One advantage in buying—or building—a home is the ability to customize it. Whether you’re building the home from scratch, or renovating it to be more modern and functional, designing a home to your specifications can definitely make it much more enjoyable to live in.
However, unless this is your forever home—and keep in mind that the status of a forever home can change in the blink of an eye due to a job relocation, change in marital status, and numerous other unforeseen factors—it’s wise to consider how your design moves may hurt your home’s value and lead to potential buyers lowballing a home offer or passing on your house.
“If you need to sell your home, keep in mind that you’re selling something in which buyers can see themselves living in,'' explains Kimberly Jay, a broker at Compass in New York City. “Designs you love may not appeal to a wide audience and can, in fact, turn them off, decreasing the value of your home.”
Jay and several other experts helped us identify the design moves that could actually hurt your home’s value.
1. Replacing the Bathtub with a Shower
Some buyers love to soak in bathtubs, while others prefer the convenience of taking a shower. However, Kate Wollman-Mahan, an agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City, warns against replacing the bathtub with a shower. “Any home that will appeal to buyers with young kids must have at least one bathtub, and it should be adjacent to the kids' bedrooms.”
If you only have one bathroom, definitely don’t remove the bathtub, even to create a larger bathroom. “Even if you can’t recall taking a bath at any point this century, if it’s the only tub in the house, it has to stay,” says Laykin Cheshire, a listing agent for Stone Martin Builders in Montgomery, Ala.
2. Installing Pools or Hot Tubs
A pool might sound like a great way to spend those hot summer days. However, a 2022 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reveals that fatal child drownings remain high and non-fatal drowning injuries have actually spiked by 17 percent. “Pools and hot tubs often come up as a major stumbling block in reselling your home,” warns Jonathan Self, a real estate broker in Chicago. In fact, he says the No. 1 question that buyer agents field about homes with pools is how much would it cost to remove the pool. “Sure, they are fun, but they are also major responsibilities in terms of insurance liability and maintenance costs.”
And the same goes for hot tubs. “Psychologically they are just perceived as ‘gross’ by a stranger,” he says. While homeowners may view a hot tub as an inviting respite for sore muscles, Self says the buyer sees “dirty soup that other people have stewed in.”
3. Creating a Closed Floor Plan
During the height of the pandemic, some people actually started to resent those wide-open floor plans. However, David Greene, Keller Williams realtor, host of the BiggerPockets real estate podcast, and author of Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat, warns against a closed floor plan. “If a mother can't see what her children are up to when she’s in the kitchen, that's going to be a problem,” he says. “Today's buyers want to see what's going on in different parts of the home and allow natural light to spread easier.”
4. Subtracting Bedrooms or Bathrooms
Be careful which walls you knock down to create that open floor plan—and don’t take away the home’s bedrooms and bathrooms in the process. “For example, retrofitting a multi-bedroom home to include half the bedrooms while offering more open space is bound to challenge resale value,” says Jennifer Tanner, an agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City.
“Comps are established in part by the classification of a home—for example, three bedrooms or four bedrooms," Tanner says. "If you don’t have the desired number of bedrooms in the square footage, you’ll isolate an entire market searching for something that could actually work for a prospective buyer.” That’s because Tanner says your home may not even show up in their search parameters.
Another risky design move is knocking down walls to combine bedrooms. “One of the primary rules of real estate is that bedrooms are sacred: more bedrooms equal more value,” says Cheshire. While a massive primary suite might seem like a great idea, she warns that not everyone wants a huge bedroom. “Especially if it means that there is one less bedroom that they need for their kids, visitors, or a flex space.”
Cheshire also advises against removing closets to create more space. Much like bedrooms, closets are protected species, and walking into a home with too few closets is an immediate red flag for home buyers.
5. Going Overboard on Kitchen Appliances
A state-of-the-art kitchen can be a homeowner’s dream, but it’s also possible to be too zealous in this area. “There are certain expectations for name brands at the luxury price point, but sometimes a homeowner's hobby can inch past the average buyer's comfort level,” explains Self.
