Sunday, January 5, 2020

Remodel the Guest Bathroom? Maybe Not.

While bathroom and kitchen remodeling returns the most amount of money for each dollar spent, it does not generate more money than you spent.   Guest bathrooms probably return even less.
A bathroom like the one above can last decades.

There is a mythology, perpetuated by the television, which wants to sell your eyeballs to advertisers - who are often people selling home improvement items - that you can buy a house, remodel it, and "make money" as a result.   Sadly, this is usually not the case.   The cost of the home, plus the remodeling expenses, often exceed market prices.

Granted, some professionals "flip" houses, but they cut costs to the bone - hiring illegal workers to do rushed tile jobs that cover up problems rather than fix them.  They make the house look fabulous, but often create more problems for the homeowner down the road.   It is all smoke-and-mirrors, and in case of these "flipping" or other home improvement shows, literally that.

Even back in the day of "This Old House" the denouement was often accompanied by moans and woes from the homeowner who realized "this cost a lot more than I thought it would!" although they were pleased with all the fancy stuff they now had.   And yes, over time, in a rising market, you will recover your costs as housing prices rise over time.  But then again, over time, you have to throw money at a house to keep it up-to-date and to replace and repair the multitude of things that break over time - appliances, systems, roofs, and even foundations.  The carrying cost and basic maintenance will negate any appreciation - which is why the IRS doesn't tax home sales gains (for the most part, for us middle-class people, anyway).

We have two bathrooms in our house - one was remodeled by the previous owner into a palatial bath with one of those useless whirlpool tubs.  It is comfortable - the bathroom that is - and the sort of thing people expect in this age of mini-mansions.   The other bath - the guest bath - is original for the most part.  They put in a new countertop and that was about it.   Should we "upgrade" the guest bath?

Hell no, and let me tell you why.   First of all, it is a guest bathroom, used maybe a few days a year.  In fact, it is used so infrequently that we have to run the bath to make sure the water trap doesn't dry out.   Since it is not used often, it doesn't get much wear.   So it looks pretty presentable, even if not palatial.

The second thing is how bathrooms are made back then versus today.   In Goodyear Cottage is a bathroom over 100 years old, and the toilet there uses the same hardware that you can buy at the local lumberteria - the technology hasn't changed all that much.  But how bathrooms were built, has.

Our guest bath, circa 1969, was built of concrete.  Back then, they would put chicken wire on the studs and trowel a layer of concrete on top of that.  It took talent to do this and make it perfectly flat.   Once the concrete set up, tile was placed over that.  The result is a tile wall (and floor) that lasts decades without cracking, chipping or otherwise wearing out.   If you try to remove this (and we did, at our house in Alexandria) you'd better bring a sledgehammer or two, maybe even a jackhammer.   Those old tile jobs were built for the ages.

And often on a wood-framed house, the studs and joists would be cut away to make room for the concrete, so the walls and floor would be level with the rest of the house.   So if you remodel this, you may have to put "sister" studs up against the cut-away ones, as well as the floor joists - and new subflooring.    It is a mess.

In our house in Virginia, the previous owner decided to "update" the bathroom by tiling over the old tile.   I've seen it done before, and it can kind of sort of work, although it is kind of cheating a bit.  Done poorly and it looks like hell.

What is built in more recent years is hardly a "forever" bathroom.   Today, we use cement board, screw-gunned to the studs, which tends to flex a bit over time and causes the tiles to crack.   But that's OK, because today, people tear out and remodel their bathrooms on 10-year intervals, it seems.

If it works, don't fix it, they say, and if you have a tile bathroom built for 100 years, why take it out, just because it is "dated"?    On our island, we all have these bathrooms, as most of the houses were built within a ten-year period spanning the 1960's and 1970's.  They came in several colors of tile - yellow, light green, light blue, pink, and white.   We won the tile-color lottery and ours is white, which is pretty neutral and modern.  Others are stuck with these older colors which look dated - and many have resulted to tearing out these tiles to "update" their bathrooms, which is expensive and messy - and the resulting bathroom not as durable as what it replaced!

Some have resorted to epoxy paints, which can work, sort of, but doesn't quite look the same.  A house flipper here tried that.  The new owners ended up tearing out the bathroom.

For us, there is little point in throwing money at a guest bathroom.  At most we may replace the vanity someday (it is original) and the countertop to "update" it.   Although, as I look at it, I realize that new cabinet doors and drawer fronts would have the same effect of updating the vanity without the risk of damaging this "forever" tile.   But that is very low on my list of priorities.

Besides, you tear out a bathroom and re-do it, and the next fellow tears that out as well.