Remodel Bathrooms or Leave as Is

melissaki5April 16, 2014

My FIL recently passed and my MIL does not feel comfortable staying in the same home, so she has decided to sell and buy something smaller and closer to her sons. I don't have any photos right now (at work) but would like to hear others' opinions. Its an approx 2400 sq ft home in a relatively upscale suburb of Chicago. The rest of the house had been recently remodeled a few years ago (hardwood floors installed, new trim, new paint). The kitchen was done maybe 15 years ago, its a tad dated but not terrible.It has nice stainless appliances, maple cabinets, and we can have granite installed. The issue we are having a disagreement on is the bathrooms. They are original to the house built in 1977. Everything functions and is clean but just dated. Some in the family feel we should just leave them as is and others (mostly me) feel they should be redone. The closest sold comps in the area all have been very recently remodeled and I think the house may either sit on the market for awhile or take a significant price hit because of the dated bathrooms. I would just like some opinions on whether it is financially smart to spend the time an money on fixing the bathrooms or is it better just to leave them be and let the new owners remodel as they like. Dh an his brother are very handy so while this would not be a complete DIY they can do any plumbing, electrical, and demo involved - tile work would probably be hired out (dh and BIL can do it but not as fast as a pro).

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I live in a northern suburb of Chicago and we have a significant inventory shortage right now of houses under $1million. It's a fast market for that reason and although clean and uncluttered are always important, the latest and greatest everything is no longer as necessary as it was a while ago. I wouldn't just look at closed comps but also how much competition there is currently in your price range.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 10:27PM
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It would probably depend a bit on how extensive the remodel would need to be. If you're talking 5'x7' bathrooms that you could just tile the floor and swap out the vanity, I'd probably go for it. If it's a large master bath with a sunken green tub and shag carpet, where you'd need to do extensive plumbing work and rearrange the floorplan, then I'd be less likely to do it, and just price accordingly, or do a few quick updates (paint, pull out the shag carpet) to get the biggest bang for the buck.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 1:22PM
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If it is gold vinyl floor and worn out oak vanity cabinet doors, I'd not go so far as to tile. Just get new sheet vinyl, and gel stain the cabinet doors with updated hardware. (We've got 900K houses behind us, I just walked through last weekend, and the upstairs hall bath is just regular sheet vinyl on the floor). That little update will make it presentable to someone who is concerned with looks when they show their friends or family the home. And, it will make it feel livable until they remodel it to their liking...

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 3:35PM
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Thank you for the replies. The bathrooms in this house are pretty small and we can probably get all three done for around $10,000 doing a lot of DIY. HIs parents have done a good job of maintaining the house so nothing is really worn just ugly. The tubs, sinks, and toilets are dark brown. The ceramic tile is not cracked but ugly (DH called them gas station tiles). I decided to look at the comps that are currently for sale and all of them are pretty updated. I think we have decided to just get them done. We already have a bit of work to do in the basement due to a flood (sump pump failed and his parents never noticed). Mostly we want to get her house sold quickly so she can buy a smaller, more manageable ranch or condo and I'm hoping the updated bathrooms will help..

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 7:56PM
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If you can update 3 BR for 10K, I'd go for it and even try to get some "upscale" look without breaking the bank.
Can you refinish the tubs?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 10:58AM
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I didn't even think of refinishing the tubs I'll have to look into that - thanks for the idea. We bought, gutted, and remodeled our entire house 2 years ago and I was very good at finding more "upscale" materials at reasonable pricing. Dh's brother recently did his kitchen and is doing his own bathrooms right now and has a way to get the cabinets inexpensively through a contractor friend. Dh is on board now - not sure about the rest of the family but Dh is the oldest of four and usually everyone takes his advice.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 8:30PM
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Well we've all got our opinions I guess! Here's mine - I think it would be a huge mistake to "refinish" the fixtures - which as you probably know is basically etching or sandblasting the porcelain and then spray painting with a type of epoxy paint. Its one thing to paint over a fixture that was originally white and will not be used frequently, and another thing to do it to fixtures that are frequently used and in a different color. It can be a matter of only weeks/months before paint starts bubbling up and chipping off - it's not too noticeable if your original color is white, but dark brown.....?

Yeah, you can retouch it up to a point, but eventually the peeling gets bad. 5-`10 years is probably the maximum life of a tub refinishing. You'd probably have to install a new toilet since you couldn't paint the inside of the bowl.

If I was looking at a house where this had been done, I'd consider it a liability. If the porcelain is in good condition, still shiny, not terribly worn and porous - why not save the brown fixtures!

