How Do You Know If You’re Overspending On Your House?

Q: Do you ever wonder if you’re pricing your house out of the neighborhood? There are so many things I’d like to do with our cute little house but then I think, “don’t do it, you’ll spend too much and never get your money back.” And it’s definitely too small to stay here forever. For instance, does a full kitchen reno make any sense for someone who might be moving into a bigger and better home in a year or two. Or, do you just bite the bullet and spend the money so you can fully enjoy what you have now? Sorry, I’m probably rambling but I have a love/hate relationship with our home. One day I love it and want to stay and make it better. The next day I’m looking on real estate sites for a new one. -Molly

A: Good question Molly! Our little home is a modest 1350 square feet and we’re hoping to stay here forever… even if we have a gaggle of little ones someday. We’re just confident we can make it work. I think different people have different ideas about what big is and how much space you really need (I can’t imagine cleaning a bigger house so I’m very happy about the quaint casa we settled on). And coming from Manhattan where I had a closet sized room for a jaw-dropping $1200 a month (here’s a funny old video tour) our little ranch is a palace by comparison! I mean even the fancy people in the Upper East Side don’t usually have over 1000 square feet- and plenty of families live in NY, so that really helps me to keep things in perspective. Here’s my cute & tiny NYC apartment (circa 2005) that couldn’t even accommodate a couch. Guests had to sit on the full-sized bed to watch VHS movies with me on my 13″ TV. Cringe. Sidenote: look, there’s my little egg-crate-turned-jewelry-organizer on the makeshift side table! In a small space you only have room for the things you love, right?


As for the pricing-your-house-out-of-your-neighborhood concern, the usual recommendation is to get the worst house in a great neighborhood if you plan to do a lot of work on it (since getting the best house in a terrible neighborhood doesn’t help you when it comes to renovating – you’ll end up with an even nicer house surrounded by unappealing properties that look even worse by comparison). We were sure to get a total beater of a house (in case our before pictures didn’t make that obvious enough- hehe) so we would be able to do some major upgrades without feeling like we went overboard.

For example, every other house on our street was set back from the road with a spacious and lush front lawn while ours was set back just as far but had a curb-to-house mulch bed and a veritable forest out front. This was the first of many signs that there was some room for improvement when it came to our property. In short: Our house was a giant zit on our sweet neighborhood’s otherwise beautiful face, so anyone else with this affliction has permission to get to work. Of course you want to consider the purchase price of your home (ours was around 35K cheaper than all the other houses we looked at of the same size and in the same general area, which helped us determine how much we could “put into” it without feeling guilty).


On the other hand, if you already think your house is nicer than all the neighbors’ homes I would definitely pull the plug on any additional renovations (especially major ones like a kitchen redo). And of course you can always befriend your neighbors and take them a pie to check out their digs- or even call on a realtor to come over and tell you about the comps in the area and suggest what you should and shouldn’t do to maximize your profit when you sell in a year or two (they might veto a pricey kitchen remodel off the bat, which would be nice to know before whipping out your wallet).

That being said, our point of view is a little different than most when it comes to our own house (since we want to live here til we’re old and gray, we wouldn’t care if a realitor recommended against certain switcheroos, like trading our formal dining room for a third bedroom). We affectionately call Casa Petersik our “forever house” so we hardly think about resale value and all that when we pick up a hammer or a roller. But if you’re planning to sell in a year or two it’s a totally different ballgame (especially in this sluggish economy) so anything major would definitely be a lot more of a risk than the smaller projects that you can take on for less loot and effort.

The verdict: we would suggest making as many inexpensive upgrades as you can (switching out light fixtures, installing a programmable thermostat, getting a new bathroom vanity or painting the dated one you have, changing out kitchen and bathroom hardware and upgrading all of your home’s doorknobs from brass to chrome or nickel). And of course we can’t forget the number one way to freshen up your home in an afternoon on the cheap… why it’s paint of course! Here’s our dark and dated den before paint:


And here’s the same space after a few gallons of creamy goodness:


It’s almost unbelievable, eh? The paint really made the room. We didn’t drywall the paneling, we just left it and rolled right over it- and even though two walls are painted brick and two walls are painted paneling the whole room feels light and cohesive. Oh and the entire transformation only took about seven hours total and we did it with under $100 worth of paint. The lesson? A few cheap tweaks may be all that it takes to have Molly falling in love with her house all over again- without having to worry about paying the price.

