As a single mom searching for her first home in Oakland, California, Carmen Pearson had a few simple requirements: a nice house in a good neighborhood, with an in-law unit to rent and supplement her mortgage. She found what she wanted in a three-bedroom, two-bath house built in 1945 in the Crocker Highlands neighborhood.
Pearson knew the older home required some remodeling, particularly the master bathroom, which hadn’t been updated since the 1950s. The tub was dented and had rust stains, the sliding glass door was inconvenient for bathing toddlers and the vanity countertop was designed for a kitchen.
She hired a bathroom-remodel construction company with good ratings and a salesperson who seemed to understand Pearson’s financial concerns. “I was on a tight budget — all my savings had been poured into the down payment,” says Pearson.
But when work started, problems quickly mounted. There was termite damage to repair and outdated pipes that needed replacing. “The sales rep kept pressuring me to do excessive amounts of additional work,” says Pearson.
The subcontractor assigned to the remodel gave her a different story. “He told me the honest truth about what really needed to be done, and the actual costs for labor and materials,” says Pearson. She decided to cut out the construction company to work solely with the subcontractor, who delivered realistic results within her budget.
The average price tag for a major bathroom remodel in the U.S. runs from $17,908 (midrange) to $57,411 (upscale), according to the 2016 Cost vs. Value report from Remodeling magazine. The good news? According to Remodeling magazine, this is a home improvement project with one of the highest returns on your investment. A midrange remodel can add an estimated $11,769 in resale value to your home; an upscale job can add $32,998, according to the report.
Planning a bathroom remodel in your home? Here are some tips to consider from bathroom design pros.
According to guidelines recommended by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), the budget for a bathroom remodel is typically 5 to 10 percent of the value of the home. If you overspend to add luxury amenities like a steam feature or top-of-the-line fixtures, you’re more likely to get a lower return on the investment. “Your comfort is worth something,” says Maria Stapperfenne, an NKBA certified bathroom designer in northeast New Jersey. “And, you may increase the value with luxury items. But you won’t get it all back in resale value.”
This quote from French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery effectively captures the problem of failing to plan. “Without a plan, you’re wide open for your contractor, electrician or plumber to make a mistake and say, ‘Oops!’” says Patricia Davis Brown, an NKBA certified bathroom designer in Florida. “That’s how costs get out of control. Even a small bathroom could end up being a money pit if mistakes are made.” With a plan in place, if the contractor veers from the plan and makes mistakes, you shouldn’t be charged for a change order, according to Brown.
You can find basic bathroom remodel checklists and plan templates available free online. If you pay a professional bathroom designer to create a plan for you, the fee for services is typically around 4 percent of your budget, according to Brown, who notes this rate is about what you’d spend for a change order if mistakes are made.
Inspiration boards and photos in magazines won’t tell you if a handle has an awkward mechanism or the glossy marble is slippery. Stapperfenne calls bathrooms a “tactile experience” — you’re touching fixtures, opening drawers, turning on faucets, your bare feet and other body parts are grazing surfaces and getting submerged in water. Before you buy fixtures or commit to countertop or flooring materials, she recommends going to a home experience center, where homeowners can touch and use everything from towel bars to showers in these showrooms. “They’ll even let you wear a swimsuit and test different showerheads,” says Stapperfenne.
Stapperfenne also notes some trendy bathroom features that look like luxuries may feel awkward or uncomfortable — like overhead rainshower fixtures. “There’s a temporal lobe above your eyebrow and when water hits it from above, it can trigger a blinking reflex,” says Stapperfenne.
Oversized bathtubs can be problematic, too, according to Brown, who recommends sitting in a bathtub before you buy it. If the tub is too big, and you weigh less than the amount of water you’re floating in (water weighs 8.36 pounds per gallon), you might bob around like a cork when the tub is filled with water. See: Archimedes Principle on buoyancy.
To get the best R O I, a
budget should be
less than 10 percent
of your home's value.
“Always consider the size and shape of the people who will be using the bathroom,” says Stapperfenne. “There are products and accommodations that can be made for every body shape and type, for comfort as well as safety.” NKBA’s Bathroom Planning Guidelines offer industry standard recommendations for everything from the height of tub/shower controls to toilet placement, but important details in your bathroom design can also be customized to your specifications. From small adjustments, such as where the shower head is located, to structural changes (for example: an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant 36-inch-wide entry door), Stapperfenne recommends weighing how much custom changes affect your comfort against what it adds (or subtracts) in the resale value of your home.
Develop a “want” spreadsheet, list everything from cabinets and hardware to tiles, then research actual prices. (Home Advisors bathroom breakdown gives low- to high-range for fixture costs.) If a price gives you sticker shock, try “value engineering” details like fixtures or materials to find less-expensive items with a similar look or feel, says Brown. For example: if you love the idea of a Calcutta marble countertop (up to $250 per square foot) look into quartz (approximately $75 per square foot) instead. Brown’s only hard rule on bathroom budgets: Pay more for a better faucet, because inexpensive faucets won’t hold with constant use.
A bathroom renovation only takes about two weeks from demo to rebuild, according to Brown, but ordering and delivery of fixtures and materials can tack weeks or even months to that timeframe. Brown says custom cabinetry may take the longest to arrive—as much as six to eight weeks.
Get in a bathtub and give it
a try before you buy. If it's
too big, you might be
bobbing around when the
tub is filled with water.
Includes personal service from a Farmers agent.
Photo courtesy of homeowner Carmen Pearson
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