A Little Home Renovation Goes a Long Way

By Jeff Wing   |   July 9, 2024
Renovation is about making a House a Home (photo courtesy of Mattress Mike)

“Home.” It’s complicated. Home is where the heart is, and where you hang your hat. Home is where – when our best intentions go astray – the chickens come to roost. Are the words House and Home interchangeable? Only loosely. “House” is a structural term, an object subject to space, time, and mortgage amortization. “Home” speaks to something infinitely deeper and is not necessarily structure-dependent. When Home and House do indeed intersect, those four walls and a roof comprise a safe, loving harbor. This essay will assume this happy intersection and use the word “Home” to mean “House.” 

On the topic of Home Renovation, we are indeed entering the realm of bricks and mortar (that old couplet); as well as cabinetry, countertops, windows, doors, and the musical-sounding HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), and much more. Home Renovation is in fact a sort of catch-all that could mean anything from regrouting the shower stall to adding a room. What’s that? You’d like to know the etymology of the word itself? Oh… thanks for asking! Its derivation is Latin – renovationem – from the Latin verb novare, “to make new.” The prefix “re” – also Latin – means “again.” To renovate is to “make new again.”

…you still there? 

Don’t Think of Your Home as a Vehicle (Schminvestment)

People renovate their homes for many reasons – to freshen the milieu, to address dissolving structural issues, or to pointedly prepare a home for sale. One thing that bears mentioning is the misapprehension that an owned home is a de facto investment, and that a renovation of any kind, whatever the immediate motive, is necessarily an improvement of that investment. 

A house is only an investment if you buy it with a concrete plan to sell it, along a planned timeline and having paid due diligence to forecasting the home’s projected value going forward in order to minimize risk and optimize profit. Yes, houses in the U.S., generally speaking, do tend to appreciate over time. But to actualize that gain as profit, you of course need to sell the house. That means – unless you plan to take monies from the house sale and nomadically wander the world (or become a renter) – you will be putting the money earned from the sale into yet another home. This is called trapped equity, because you’ll necessarily need to shift that earned liquid equity into another property. You’ll realize a profit from that initial investment (your sold home) only if your next home purchase is for a house of lesser value. 

And unlike other “investments,” owning a home comes with what are called carrying costs. That is, apart from the brute value of the home, there are ongoing expenses related to ownership; property taxes, homeowner’s insurance (!), utilities, and, yes, renovations. Replacing flooring, doing the roof, replacing or upgrading windows and doors… each of these things could cost you (or likely tens of thousands) of dollars. Renovations are truly realized “value-adds” only in the context of a sale, and then those accrued renovation expenses need to be factored over time and considered bites taken out of the home’s appreciation. 

Three- or four-thousand dollars a year in improvements (and this is barring something major like a roof replacement or kitchen overhaul) comes to $30k (as per other articles) over a decade. But won’t those renovations be reflected in an even higher-than-market valuation of the home? Maybe, but maybe not. Home values fluctuate and are subject to a constellation of factors having to do with zip code, the condition of surrounding properties, economic vagaries, and so on.

Your house is inarguably a shelter, and if you’ve played your cards right, a lovely and gratifying Home. But its carrying costs, and the fact that improvements may or may not add value at sale, make a home a somewhat amorphous investment if your plan is, principally, just to have a place to live.

Which is all to say – when you renovate, improve, and upgrade, it should be about enhancing your human experience of the here and now. Regarding your house as pure Home – and not as an investment vehicle making vague and complex promises of future appreciation – means your renovation decisions will flow naturally from what makes you and your family feel most comfortable, protected, and nurtured. Those are the renovations that truly, lastingly matter in your life. And in the life of your home.

Inside Story

There are interior renovations and exterior renovations. The 2024 U.S. Houzz & Home Study annually polls and parses the renovation universe (so to speak) to provide a telling snapshot of what is happening in the space. This year’s Houzz revelations tell us that the most common interior renovations so far in 2024 (in descending order) have been to the Kitchen, Guest bathroom, Primary bathroom, Living room, Guest bedroom, Primary bedroom, Laundry room, Closet, Dining room, and Home office. 

It’s worth noting that the top three on the interior renovations list – kitchen, bathroom, bathroom – speak to the symbolic and presentational importance of the home’s domestic heart, followed immediately by the reputational terror of a guest’s unsupervised, closed-door inspection of your home’s water closet (as they use to call a bathroom). It is also of note that so far in 2024 we would rather lavish attention on a delightful new closet or laundry room than an improved dining room experience. 

So here we have the Kitchen as our consensus #1 renovation dream, and the Dining Room nearly dead last in our list of aspirational home improvements. This curious yin and yang suggest there is some sort of nourishing ceremonial magic associated with preparing food. Once the comestibles have been lovingly and ritually presented, though, you can slouch with your paper plate to that tumbledown dining room – with its curling wallpaper and cobweb-swaddled chandelier – and chow down. Granted, this is a very loose interpretation of the Houzz findings.