What do you guys think? Can you think of anything else that might help Molly with her property predicament? Any other inexpensive upgrades that you’ve done on your just-for-now house that made it feel more like a forever-home? Any tales of hating your house and wanting to sell only to fall deeply and inexplicably in love with it (and ten years later you’re still there)? Do tell.


  1. Martha says

    Paint your front door, replace exterior light fixtures, house numbers, and mailbox, and make sure you have a couple of pots of flowers to come home to. Coming home will make you smile, even if some things on the inside are so-so.

  2. Meredith says

    I think I’m a little too invested in you all winning the challenge—I almost squealed in my office when I voted and you were in first! Yay! I want to see you do all the fun projects you promised… (I’m currently renting a room in a friend’s house and I *still* love seeing all of your home improvements—keep up the good work!)

  3. Kim says

    EVERYONE!!! Get your votes in and get them in DAILY!!!! Put it on your daily to do list!! Lets help Sherry and John win so they can show us some more amazing transformations.

    As far as renovations, most/all of our renovations have been done on a budget.

    The first HUGE saving we scored was the house itself, we bought a foreclosure. Some foreclosure are disasters (anything not part of the structure was either taken, broken or burnt), luckily for us, it was ALL cosmetics. We were able to get the house for approx 65K under comp price.

    Back when Home Depot and Lowes took returns on tinted paint, we knew what rooms needed paint so we always checked out the OOPS paint center and were able to score paint for $3-5 a gallon. I would always keep an updated list of which rooms we found colors for and which one we still needed something. Yes, some of the colors you find are extreme (NEON lime green) but sometime you would find a color that really works.

    Ebay saved us a lot of money! If there is something you see at HD, Lowes or whereever, check ebay! Before you buy something, ALWAYS look at the sellers rating and read some comments. STEER CLEAR of ones that have a lot of negative feedback or ones that just started selling. Also, knowing how to finesse bidding helps too. We got our fixtures anywhere from 30-50% off compared to store down the street. We also got our laminate flooring off of ebay. We had to rip up all of the nasty carpet and vinyl flooring in the 3000 sq house. Our laminate came to $0.74 a sq ft compared to $1.24, calculate that savings out. Our tiles came from Lowes or Home Depot. The trick for us here was to watch out for clearances at these stores, they tend to cycle out their tiles through clearances. But the savings doesn’t end there, did you know how easy it is to negotiate with the manager in charge at Lowes or Home Depot on clearances? It doesn’t always work, but I’ve been successful quite a few times. If you are too scared to negotiate, an easy saving is obtaining a coupon for either Home Depot or Lowes, they both take competitors coupons so it doesn’t matter which one you get your hands on. A common coupon is for 10% off. Check ebay for them if you don’t know of any other way to obtain one. You can get them for cheap and it can save you up to $500 off.

    Get ready to put in a lot of time, sweat, and hardwork! For the more complicated items (electrical wiring and such)that you do not know what you are doing, hire a pro with some of the money you have saved. For the more hands on crafty stuff, if you don’t know how or where to start, check here first in their HOW-TO. if it isn’t there, google is your friend.

    I can go on and on but will spare you. If you have read to this point, thanks. I am not trying to steal Sherry’s and John’s Blog.

  4. says

    Sherry, I know that a lot of times you guys mention checking out other homes during open houses and whatnot to make sure you aren’t doing more than what is in your neighborhood. I’ve thought about doing that, but haven’t had the guts to try it yet… how do you go about doing it? Do you create a fab story about how you are house hunting (complete with an alias and a disguise), or do you not have to give any information??? There are quite a few OH’s in our neighborhood, and we are doing lots of things to make our house OURS, but worry that we might do too much… or maybe that we aren’t doing enough (though, we aren’t going to be on the market for a VERY long time)….

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Tiffany,

      Good question! We’re always forthcoming with realtors since we hate to lead them on. We just say something like “oh we live up the street and have always wondered what the inside of this house looks like” or “we just happen to be in the neighborhood so we thought we’d take a peek while we’re here but we’re actually not house-hunting at the moment.” The truth is that all realtors are happy to have anyone and everyone marching through their open house (even if they know you’re just browsing) because you might mention it to a friend/family member/neighbor who happens to be the market and that could just earn them a sale. We also see a lot of other couples doing the same thing so I think it’s totally acceptable to breeze through and make no bones about your “just looking” intention. Hope it helps! Happy open housing…


  5. Julia H says

    Sherry – Your transformations are incredible ! With the den did you remove the ceiling tiles or paint over them ? Thanks! -Julia

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Toki- That’s Target’s Dolce Lounge Chair (they’re super affordable and we actually have two of them, the other one’s in the living room). They take about a week of breaking in and then they’re cozy and wonderful- and they look like linen for a whole lot less. Hope it helps!