In fact, he’s seeing potential buyers who are intimidated by appliances they don’t recognize or know how to work.
Also, Self says the level of appliances in the kitchen should match the home/neighborhood. “Be honest with yourself, he says. "If you are in a starter home bracket, know that buyers are not going to pay for top-of-the-line kitchen appliances. If you are in a luxury bracket, no one has time to cook, but if you are in an ultra-luxury area, they have cooks that know how to use the equipment.”
6. Adding Bulky Built-ins
Built-ins can help you avoid a cookie-cutter home design, but they may not improve your home’s value since potential buyers may not agree with your choices. “A room with a large built-in desk for a home office requires construction work if the next owner wants to utilize it as, say, a nursery,” Tanner says. And she notes that buyers may reduce the offering price accordingly if they need to budget for renovations, compared to what they’d offer if you’d just left a blank slate room that could be used for different needs. “The more items you have that a mover can’t take out, the more limiting it is for future sale,” Tanner says.
7. Having Subpar Home Improvements
Home renovations can be quite costly, and doing some of those projects yourself can help to save money. However, Self warns against painting your own kitchen cabinets. “Put down the brush, Michelangelo—they might look good when you are standing in the living room, but as soon as you get close, it is very apparent when it's a DIY job.”
He says you wouldn’t paint your own car, and your house costs much more than your car so you shouldn’t take chances ruining your home. “If you don't have the money to do it right the first time, why do you think you have the money to do it twice? Live with the ugly kitchen until you can get it done right.”
And before you hire the cheapest contractor, make sure this person knows what they’re doing. “Bad workmanship is bad for your home’s value, and shoddy work in one area makes people question the quality of your entire home,” warns Cheshire.
8. Building Additions that Don’t Make Sense
An addition to a house can create more livable space, but that shouldn’t be the only consideration. “Just because someone knows how to build you an addition does not mean they know architectural design, and you might not either,” says Patrick Roach, president of Southwestern Real Estate and a realtor based in Wheaton, Ill. He adds that contractors tend to build you whatever you ask for. “Just because you would like to add a mother-in-law suite, does not mean adding it off the kitchen—because that’s where you have the room to add it—is a good idea.”
Modifying a home to fit your unique needs won’t necessarily translate to added value when selling your home. And Roach says the buyers want a predictable floor plan, or at least one that makes sense from a functional standpoint. “The value of a home is directly tied to its functionality, and if you have two full bathrooms, but one is in the unfinished basement, you cannot compare your property to a home with two full bathrooms on the main level.”
9. Creating Contrasting Exterior and Interior Styles
We get it: Your home’s interior and exterior areas serve distinct and separate functions. However, the transition between the two should work from a design standpoint—and your exterior home style should not be drastically different from your interior style, according to Megan Fox, a broker with Compass in Bergen County, New Jersey.
“Home buyers get confused when it feels like they are time-traveling upon entering a home,” she says. While first impressions are vitally important, Fox says a great first impression followed by shock is not a good sign. “Farmhouse exteriors followed by outdated traditional interiors are a frequent conundrum.”
10. Customizing Your Bathrooms and Kitchens
Going overboard on personalizing bathrooms and kitchens can also hurt your home’s value. “You may have loved that vacation where your bathtub was in the middle of the bedroom, but it’s doubtful that a buyer is going to have the same emotional connection and want that experience on a day-to-day basis, says Kimberly Lyn Pressman of Nick Gavin Properties/Compass in New York City.
“If you love lime green tile in your bathroom, and having that greet you every morning makes you happy, then certainly go for it, but don’t expect a buyer to see it through the same lens,” Pressman says.
And if you spend $25,000 on a purple stove, she warns that you shouldn’t expect to recoup that cost when selling your home. Cheshire agrees, and adds that floor-to-ceiling marble and a huge soaking tub may be your definition of a dream bathroom. “High-end finishes may seem like a good investment, but the numbers show that going over-the-top doesn’t yield a better ROI,” she says.