What is it, a chocolate or cocoa brown? Browns are very fashionable these days - dare I say "upscale". You just need to find some updated contemporary color combinations. I truly believe that by getting the right colors on the walls/floors this bathroom could be a very striking asset. Off the top of my head - pinks, corals and creams combine very well with browns.

At least take the question over to the home dec forum before you decide- post your photos. Those people are very talented and will come at it from a different angle, ie how to make it look GREAT VS how to find the lowest common denominator.

I think the conventional wisdom is that bathrooms are the one place we're allowed to have a little bit of fun with color! I remember seeing a "save the pink bathrooms" website once - someone ought to start one for brown bathrooms! They seem to be kind of rare - not seeing many in google images.

The above is assuming the fixtures are shiny and in good condition. If very worn and funky just bite the bullet and replace. I spent $400 to refinish a tub once - not like you really save all that much.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 11:47PM
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Good points, but I think brown bath tubs and fixtures scream 70s. And 5-10 years for a refinishing job doesn't sound bad to me. Replacing a toilet and sink should be very easy.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 12:10PM
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Are $3000 bathrooms going to appeal to the target market? Is "done on the cheap" but current going to be better than "dated but decent quality"?

In a lot of markets, the answer is a resounding "yes", but only you can answer that question for your own market.
Even with heavy DIY and an ability to get good deals, I think $3000 is going to result in the use of some pretty cheap materials. It has to, because you are on a deadline, you can't stockpile bargains of higher quality things for a year and then start.

My current house has two bathrooms of this sort, renovated to sell the house, and I have lived here less than a year and I am gutting both bathrooms. I would have redone the originals as well, but perhaps not as quickly and I feel like it's a waste of resources to be discarding nearly new stuff.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 7:24AM
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I feel I am always the voice of dissent on the issue of tub refinishing. We had it done about 3 years ago. Went from yellow gold to white. It is the teenagers bathroom and does get abused. The finish has had driveway sealer on it which I had to scrub off vigorously. Purple hair dye stains, again hard scrubbing. The tub finish is still perfect. The finish feels nicer than the original finish. We have a 15 yr prorated warranty. It cost less than $500.

Perhaps the problems some have with refinishing are due to the product used and the workmanship. I certainly would check any place with the BBB, ask for references, and see the finished product yourself. Our place had a showroom so you could see the before and after and feel the finish.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 8:13AM
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Re: refinish- 5-10 yrs is best case scenario for how long you can tolerate it before refinishing again or replacing (this according to the guy who did the work). You'll see bubbles and peeling long before then, starting even in the first year. The bottom of my tub was 1/3 peeled off at about 4 yrs + some other minor chipping and peeling happening. It's going on 7 years now but we put up with it because its a cool art deco tub and since the orginal layer is white the damage is annoying but tolerable.

Re: screaming 70s, since a lot of the current style in fashion and in décor is so derivative of 60s-70s (colors, fabric, etc - even a resurgence of owls) would this necessarily be a liability? Once enough time passes, what was hideous becomes cool again. Although I must say - icky shiny gold faucets are an exception - replacing those with bronze or satin nickel finish might be enough of an update.

Above poster had good point - who is the market. I was thinking young marrieds or creative class would like them, but would there be many of those house hunting in upscale suburbs. At least consider putting on craigslist or donating one of the many architectural salvage places around Chicago - that will appease the old house gods and keep your karma good!

OP - can we see pics - I'm really curious, is it a true time-capsule type of thing?

This post was edited by kashka_kat on Mon, Apr 21, 14 at 11:13

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 8:55AM
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Tubs are cheap: a couple hundred dollars for a basic enameled steel or acrylic one. IMO, the only reason to refinish a tub instead of replace is if it would force you to demo and redo tile that you otherwise want to keep. But if you've got a brown tub, you've likely got some dated tile as well and you might as well get a shiny new tub.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 3:08PM
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Sure, but a basic enameled steel tub is cheap because its Cheap. My probably yellow and black and or cerulean blue bathrooms were replaced with bottom of the line enameled steel tubs and plastic shower bases and the lowest of low Delta fixtures (Chrome plated plastic mostly, not their better stuff), and toilets made in Mexico that have to be flushed five times when no one in the household has Ever had a problem clearing a toilet before. The one "high end" item is a Kohler Memoirs sink, and it has to be a second because it's almost brand new and the inside is crazed like crackle tile.

So sure, they are white, they have subway tile, and they look up to date, but they are overall very unpleasant because you can feel the stuff wearing out as you use it.

I am going to beat a dead horse here, but I think if you update bathrooms with cheap materials just to sell you are potentially pulling a fast one on the buyer.

