5 Home 'Upgrades' That Can Be Disasters When You Sell

5 Home 'Upgrades' That Can Be Disasters When You Sell

By Joanne Cleaver

SEATTLE (Zillow) — Of all the misfired home improvements Daniel Fries has seen in his 30 years as a home appraiser, aquariums top his list of 2012 loss leaders — home improvements that offered little to no return on investment.

“It’s not a prudent investment,” says Fries, who is based in Atlanta. The tank’s glass fogs, while grimy filters emit an odor of rotting seaweed. Even worse — yes, it gets worse — some owners repurpose fish aquariums as reptile dwellings. And few things send a potential homebuyer fleeing faster than the sight of a bull snake in the dining room.

Aquariums top our list of “improvements” with poor return on investment, but every project on that list has at least one thing in common: a profound mismatch between a homeowner’s intent and a neighborhood’s standards.

Local culture, preferences and market conditions dictate return on improvements. Sink your money into amenities that don’t reflect the norm for your immediate area and you won’t even gain a 5% premium over neighboring homes, regardless of what you spend, says Kevin Cross, owner of the Anchorage, Alaska-based real estate agency Cross & Associates.

Case in point: Granite countertops actually undermine market value in Alaska. Extreme temperature changes force constant settling and resettling of home foundations, which results in warping and cracking of solid stone surfaces. Laminate has just enough "give" to make it the counter material of choice.

“Understand that anyone looking for a house is going to stand in front of yours with their cellphone looking at all the estimated values of the houses all around yours,” he continues. “When a buyer looks at a house, they’re not looking for reasons to buy a house. They’re looking for reasons to not buy yours. Your job is to remove as many of those reasons ‘not to buy.’ If it’s priced right, clean, staged and looks inviting, an older house will sell faster than a new house even with superior amenities.”