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Design Mistakes: The Starter Home Reno Decisions You THINK Will Translate Into Resale $$$… But Don’t

I can’t believe it’s March already! Around this time last year, my husband and I had decided to sell our home in Atlanta, Georgia (what we considered our starter home). We purchased this home with the full intent to raise our first child in it. We were on the hunt for a home in a friendly neighborhood. One where the neighbors waved every time we pulled into the driveway (which is not a big ask in Atlanta… seeing as how almost everyone waves at you, even if they don’t know you… it’s a southern hospitality thing, and we love it), and one where almost everyone owned a dog and took frequent walks and jogs. We also wanted a home in a good school district and close to our church. The only thing was, we’d have to find a fixer, as the neighborhoods we had our eyes on were pretty pricey. 

We researched the best and safest neighborhoods to raise children in, then drove around for months looking for our special home in these neighborhoods, and just when we were about to throw in the towel, we saw it. The house was accompanied by a sign that read “For Sale By Owner” and seemed to be like it could use some love. We immediately searched for the home’s listing on several real estate websites but found no current listing price for it. This made us so giddy because we knew no one else would be looking at this home considering its special circumstances. At the time, it was a buyer’s market and homes were flying off the shelves, but there would be no bidding wars for this one. I hopped out of the car, took down the number, called it, and the rest was history. 

We moved into the home that July and boy did we have our work cut out for us. The home hadn’t been occupied (by a person) in a year, so there was lots to do. The kitchen needed a full gut, the bathrooms needed new toilets and sinks, the wooden floors needed life brought back into them, and there were so many creepy crawlers occupying the space (enough to consider the home infested). That said, the first order of business for me was to get rid of the unwanted guests… the roaches and spiders (also found out there were squirrels and rats living in the attic). I called around to get quotes and ended up spending around $1,500 to have a wildlife company come in to catch the squirrels and another $4,500 to get rid of the roaches. That was my first major design mistake. 


Not knowing the ecosystem of your area

After finding out our home was infested, I had our entire crawl space redone. We updated the insulation, added a vapor barrier throughout (to control the moisture in the space), added fans, and replaced all the vents for high-tech vents. All to find out that roaches were common in the area we lived, especially because we had a creek that ran through our backyard. Growing up, I’d always assumed that roaches only came to places that were filthy and unprotected (without any barriers). In Atlanta, Georgia, having roaches does not mean that your home is not clean or unkept, it just so happens because of the weather and location of a home, you can have all sorts of critters visit. I wish I would’ve known this, as it played a major role in trying to sell our house for top dollar. 

After a few renovation projects completed and a little less than a year living in our home, came the big announcement… a global pandemic that is. Afterward, it only took a pregnancy and two months of being on lockdown to realize we wanted to be closer to our family. So we made the decision to put our house on the market. We learned so much during the time our home was listed, mistakes that have helped me evolve as a designer and homeowner/seller. I’d have to say the crawlspace mistake is by far the biggest one though… This taught me to look at design through a completely different lens (an ecosystem one). 

My husband and I spent so much money on trying to make sure snakes, spiders, roaches, and other critters couldn’t come inside our home, when in reality, there was no way to ensure this. Having that creek in the back of our home was an open invitation for all of the above. In fact, there was one night (a few weeks before our home sold) when I kept hearing bumping coming from the bathroom toilet. It ended up being a snake… that same week, there were balls of snakes mating in our backyard and crawlspace. All this to find out the buyers did not care about the crawlspace updates, as they were already accustomed to having these sorts of creepy crawlers in backyards and crawl spaces (considering the area and its ecosystem), leaving them very nonchalant about the $4,500 we’d spent on the crawlspace updates. I wish we would’ve put that money into other areas of the house. We also made a couple of mistakes when updating our kitchen. Mistakes that would make it harder to sell our home in the long run. 


Not maximizing ALL the storage options (aka adding a washer/dryer instead of a pantry)

I’m actually a person who enjoyed going to the laundromat. I found a really cute one near our house that had a cafe right next to it and even an outside patio to lounge in while I waited for my clothes. I love having all of the open and dedicated space to fold my clothes and get organized. I also enjoyed the company of people around me who were there on the same mission. I’d read a book, hop on my laptop and work, or just chat with someone next to me over a coffee. Now I can’t say the same for my husband. He loves the convenience of being able to do laundry at home, and going to a laundromat was the last thing he wanted to do on a Saturday (he dreaded it). This was a debate that went on for weeks… should we open the kitchen and add a washer/dryer unit to the hallway closet?

Floor Tile | Subway Tile

Bar Stools | Dining Table | Chairs | Chandelier | Rug (unavailable)

My husband ended up winning this one. So we tore out the walls, joisted two beams together, and laid the plumbing for the washer/dryer – which ended up being adjacent to our peninsula/bar area and bar stools. We added a barn door to conceal it. This was definitely the biggest reason people passed on our home. They all felt like the kitchen should have remained closed off from the hallway and elongated (taking up the room where the dining area was). But I liked having a designated area for our dining table and chairs, I loved having our chandelier over the table as well, it really set the mood when entertaining guests. However, like a lot of the buyers, I believe we should have used the hallway closet for a kitchen pantry. This would have been a better selling point. Creating storage is always something to consider when preparing to sell a home. Another mistake we made was the decision to add open shelving in the kitchen. 

