Dreams are easy. They don't take much effort or direction. No details necessary to enter dreamland. When your dreams put on their work clothes and become goals, you have to start by gathering information and narrowing your focus. Your journey of a thousand questions begins with just one: how long are you going to live in your home? I imagine a few puzzled faces out there. More important than budget? More important than project type? More important than designer, contractor or schedule? Yep. How long you plan to live in your home should guide you in choosing the type of project, its budget, the project details, and which professionals will be best suited to help.
Why? Simply put, the time until you next move helps clarify the value of the projects you will do. Notice I didn't just say, "resale value" or "ROI". Those may be useless factors if, as a recent client put it, "they're going to carry me out of this place." If you're never going to move, resale value is as silly as a U-haul trailer on a hearse - you can't take it with you.
Here are some rule of thumb considerations:
Moving in one day to five years: Barring any structural deficiencies such as a leaky roof, broken windows, faulty electrical, or other unsafe conditions, there are three rooms that sell your home - kitchen, master bathroom, and walk in closet. Men don't typically buy houses, we only think we do. Even if your house is a complete knockout, if your kitchen is dated or inefficient, your buyers will take note and ask for monetary consideration so THEY can remodel it. If you're moving in less than five years you need to make basic decisions. Do NOT customize! You may love the ultra modern, automotive finish grade blue cabinets, but they call Sacramento "Cow Town" for a reason. Traditional cabinets, especially cherry with shaker style doors, travertine floors, granite counters and stainless steel appliances will have the broadest appeal. If your design sense doesn't allow you to pay for this type of remodel, I'll tell you something most people in remodel won't - save your money. If you are moving that soon, think dollars and cents, not design sense.
Another thing to consider - spend to your homes' value. This sword cuts both ways. If you remodel beyond your home's value, you won't recover your investment. But, if you put in an entry-level master bath (linoleum floors, fiberglass tub surround, tile counters, etc.) in an $800,000 home, you will pay twice. First for the inexpensive remodel and second in the credit your buyer will want to redo the work. Please remember this, You can't put "spinner" wheels on a Ferrari! If you bought an expensive home, you must do work keeping in value with the rest of the home (I can hear a resounding, "Amen, brother!" from the Realtors out there).
Moving in Five to Ten years: in this category you still want to keep an eye on return. Especially since you will be there long enough for the changes to appreciate in value. Making changes will put your home higher on buyer's lists when you have a recently remodeled area that other homes in the area don't. Also, value starts to change definition. Ten years is a long time (unless you're an oak tree). Additional square footage makes more sense, especially if you're adding an additional bedroom(s) or a rec room. These type of projects not only add significantly to your home's value, they make life better everyday. Having enough bedrooms for the kids, a place for Mom & Dad to stay or for the kids to come back to makes your life easier, and your home more valuable. Having a large enough rec room so your kid's friends always come to YOUR house (where you can keep an eye on things), has value far beyond economics. In this category you start to personalize things more, but really think twice before you choose to put a "Kings" logo in the dining room floor.
Not gonna move ever: this is a much different balance. Now you have to consider the everyday enjoyment of what you do versus the cash you will lay out. Resale is irrelevant. Coffee aficionados will pay the premium for a Miele built-in cappuccino machine and love it everyday. $3,000 worth of love? Well, that's for you to decide. Is there something that has always bothered you about your home since you moved in? There is great psychic value in solving that issue. If you hate the lighting or the swing of a door or laundry room placement and it bothers you everyday, it's like having a rock in your shoe. Every step is a reminder, "I've got to deal with that." It robs you of enjoyment and peace. Choose the projects that will bring the greatest enjoyment at the most reasonable price. Here's where you can focus on the style that brings you the greatest satisfaction, regardless of the design rules. Just make sure you consider who you may be in 15 to 20 years and whether that "you" will want your money back! I hope this helps, but more important, I hope it starts a conversation.