are chosen by 51 percent of homeowners, followed by modern flat-panel styles, which appeal to 27 percent of homeowners. Turner is an advocate of vanity styles with built-in drawers underneath, which tend to pack in more storage than doors alone. For countertops, Kadwell recommends solid surface materials, such as quartz, that are easy to clean.
If the toilet already looks less than pristine, it will look even worse once everything else is new. Consider replacing it with a model that has an elongated bowl, which has a slimmer profile and makes cleaning the floor around the toilet much easier.
“Tile is the driving force in the overall aesthetic of a bathroom, and people tend to love marble, especially in primary baths,” says Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design in Silver Spring, Md. But marble can be pricey and start to look dingy if you aren’t careful about sealing and maintaining it. Turner recommends sealing marble tile at least twice a year. For an alternative, Asaff South suggests a simple porcelain option such as a basket-weave pattern or penny tile. “It has a similar classic appeal and is easy to care for if you’re a mop-and-go kind of person.”
On the subject of tile, one of the cheapest things you can do to add value to your bath is to refresh your grout, says Skylar Olsen, chief economist for Zillow. A word of caution: Turner says following instructions is key when reapplying grout, and if it’s in the shower, the space must be completely dry for 48 hours before you start the job. Don’t be tempted to use a grout pen in the shower, either. “They’re a non-wet application,” he says, adding that the pens are fine for quick touch-ups behind the vanity or along the baseboard, but they’re not meant to be a permanent fix. “If you start down that road, you’ll be constantly reapplying.”
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In the one room where you’re supposed to stare at yourself in the mirror, good lighting can make or break a remodel. Dated lights, such as over-the-mirror linear sconces popular in the 1970s and ’80s, are a turnoff to potential buyers and should be replaced with side sconces, advises John Martinek, partner at Modern Roots Design Build in Iowa City. “When you’re shaving or putting on makeup, you want the light to be coming from both sides because it illuminates your face better and eliminates the shadows from overhead lighting.”
Experts almost always say homeowners prefer spalike shades in the bathroom, such as pale grays and blues. “White remains the most popular color for baths, but it tends to look a little stark, so people might add a pop of color whether it’s an accent tile, or even just the wall color to give it a little personality,” says Kadwell.
Replacing cabinet hardware with new knobs and pulls is an easy way to give a vanity a new look. Just be sure they complement or coordinate with the plumbing fixtures. Nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and matte black remain popular choices, though brass — both lacquered and unlacquered — will add warmth. The designers we interviewed all said it’s fine to mix metals, as long as you strike the right balance: “Some folks make the mistake of overdoing one finish,” says Subaran. If you’re unsure, the safest bet is to choose the same finish for all hardware and fixtures.
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