      Julia H- We just painted right over them. It took a few coats and it was super annoying, but it all paid off in the end (here’s a post all about it).


  6. Beth says

    I am dealing with the same thing right now! I bought an ugly 1970’s home and have been renovating it, but mostly cosmetically. I upgraded appliances, but only painted my cabinets, insteading of replacing them too. Now I have to do something about my cream colored countertops. Do you recommend replacing them with granite or is that too upscale for old school (but painted) cabinets that we will never replace….Sherry, would you have put the same granite with your old painted cabinets if they couldn’t be replaced?

    We only plan on living here a couple more years, but want a quick sell!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Beth,

      Good question. The issue with our kitchen was that we were closing off a doorway to gain an additional wall of cabinetry so we knew we would have to either go to great lengths to match the existing cabinetry or replace it all. And since it was 50 years old and the drawers didn’t even have slides (picture a wood box being pulled in and out of a wood frame, squeaking all the way- ick!) we decided to bite the bullet and replace everything. But if we were keeping the same floor plan and our cabinets were in fine shape (with drawer slides!) we definitely would have just painted them and ordered up some new granite to top them off. Granite is quickly becoming the new standard in kitchens these days (realtors say most people demand and expect it in these times) so it would instantly update your entire room and most likely make for an easier sale in the future. You could also go with something like a butcher block from Ikea (very cost effective) or even a solid surface like Corian – heck even tiled counters can be charming- so you might want to suss out if other homes in your area have granite and if they do I’d go that route. But if you’d be the only one in your neighborhood with a kitchen of that caliber, something a bit more modest and cost-effective may actually be your best bet. Hope it helps!


  7. says

    If you are smart about your renovations, you can get a lot of work done on a budget. Like the Youngins, I have a 1950s ranch. The nice thing about these houses is that they are kind of style free zone and it is easy to make an update. We renovated our kitchen on a dime, knowing that it was to be for resale. We went with 24 inch granite tile rather than granite slab. My cupboards were in good shape, if a bit dated. Switching out hardware and a coat of paint worked wonders. We wheeled and dealed at Sears for our appliances and the whole thing came out for less than $5Gs. Not bad for a whole kitchen remodel.

    As for open houses, I always stop and go through houses. Open houses rarely produce a sale, but serve mostly as advertizing for the agent. The agent needs feedback and open houses provide that. I can look around and see what needs attention and let the realtor know. I always provide honest feedback on the price and condition of the home.

  8. says


    I think like you two about your home. My home is roughly around 1200 square feet and for some reason, I don’t picture myself moving, even with kids. So usually I just do up my home the way I want it. I don’t go over board, but small fixes last a long time!

    If someone isn’t commited to living in a home for awhile, then I wouldn’t do much besides what is need. Like you said, paint is the easiest way to fix anything!

  9. tammy says

    I agree that space is all what you make of it. I believe any family can fit into any home. There are five of us and we happily lived in 880 sq. feet for a few years!

  10. Carrie says

    We are in the same boat right now. We want to make it nice for the remaining time we have in our house, but not go over what we could get in return.
    I totally agree with paint! I am amazed every time we paint a room and always end up loving the room way more than before. We have just completed painting our dated kitchen cabinets (insprised by YHL, of course)and all the main doors in the house. HUGE DIFFERENCE! We are also updating most lighting fixtures, ceiling fans (which are super cheap at Lowe’s) and all kitchen applicances. Our realtor said this is the best investment when it comes to resale, since every one wants stainless steel. We are updating our wood deck and landscaping. I think a well manicured lawn and flower beds goes a long way.
    What about rearranging the furniture in each room? It would make it feel new, but cost nothing.
    OH, and I think our best find was at the Recycle resource yard near our house. Check your local eco-cycle center to see if there is one near you. You have to check back often because there are different items there everytime, but you can get some great deals. We got enough brand new tile for our bathroom for $5!