11. Choosing Materials that Aren’t Durable
In addition to style and color preferences, Tanner says homeowners should also pay attention to the durability of the materials they choose. “A gorgeous neutral-toned marble countertop might seem like a no-brainer value-add decision,” she says. “However, it may be much more susceptible to markings and visible wear that would turn off a future prospective buyer looking for a brand-new feeling home.” Instead, Tanner says it may be wiser to get a manmade material with a similar look. “This saves money both up-front and protects value down the road when years later, it looks as nice as the day it was installed.”
12. Creating Dedicated Spaces
Self tells us that he’s sending a trend in Chicago that appears to be popular among homeowners but not among potential buyers: turning the basement into a bar. “I think the idea is that the husband is relegated to the basement and he relishes the idea of creating a man cave.” He says he’s often showing a great house to his clients, they’re really excited—then they get to the basement and start calculating how much it’s going to cost to remove the bar setup.
In fact, Self says even the homeowners don’t want the stuff. “They beg to let the pool tables and bar equipment stay with the home because they don’t have space for it at their new location.” He admits that the idea of a man cave and bar can be great, but warns that overdoing it can hurt the value of your home. “I’m not saying that a stunning bar and movie theater set up for sports/movies isn’t a great idea. Just be sure that it can be easily converted into something else.”
And this also includes other areas of the home as well. According to Cheshire, even a dedicated gym or home office can be a turn off to buyers. “Don’t permanently convert a room or the garage into something the next homeowner might not want.”
13. Going Overboard in the Garden
Rein in your green thumb when you're designing your outdoor spaces as well. "A backyard garden can be exquisite, but more often than not, the next buyer is not going to have the green thumb that a seller has been able to show off,” says Bret Weinstein, CEO of Guide Real Estate in Denver. “A couple of garden beds are fine, but a backyard full of garden beds can more often make a buyer question the amount of work that it will take to either keep them set up, or to take them down.”
14. Installing Unusual Flooring
Flooring can be an expensive renovation, and if you install flooring outside of the norm, Mihal Gartenberg, an agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City, says you’re going to be looking for the “right” buyer, which could take a while. “The most neutral choice makes the most sense in a buyer's market. Most buyers today want hardwood floors throughout the majority of the house.” She says most buyers are also okay with neutral tile choices in the kitchens and bathrooms.
In fact, as it relates to tile on the floor (or even on the walls), Nicole Beauchamp, real estate broker at Engel & Völkers in New York City, says it’s important to understand that people have different tastes and may not assign the same value to your home design choices. “When you are planning to sell your home, you can either take the chance of keeping your tile pattern or replace it for the buyer,” she says.
15. Adding Carpet in the Wrong Areas
You may like the idea of soft carpet underfoot, but be judicious in where you place it. “Carpet near any water source like a sink or bathtub is an almost universal turnoff, so stick with a bath mat or something that can be washed,” advises Weinstein. “That water will soak right in and have your next buyer thinking of mold or whatever else has landed on that carpet and stayed there as opposed to thinking how stunning your bathroom truly can be.”
Self cautions against putting carpet in your basement. "Homes are not waterproof, and when you put carpet in your basement, you are just inviting trouble. Go with something else like luxury vinyl plank.”
In addition, if you have carpet in a house with kids and animals, Self says you are asking to lose money on your resale.
16. Adding Anything with a Long-Term Contract
Technically, it’s not a design choice, but Self advises against installing or integrating anything in your home that requires long-term contracts. “I love the idea of solar, but currently, there are a lot of upfront costs. Many companies install systems that need to be paid out over years.” And he says a buyer might want your house, but may not want to sign up for a contract that you negotiated. “It complicates the sale and possibly leaves the home open to liens. So if you decide to make these investments, make plans to pay out things like this at the closing table and let your prospective buyer know that you have a handle on all this.”