I knew the bathrooms in this house were complete c rap when I made the offer, but you would be surprised at the people who are shocked that I am already gutting them because they "looked so nice". On the surface, at a glance, yes--but in no other way are they nice bathrooms. If this had been the typical buyer who knows little about construction and isn't in a design field, and is buying at the top of their abilities, (which describes a very large group of people), you are presenting a picture to them that says they don't have to worry about budgeting for new bathrooms because they are brand new. And this, I think, can be essentially dishonest if the bathroom was flipped at the lowest possible cost, for esthetic purposes, for the market only.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Thanks again for the replies - the past few days have been busy and I didn't realize there were so many more responses. I will try and get some pics posted - the house is about 30 minutes from mine and I really haven't had a chance to stop by to take some. I agree that refinishing the tubs is probably not the best option, as we can get some decent Kohler cast iron tubs for around $700. I should probably specify that only two of the bathrooms are full bathrooms and the third is a small half bath on the main level. Also the suburb itself is somewhat expensive, but their house is on the lower end of the suburb price wise. Similar houses to theirs have recently sold for a little over $400,000. Going below the $300,000 price gets you either a small 1200 square foot starter home or a little bit larger home in a really undesirable flood plain. In terms of buyers I'm guessing a young family would probably be who is going to be most interested in the house.
Since we will be doing the bathrooms, what does everyone think about a tiled shower vs a tub in the master bath?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 12:13AM
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A full bath for the main family bath and a master bath with a large shower is a popular combination here.

If you can get cast iron for the tub (or a good acrylic one) I would do this even though it's a relatively big portion of your budget. Much better than a $150 steel bathtub.

The other thing you might consider is if one of the baths can be left alone, since there are 2-1/2 and you have a limited budget People might appreciate a little more put into the other baths and not mind one in older condition. That's something I also see a lot in real estate. It gives you a little bit more budget for the work you do, and it also indicates that you've updated the house. Also people who would be turned off by having to redo all the baths may not mind only having to do one, or being able to leave one alone.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 8:16AM
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Hey I like that idea IS - make one (the least used one is probably in best condition) the period piece - with daring rich colors that can hold their own against the dark brown of the fixtures. My coffee mug right here has some good colors for ya: yellow-green, cream white, maroon, light purple- pink, a light burnt orange AND dark brown.

And the other more contemporary with more muted colors. That way you appeal to BOTH sets of buyers I think......?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 11:04AM
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I hate to be cold-hearted, but when I am selling a house (which I am), I would re-coat a pink tub (which I did), since what the finish looks like in 5 years (as quoted above) is, frankly, not my problem. The choice came down to leaving a pink tub or tearing apart the tub and tile to replace the tub - $$$$$. I opted for the cheaper choice.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 11:48AM
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Just realistic, especially since it can last for 10 years.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 1:35PM
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asm198 - Zone 6a (MO)

I'm not a fan of refinishing tubs, but if you do, I wouldn't go DIY and personally, I would let the buyer know. I realize that once they get the keys, it's not your problem, but I would have appreciated a head's up on some questionable paint jobs the former owner's of our home did before they sold. It would have saved me a ton of grief to know what I was working with.

In my case, they used a cheap latex primer over oil paint on the kitchen cabinets and just primed over wallpaper in the bedrooms. I had no idea about the wallpaper until I repainted and the walls started to bubble and peel.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 5:42PM
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I would not do anything to a well kept older home on the cheap to sell it. Buyers know when something was done on the cheap and can spot this.

Better to clean well, empty it out of all clutter of any kind, clear off all horizontal surfaces, and clear out half the furnishings.

Price the house below any comps from the last 6 months, and sell it.

It will go very fast, and no money will have been wasted.

If you do cheap work to a well kept older home there may be people who will balk and wonder if the underlying mechanicals were meddled with by unqualified DIY work.

I costs 200-300K to refresh the baths, and kitchens, put in new a new high efficiency heater, a/c, water boiler, insulate and reroof a 3000 square foot home in an upscale metro detroit area.

Homes purchased by 'investors' for low prices from estate sales that are superficially improved sell for at least 100-150K less than those done properly by homeowners because poor quality shows thru.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 6:02PM
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Just to be clear, I didn't refinish the tub myself--I had it done professionally.

I do agree that if it is a large home in a great (and pricey) area, that I would leave it to the new homeowner to "redo" as he/she sees fit. Imagine investing in a brand new bathroom to sell the house and hearing potential buyers talk about ripping it out because it's not their taste.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 12:43AM
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