  11. Maggie says

    I just found out about your blog about a week ago (my boyfriend found it on the internet and thought I would like it) turns out I love it. I honestly think I have looked it over front and back finding great ideas. Im 22 fresh out of college, living with the rents so I don’t have my own place yet but I am looking towards the future and I have found a lot of great ideas for when I do find that perfect place. I was just wondering if you think your decoration style will be different in the house once you decide to have children? Do you think you will have to change a lot of things to babyproof once you have a todler running around? I notice a lot of fragile looking items on the coffee tables and end tables and was just wondering. Trust me im not looking to having kids anytime soon but my sister has a baby boy and I feel like once she became a mom her style just kindof changed a lot.
    Again i love all of your great ideas…

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Maggie,

      We knew with the mention of a gaggle of little ones that it would be moments before someone would wonder how our decor style would work with kids. Thanks to our little niece and nephew we’ve seen firsthand how many things have to change around the house for wee ones, and we know that we’ll have to put breakables on higher shelves and definitely alter the objects that are in reach. We’ve already heard from a slew of moms that slipcovers are a lot easier care than upholstered couches (both of our sofas have slipcovers) and even though they’re light colors (tan and white) many moms have actually told us that white slipcovers are the best since they can be bleached/oxycleaned and tan really can hide a multitude of grunge so we think the sofas may just survive. We also have a lot of natural fiber rugs which won’t be perfect for babies to play on (they’re not soft enough for their sensitive skin) but we recently had a 6-month old staying with us for a weekend and we watched firsthand as their parents tossed down a plush blanket onto our jute rug in the den and the baby went to town on it. Easy, peasy.

      Of course we know that our house will definitely evolve and change as we grow our family, but we just can’t see our overall airy and breezy style changing. Maybe we’ll bring in more wipeable materials (like the leather ottomans we already love so much) and our white curtains are only $5 a pop from Ikea so even if we have to replace them once a year it’s still worth the height and the lightness that they bring into our home. Hope it helps!


  12. Bridget B. says

    Timely post. DH and I have this conversation at least every couple of months. We have a 1970s era 3 bedroom 2.5 bath house.

    We’ve made a lot of upgrades like buying new bathroom vanities, carpet and 2 inch faux wood blinds, texturing and painting the walls, staining and sealing the tile floors and replacing all the brass light fixtures and doorknobs in the house with brushed nickel.

    Our mortgage is very affordable and we wouldn’t necessarily mind staying forever. But real estate values in our neighborhood and surrounding areas seem to be on the decline. We recently refinanced and the appraisal (mid-renovation) came out a little higher than similar comps in the neighborhood.

    The changes that we have made so far were mostly to update the place and repair minor damage. We already have stainless steel appliances, so after several coats of paint, the kitchen looks pretty decent. But, I’m always tempted to knock out the wall separating it from our living room. This would also involve moving the cabinets on that wall to a wall where a window currently exists and moving the fridge to where our large pantry currently exists. I’d also want to replace our formica countertops with granite.

    If we were staying forever, I would do it in a heartbeat, but since we plan on moving in 4-5 years and using it as a rental property, I keep trying to convince myself that we shouldn’t.

    p.s. I’ve never understood why people wait until they put their house on the market to make major renovations. I would want to enjoy it while I’m there.

  13. Melissa says

    I think it depends on the neighborhood. If you live in an older neighborhood that consists of all older homes (like the old neighborhood that we once lived in) you can do total redos but you should go with the lower end items. We redid our kitchen (from the studs) for under 6,000 and it still looked 10 times better than the before. It also made a step up from the other selling homes in the area but not enough that it looked like a brand new home in a old neighborhood (you don’t want that). It must have worked because we sold it within a week.

  14. salley says

    i think you recommendations are spot on: do the least expensive fixes first, and check comps and open houses before a big remodel.
    i’m in the process of fixing up 2 40s-50s houses and kinda obsessed with real estate. i think it is good to look with a critical eye at flipped houses- sometimes they can be so generic. staying true to your house is key- if it is a modest 40s house, then giant ornate fixtures make it look small- same with kitchens- dont squeeze in mammoth appliances to compete with new suburban houses- quaint and clean is the name of the game, with personality but not too much.
    i’m waiting until the last possible moment before resale to redo the kitchen as i think trends are changing. for example, as much as i like granite and stainless, in 3 years there may be a new something people want. you’ve got to walk a fine line between timeless and trendy. and no matter what, if you arent reorienting your layout and your cabinets are in decent shape, work with what you’ve got. they dont make em like they used to!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *