Home Advisor: High-end home improvements worth the splurge (and when to scrimp)

Dan DiClerico
Home Advisor

The only thing harder than setting a realistic remodeling budget is sticking to it. The secret? Knowing when to splurge and when to save. Here are top picks for each category from the pros at HomeAdvisor, including the architects and designers who draw up the plans, contractors who do the work, and repairmen who get called when things go wrong.

Longing for natural wood floors? Turns out, they’re worth the splurge. (Dreamstime)


It’s not worth cutting corners on the following five items:


Cheap contractor-grade paint goes on thin and is prone to fading, staining and other flaws that make for an eyesore. You don’t have to blow your budget on crazy-expensive designer paint costing $100 per gallon or more. But it is worth investing in a high-quality paint in the $30-$40 per gallon range over the $10-$20 per gallon economy stuff. Better paint will provide ample coverage — often in just one coat — and it will withstand scrubbing, fading, and mildew for many years.


Installing wood floors costs $4,500 on average, according to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide. That’s three times as much as you’ll spend on bargain materials like vinyl or linoleum. But the warmth and beauty of wood floors is without comparison. Plus, they can be refinished several times, so they’re probably the last floor you’ll ever have to install. That’s a big reason why wood floors add significantly to a home’s value. Ultimately, you’ll recoup the cost if you ever decide to sell.


It always pays to spend more on things you interact with every day, and that includes kitchen cabinets. A drawer that sticks or a door that’s falling off its hinge after just a few months will fill you with all kinds of remodeler’s remorse. Custom cabinets can get very pricey, but nowadays you can find solid construction, including dovetail joinery and full-extension drawer guides, in reasonable semi-stock cabinets.


Countertops take a ton of abuse and they’re often a focal point of the kitchen. It’s worth spending more on a material that combines beauty and durability. Natural stones like granite and marble are the traditional favorites. But in recent years, quartz has emerged as a popular countertop material because it looks great and wears incredibly well. And it doesn’t require the periodic sealing that many other natural stones need.


Don’t underestimate the value of good design help, especially on more involved projects like a kitchen or bath renovation. If you’re knocking down walls and putting in new mechanicals, you’ll need to hire an architect for a fee of about 10 to 20 percent of the overall project cost. If you just need help choosing fixtures and materials, a certified kitchen and bath designer will fit the bill for about half as much as an architect.


Balance your budget by cutting back on these items.


A suite of high-end appliances — fridge, range, dishwasher — might run $20,000. That’s the price to pay for true built-ins. But you can get similar looks and performance by choosing a cabinet-depth refrigerator, slide-in range and traditional dishwasher, all for as little as $5,000.


Designer tile made of natural stone or glass is certainly striking, but a simple glossy white ceramic tile can deliver an elegant look for a fraction of the cost. Plus, it’s often much easier to maintain.


Lighting is another category that can quickly get over the top with sculptural designs and luxury finishes. If you’re on a budget, pass on the glam and instead make sure the overall lighting plan incorporates ample layers of ambient, task and accent lighting.


Dan DiClerico is a reporter for HomeAdvisor, an online marketplace connecting homeowners with trusted service professionals to complete home projects. Visit HomeAdvisor.com