Sink | Faucet | Quartz Countertop | Butcher Block Countertop (similar) | Oven | Range | Shelves (custom)


Open shelving in a tiny kitchen 

Hear me out…I’m from Los Angeles, California – born and raised. This means open shelving is not the first thing on a kitchen reno to-do list because you know…earthquakes. So I jumped at the opportunity to add open shelving to our kitchen design. I’m a collector of artisanal mugs and beautifully sculpted ceramic bowls. They are true works of art to me, and I love being able to have my collections out on display. Having an extremely long peninsula to house our dishwasher, dishes, silverware, and other items seemed to be storage enough for us. Also, let me reiterate, we thought we’d be in our first home at least five years before having to upgrade because of our growing family, and I wasn’t considering anyone else enjoying our kitchen except for us. However, we learned quickly that people who are looking to buy, want plenty of storage and ways to conceal their cups, plates, and bowls. Not everyone likes having their everyday items on display. 

After Photo: Faucet | Sink and Vanity | Mirror | Sconce | Shelves

We also learned that for many ATLiens, they preferred having the original sinks and toilets in the bathrooms (as they believed this gave the space more character) but leaving the original sink and toilet was just plain-ol’ gross to me. I did a mini bathroom update where I painted, updated the faucet, sink and vanity, the mirror over the sink, and toilet. I also added a new sconce to go over the sink and shelves, only hear (via our Ring device… I wasn’t eavesdropping or anything… Someone rang the doorbell when we were away and I checked it) folks complaining about the new toilet and sink additions. I learned from that incident, and from our real estate agent, buyers preferred the original sink and toilet. This was odd to me, as the sinks were rusted to no return and had a lot of unknown build-up. The toilets had rings in them that bleach ran away from… I should also mention that in our county it was mandatory to replace toilets and sinks and make sure they were up to code (for water efficiency standards). The toilets and sinks in our bathrooms were originals, and had been in usage since 1957, thus why they needed to go. Nevertheless, let’s get on to my next design mistake during this reno – the kitchen counters. 


Using butcher block in contrast to quartz for countertops

I’m a big fan of designing with functionality in mind and thought it would be perfect to have a butcher block on one side of the kitchen, and quartz on the other. I would just cut right on top of the butcher block (using it as a cutting board). I was okay with the wear and tear. I figured it would just give the countertop more character (which I’m a big fan of). So I added quartz to one side of the kitchen and butcher block (similar) on the other. Nonetheless, when it came to selling the house, this was a huge issue. A slew of buyers filled out notes stating they preferred to have quartz throughout the kitchen, and didn’t care for the marks in the butcher block. This led to my husband and me sanding down the butcher block and putting a new finish on it. This process took a few weeks, and taught us a major lesson – NEVER add a butcher block countertop if you’re planning to sell your home. Buyers were looking for a more durable material and felt like the butcher block didn’t work with the quartz we had on the peninsula. 

Amongst the valuable lessons learned during this process, we found that if you’re trying to build the value of your home and plan to sell, some personal preferences must go out of the window, as creating a standard space for the majority is more important. Another rule of thumb would be to check out the homes in the neighborhood around you, to see what your neighbors are doing. This is ultimately the reason we chose to keep a galley-style kitchen layout (All the other homes in our neighborhood had them). We didn’t want to spend all of our money creating a huge kitchen that would not allow our home to appraise any higher than the comps in the area (since we were planning to sell within a few years of living in our home).

As many things in life, these mistakes are valuable lessons learned and that I would absolutely consider in the future (if the end game is to sell my house). I’ve found that many people can run into similar situations when selling their home and I’d love to hear of changes you made to your home that later, you wished you’d done differently. Please share any of your design mistakes/regrets below. We all can learn together.

Opening Image Credits: Design and Photo by Ajai Guyot


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139 thoughts on “Design Mistakes: The Starter Home Reno Decisions You THINK Will Translate Into Resale $$$… But Don’t

  1. great topic! and so helpful to read about it! It heavily depends on the location, price tag and speed you have to sell. But the sad story is – the more generic the faster … so the pool of buyers is simply bigger. Plus I think, buyers want to add their own personal choices. And that is easier to imagine with bland/neutral surfaces and typical set-ups.

    1. You’re right. The generic houses that paint every single room the same shade of gray before they get listed tend to be snapped up in a second. It blows my mind at how hard it is for people to visualize.
      Meanwhile, I think this house seems relatively neutral with quality upgrades so I’m surprised these things were even an issue in the current market.

