Budgeting for the Boudoir: Bathroom Remodeling in Difficult Times

by Matt Goering

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With the economy slowing down and the housing market in a noticeable slump, homeowners across the country are asking themselves whether now is the right time to invest big bucks in a majorbathroom remodel, or whether it's smarter to hold off for a while. Obviously it's important that you take a close look at your individual financial situation to determine whether a major undertaking of this sort is within your means, but if you're wondering what the rest of the nation is up to, all signs indicate that it's still full speed ahead with bathroom remodels for the majority of Americans.

Bathroom Remodeling on the Rise
The rumor that a man named Thomas Crapper invented the toilet might be a load of you-know-what, but the fact that bathroom remodels are as popular as ever is no joke. How can that be, you ask? After all, anybody who listens to the nightly news knows that times are tough and only getting tougher. Nevertheless, the statistics speak for themselves. Here's a few facts to chew on that will help put your doubts to rest.

  • According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the number of discretionary home improvement projects undertaken by American homeowners, "which include high-end kitchen and bath remodels," is projected to grow by almost 40% in the 10 years between 2005 and 2015.

  • Data provided by the online contractor referral service ServiceMagic.com shows that the actual growth rate is even higher. The number of bathroom remodels performed by their member contractors grew by over 40% each year in 2005-2006, and in 2006-2007, and by a whopping 74% between the years 2005 and 2008!

  • Of all the major remodeling projects that Remodeling Magazine tracks in their 2007 Cost vs. Value Report, bathrooms had the highest rate of return at 78.3% of the initial investment. That's better than family rooms, master bedroom suites, basements, attic remodels, and kitchens.

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Commonsense for the Commode
Of course, just because you're choosing to tackle a bathroom remodel doesn't mean that you shouldn't be smart about how you go about it, especially in down economic times. Don Strickland, owner of A-1 Bathroom Remodeling in Savage, MD, suggests that homeowners think twice before spending their inheritance on a luxury boudoir. When asked whether luxury bath items are worth the money homeowners spend on them, Strickland gave an example of a customer who had installed a Jacuzzi tub as part of a high end bathroom remodel, yet could count the number of times she'd actually used it on one hand. "It's a showpiece more than anything else," said Strickland. Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that image is important to some homeowners. "It just depends on the customer," he says. "Some are willing to pay (for high end bathroom remodels), some just say 'hey, it's a bathroom,' and leave it at that."

If you believe the numbers, it turns out that there's more to Strickland's commonsense approach to bathroom remodeling than just a preference for simplicity. Remodeling Magazine's 2007 Cost vs. Value Report covers both mid-range and high-end bathroom remodels in its survey, and there's no question which one is a better investment from a financial standpoint. According to their findings, more sensible, mid-range remodels garnish homeowners a 10% higher return (78.3%) than remodels that pull out all the stops (68.4%).

That said, the verdict is definitely out. Bathroom remodeling remains a hot item across the country and a smart investment for American homeowners. The key is making sure that you're smart about how you go about it.

Bathroom Remodeling Project Guide
If you enjoyed this article, check out our free Bathroom Remodeling Guide, which features expert advice, design & material comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling project.
Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.