Should you upgrade the kitchen countertops splurge on a whirlpool tub and add five feet to your family room?
Home buyers face decisions like these every day as they weed through the selections process. For some people, however, the decisions become more challenging.
If they are pretty sure they may be moving within three to five years, the answers are not as easy. Will the larger family room help sell the house or turn out to be a waste of money? Are granite countertops a must in the kitchen or can a less expensive material do the job?
If your future may hold a job transfer or relocation for personal reasons you should think carefully when selecting products and finishes for a new house. You'll have to walk a fine line between assembling a house you like - and that will appeal to others - and not overspending on items that provide a marginal payback.
"Don't paint your house purple," quipped Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction, which is building homes in the western suburbs.
Also avoid the urge to add too many fancy finishes. If all the homes in your subdivision are covered with siding, adding brick or stone might not make financial sense.
On the inside of the house, look for colors and patterns that can go with many design schemes. The kitchen and bathrooms typically sell a house, so focus any extra money on practical upgrades in those areas.
A granite countertop is viewed as a "must-have" product in many neighborhoods.
Other extras such as a few glass doors in the cabinets, fancy cabinet hardware and nice tile on the backsplash can make a statement for a minimal cost, said Maureen O'Neill, a senior designer with Abruzzo Kitchens in Schaumburg.
There are many ceramic and porcelain floor and wall tiles that resemble natural stone, but are less costly.
In the bathroom, spend any extra money on an attractive floor, a stone countertop and a classic faucet with a warm finish. Depending on the price range of the house, it may be wise to buy a larger soaking tub or whirlpool tub.
Avoid spending too much on products that are not highly visible, such as the shower handles and tub faucet. Also think about using the builder's standard tile throughout most of the shower stall, then splurging on a few rows of more expensive tile as an accent.
The layout of the house also is important, as it can create visual appeal and a sense of traffic flow. Many buyers like a kitchen and family room that connect to create a wide open area, for example.
Some households also are getting away from a formal living room. While many real estate agents will say a living room is vital for resale purposes, the living room doesn't have to be large or prominent.
"Do you have to have a living room for resale purposes?" Airhart said. "I don't think so anymore. I think you can get away with a great room, but you need another place where people can get away."
That other gathering space may be a den or sunroom or hearth room that offers some privacy and options for casual entertaining.
As you weigh all the options, try to avoid taking all the personality out of the house. If the house is too bland and boring, it may not sell quickly. If the next buyer walks in and sees an upgraded wood or tile floor, warm paint colors and a few nice faucets and sinks, he or she will remember the house.
There also are many upgrades that can help sell a house. This is particularly true in neighborhoods where many of the homes have similar floor plans. It helps to have a few "wow" factors to distinguish your house from all the rest.
A fireplace is one feature that can help sell a house, as it adds a lot of emotional appeal.
"You're always going to get your money back when adding a fireplace," said Jim Hussong, president of Kozy Heat, a fireplace distributor in Lakefield, Minn. "People remember the house they saw with a nice fireplace."
When buying a fireplace for resale reasons, avoid the $20,000 masonry unit and splurge on the $2,000 gas model that vents out a wall. You'll add some ambience without raising your housing costs so high.
After all, you may not be living there too long.
Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.