Sell or Salvage: Is Home Renovation Worth the Hassle?

Knowing when to remodel or move comes down to how long you want to stay in your home and how much you love your neighborhood.

It’s a conundrum every homeowner faces at some point: Tackle a large home renovation project or pack up and move to a home with space that better suits your family’s needs. Either decision is daunting, time-consuming and expensive enough to be the subject of an HGTV series. (Think Love It or List It and Stay or Sell.)

So how do you know when to refinish, replace, add on, reconfigure or just move?

Check the Market

According to the 2019 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors, about 35 percent of U.S. homeowners would rather move than remodel.

To find out if it’s the right choice for you, research your local market. Explore apps and websites, such as, to find out the estimated market values in your neighborhood. Also check mortgage calculators for a general sense of an affordable price range. Talk to a real estate agent to learn what your home is worth and how fast it might sell, and to help determine if what you seek is available in your price range elsewhere.

Factor in the cost of selling and expenses related to moving. Consider the emotional value of whether you want to leave a familiar neighborhood or school district.

Note that if you decide to sell your home, you still may want to invest in some small curb appeal projects to ensure you sell at top dollar as quickly as possible. After all, people often make a decision whether to buy a house before they step through the front door, according to Bryan Sebring, owner of Sebring Design Build in Naperville, Illinois, who teaches workshops on home renovation.

Timing Is Everything

According to the same National Association of Realtors report, most homeowners opt to remodel: 55 percent in suburban areas, 52 percent in urban areas and 70 percent in rural areas. Together, they spend $400 billion annually to remodel.

Sebring says that deciding on the level of renovation comes down to a long-term plan.

“How long are you going to stay [in your home]? That’s the No. 1 thing,” he says. “I use the dividing line of five years. It determines the level of construction you do.”

If you’ll be in your home for only a few years, Sebring says to stick to cosmetic changes such as new counters, fresh paint or finish on cabinetry, new backsplash and flooring. These are also the easiest projects to do yourself.

If you’re looking raise the value of your home for a sale just down the road, focus on projects that deliver the best rates of return for your investment. The National Association of Realtors report says that larger projects, such as extensive kitchen, bath or master suite remodels, typically recoup 50 to 60 percent of your investment.

If you’re staying put for a decade or more, consider investing in a pull-and-replace plan: Pulling outdated cabinetry, appliances and/or fixtures and replacing them with something fresh and updated, using the current floor plan.

Full Remodels Requires Time, Money and Vision

Many homeowners dream of more — a better flow, taking down walls, maybe installing a mud room or laundry area off the kitchen, or better storage with a pantry.

“A full-gut custom remodel can be very expensive,” Sebring says. Time-consuming, too. The trade-off is worth it for homeowners who dream of hosting large family gatherings, more space in the kitchen, a larger master bath or more room for hobbies.

Be realistic about what you can put up with during a major remodel, too. A kitchen renovation will require some sort of satellite-kitchen setup in a dining room or basement, while work on the master bedroom or bath means sleeping elsewhere for the duration.

Choose Contractor And Agent Carefully

Whether you sell or renovate, spend time getting to know the pro that will help you navigate the change — specifically, your real estate agent or remodeler. Talk to their former clients. Make sure that person, and his or her company, feels like a good match, Sebring says, which can do a lot to lessen the stress of either decision.

“It comes down to planning and trust,” he says.

Lisa Meyers McClintick
Lisa Meyers McClintick is an award-winning Minnesota-based freelancer specializing in travel across the Upper Midwest and to national parks across the United States. She has been a longtime contributor to USA Today, Midwest Living magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and also has written for Minnesota Monthly, and AAA publications. Her specialties include watching wildlife and birding, harvest travel, hands-on art and history, gardens and wildflowers, quirky small towns and scenic outdoors. She's a member of Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, which named her the 2019 Travel Writer of the Year. She's also an award-winning photographer and teaches workshops on memoir and creative writing, photography, travel, and creating sketchbooks and journals.