Regional subject matter experts on interior renovations run the gamut. The Connie Glazer Design Group brings a surfeit of blue-chip design expertise and experiential design-centric travel to bear on your humble (or otherwise) abode, and the Santa Barbara Cabinet Company’s Tom and Colleen likewise throw their 25 years of experience into building your perfect custom cabinetry for the kitchen, bathrooms, libraries, paneled offices, wine cellars – everywhere lustrous wood is expected to inform the tone – and broaden their offerings through their Santa Barbara Interiors. And on the subject of closets and – ahem – storage; the aptly-named Santa Barbara Storage Group, with its unique and boutique storage trifecta – Self, Industrial, and Wine – almost surely has what you need for your off-site storage needs. Don’t know where to begin with your dreams of interior rehab? RD Homes has taken a remark by storied Swiss architect Le Corbusier and made it their credo: “The Home Should Be the Treasure Chest of Living.” In business since 2010, Romain Doussineau (hence the less challenging RD) and his wife Myriam are all about helping you realize your vision. And following that consultation, the Furniture Gallery by Mattress Mike has a massive display space with more beautiful interior furnishings that you can likely imagine. Oh, and mattresses.

Musing over first steps in bathroom renovation? If you can imagine, there is a place called Bath Planet (no, it’s not on NASA’s exploratory probe list), and their turnkey model has made them a popular choice in dozens of locations across the country. And while we’re on the subject of water, has anyone noticed that the piped water in the American Riviera is so mineral-laden it is practically a semisolid? There is no civic wet stuff Culligan Water can’t soften, filter, or reverse-osmose (a real word). Persons of a certain age may remember the shouting “Hey, Culligan Man!” TV ad of yore. That campaign must’ve sunk into the culture, as the name Culligan is any more synonymous with home water solutions. 

ROI? Roger that. 

With nearly perfect weather year-round, sprucing up the outdoor quarters is always a good idea (photo courtesy of The Well)

When interior renovations are undertaken to strategically boost the resale value of a home, it is useful to know if – and by what factor – the renovation in question may add value beyond the cost of the project. Here we have the term Return on Investment (ROI). The baseline object here is to have the renovation add value. The National Association of REALTORS® Remodeling Impact Report lists 10 of the most common interior renovations and their respective ROI, and it looks like this (bearing in mind this is a nationally averaged snapshot at this moment in the present economy): Refinishing the hardwood flooring – 147% ROI; installing new hardwood flooring – 118%; upgrading the home’s insulation – 100%. In the realm of flooring, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Kern counties’ family-owned Flooring 101 works with carpets, hardwood flooring, laminate flooring, luxury vinyl tile, and ceramic tile & stone. 

Some projects you may assume would have a robust ROI did not in this survey. For instance, upgrading the kitchen (at a cost of $45,000 in this example) yielded a 67% ROI. The NAR Remodeling Impact Report makes one overarching point; just about half of realtors polled recommend painting the entirety of your home’s interior before selling. Santa Barbara Painting, Inc., and Chyko Painting are both long-trusted, longstanding local outfits that do both interiors and exteriors. 

Outside Curb Appeal

A new coat of paint is always a good idea before selling a home (photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Painting, Inc.)

As for exterior renovations, the 2024 Houzz & Home Study finds this descending order of curbside rehab: roofing, windows/skylights, exterior paint, gutters/downspouts, exterior doors, deck, insulation, porch/balcony, siding/stucco, structural upgrades, and chimney. You can see at a glance that the sequence is topped by the practical – the leaky roof over your head – then becomes a mix of aesthetics and weatherproofing. If considering an energy-boosting addition to your roof renovation, both August Roofing and Solar and Brighten Solar can complement your roof with a grid-augmenting solar solution. Have you wondered if there is a way to touch up the roofline and the home’s profile generally without doing major structural work? Conejo Valley Trim Light’s weatherproof and energy-efficient solution may not be one with which you’re familiar, but is certainly worth checking out. Their unique exterior lighting design has been surprising homeowners since 2011. And if you want to bring the lovely exterior light of California into the house, Big Coast Skylights may be a good place to start. Whether inside or out, living room or garden (or why not a combination of both), The Well in Summerland – and now with an outpost in Montecito’s Upper Village – is a well (cough) of antique and vintage furniture, lighting and other décor delights that one can continue to draw from during their path to renovation. 

You could be Home now (photo courtesy of Mattress Mike)

Familiar and costly mistakes have long haunted the exterior renovation adventure. Topping most lists is the error of excitedly jumping in without a clear and followable plan. You want to forecast, to some degree, how the improvement will seem to you some years down the line. That’s just one way of assuring you are thinking seriously about what you are about to do (and pay for) and not whimsically leading with your heart, as they say. Spend your time coming up with a detailed vision and plan. Change that as many times as you want to, but only when you’re sure you have a settled plan that can be followed do you get the project started. Changing your mind mid-project is even more disastrous than it sounds.

Consider the climate, and how it may reliably be said to be changing, when choosing your materials. Consider what materials weather best in the current and predicted climatological setting. What material holds up in the full unmediated sun? What materials helpfully contract and expand with the temperature? 

Lastly, stay in communication with your contractors and workers. Yes, it’s easy (and even a relief) to absent yourself from the hard hats and toolbelts and trust the work will go according to your wishes, but it is critically important you stay in touch with your general contractor. If it becomes necessary to deviate, even a whisker, from your prescribed plan, you need to know that yesterday. If you are never in the picture, these time-and-schedule-constrained teams may barrel ahead, thinking you are not particularly engaged in the details. Don’t get strange or imperious about it, but do let your GC know you are interested and engaged. 

Renovation done correctly will dramatically, and classily, improve both the body and soul of your domicile. Your Home is repository for all your dreams, the sanctified space in which your lasting memories and moments will play out over the years, and that perfectly lit corner where That Chair awaits you, your book, and a glass of vino. This is not an investment vehicle; this is Home. Make it your own.  


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