Outdoor kitchen

Home Upgrades With the Lowest ROI

File these 4 home upgrades under wish fulfillment, not value investment.

Image: The Frustrated Gardener

Life is a balancing act, and upgrading your home is no different. Some upgrades, like a kitchen remodel or an additional bathroom, typically add value to your home. Others, like putting in a pool, provide little dollar return on your investment.

Of course, homeowning isn’t just about building wealth; it’s also about living well and making memories — even if that means outclassing your neighborhood or turning off future buyers. So if any of these six upgrades is something you can’t be dissuaded from, enjoy! We won’t judge. But go in with your eyes wide open. Here’s why: 

#1 Outdoor Kitchen

The fantasy: You’re the man — grilling steaks, blending margaritas, and washing highball glasses without ever leaving your pimped-out patio kitchen.

The reality: For what it costs — median cost is $14,000 — are you really gonna use it? Despite our penchant for eating alfresco, families spend most leisure time in front of some screen and almost no leisure time outdoors, no matter how much they spend on amenities, according to UCLA’s “Life At Home” study. 

The bottom-line: Instead, buy a tricked out gas grill, which will do just fine when you need to char something. If you’re dying for an outdoor upgrade, install exterior lighting — only 1% of buyers don’t want that.

#2 In-Ground Swimming Pool

The fantasy: Floating aimlessly, sipping umbrella drinks, staying cool in the dog days of summer.

The reality: Pools are money pits that you’ll spend $57,500 to install, and thousands more to insure, secure, and maintain. Plus, you won’t use them as much as you think, and when you’re ready to sell, buyers will call your pool a maintenance pain. In fact, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®, you’ll only get back 43% return when you sell.

The bottom-line: If a backyard swimming pool is on your must-have home list, go for it. But, get real about:

  • How many days per year you’ll actually swim.
  • How much your energy bills will climb to heat the water ($760 to $1,845 depending on location and temperature).
  • What you’ll pay to clean and chemically treat the pool ($20 to $100 per month in-season if you do it yourself; $75 to $165 per month for a pool service).
  • The fact that you’ll likely need to invest in a pool fence. In fact, some insurance carriers require it.

Related: Natural Swimming Pools: 9 Myths Busted

#3 In-Ground Spa

The fantasy: Soothing aching muscles and sipping chardonnay with friends while being surrounded by warm water and bubbles.

The reality: In-ground spas are nearly as expensive as pools and cost about $1 a day for electricity and chemicals. You’ll have to buy a cover ($50 to $400) to keep children, pets, and leaves out. And, like in-ground pools, in-ground spas’ ROI depends solely on how much the next homeowner wants one.

The bottom-line: Unless you have a chronic condition that requires hydrotherapy, you probably won’t use your spa as much as you imagine. A portable hot tub will give you the same benefits for as little as $1,000 to $2,500, and you can take it with you when you move.

#4 Elevator

Your fantasy: No more climbing stairs for you or for your parents when they move in.

The reality: Elevators top the list of features buyers don’t want in the NAHB “What Buyers Really Want” report. They cost upwards of $25,000 to install, which requires sawing through floors, laying concrete, and crafting high-precision framing. And, at sales time, elevators can turn off some families, especially those with little kids who love to push buttons.

The bottom-line: If you truly need help climbing stairs, you can install a chair lift on a rail system ($1,000 to $5,000). Best feature: It can be removed.