      1. yes, her former house is really beautiful, well executed and neutral. I love it!
        But if you pay a price tag for a ready to move in home, then you see the kitchen from your daily life perspective, habits and the stuff you bring with you. This remembers me that I am used to see professionally designed and staged styles, which are a actually a very small bubble … and not often real-life pics.

      2. I love your home and enjoyed this post.
        If this house was in the entry point for the Atlanta market, you may have gotten more inexperienced first time buyers. People who have bought and sold several homes understand imperfections and quirks of homes.
        I liked the bathroom floor tile and I am glad you were able to keep it. My gut to the change out of the toilet and sink tells me it may have more to do with your choices than that they were not original. The potential buyers are viewing your house through the lens of an increased price based on your changes and if they have to invest more $s to reflect their tastes.
        My husband and I still laugh at the change mistakes we made to our first house. WHAT. WERE. WE. THINKING!
        The kitchen would have given me big pause because from the pictures it seems so tight and you could not have the dishwasher open and oven open at the same time. This would be a livability issue.
        If you plan on being in a house for less than five to seven years or plan on selling in five, use a realtor as a springboard prior to design changes. Otherwise, you may not get your $s back out.

    2. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. Also, this is so true! Our realtor shared with us how different the experience was for his other clients who were just a city over from us.

    3. Very true. There are certain shows on TV that prove that. One year, they all want granite countertops and oak cabinets. Five years later, they all want white cabinets and quartz countertops. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  2. Thanks for sharing – this is really valuable information. I can see myself making all the same “mistakes” you did – especially with the bathroom!!! The place looks wonderful to me x

    1. The bathroom mistakes might not be a mistake where you live. Check with a local realtor to see what people in your area want. People in my area are more likely to want new sinks and toilets. (I think I’m in the minority on that issue here.) They especially don’t want pedestal sinks at all. Even in powder rooms. And yet in the city next door, they absolutely want the old fixtures.

  3. Thought it was kinda funny you were grossed out by leaving original toilet and bathroom sink but didn’t think butcher block wear and tear would be an issue. lol I loved all the changes you did but understand how others would want a more plain look to put their own stamp on the home. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you! Original plan was to live in the house for at least five years. So new toilets were a must, as they were damaged (with cracks) and not up to code. I also never cut meat on our butcher block, just veggies (but there is no way for buyers to know that) so I totally get why they were turned off by it.

  4. Talk about different markets! I’m a realtor in DC and the bathroom feedback blew my mind! Same about the w/d. An updated bathroom and an in house w/d are must haves in our area. As for the open shelving and butcher block: yea. Buyers like storage and durability. Overall, the updates you did are so cute. I hope it sold despite the perceived flaws. This post also illustrated exactly how arbitrary the market can be in general and in different parts of the country. Real estate. Everyone has an opinion!

    1. That’s good to know! I was wondering if some of these things could be regional? I’m from Wisconsin and love all the updates, including the crawl space! Up here we like things that keep the outside out.

      1. Haha, I’m from Wisconsin and scratching my head at this too. I think all of the updates are beautiful and smart, crawl space included!

  5. I have remodeled several homes and often the utilities (galvanized pipes 🤢) and infrastructure take all the money, leaving less for high end interior upgrades. You had to redo that bathroom, though. The house looks great. Let’s get real, there are some people who just want to nitpick.

    1. When I was selling my last house one of the potential buyer feedbacks was “We don’t like that all the bedrooms aren’t on the same floor.” Then wtf are you doing touring my house!?
      The list of requests after the inspection was also epically petty and including dealing with the ants *outside* the front door.

      1. When selling our third floor walk up in Chicago a buyer’s realtor asked our realtor how her pregnant client was going to get up the stairs. Comical because if you can’t climb stairs pregnant, how are you going to do it with an actual baby in your arms? Also, we had a child that I’d gestated while living there…it was fine. Sounds like you need a first floor unit so why are you looking at this one? And then they made an offer! Needless to say we didn’t pick that offer…

        I agree with the other comments though that some of this is regional. I vastly prefer the updated bathroom and frankly would never buy a home that didn’t have a washer and dryer.

      2. When selling my starter home, we kept getting feedback people didn’t like it was one bathroom. It was listed as one bathroom, so what are you doing here?

        1. I can only echo this. People gave feedback how they didn’t like that the bedrooms were all on the same floor as the main living spaces… our house was a ranch. I think some people that tour houses just have a negative attitude or just pick something random to complain about in the feedback because they feel like they have to criticize something. Ajai, try not to take the criticism personally, I am sure if you had left the original sink and toilet people would have complained that the sink and toilet are gross and needed to be updated. You can’t please everybody. My house still sold in the end for way more than asking price thankfully because we poured our heart and souls into an extensive whole house reno. So I guess some people ended up appreciating all the updates we made despite all the critics’ opinions and I’m sure your buyers did as well! 🙂

        2. Ha – we got feedback that people didn’t like our street…it’s literally the house address, we can’t MOVE THE HOUSE.

    2. This was a good and informative article for firs time buyers. I have renovated many houses and I too have tried to learn from my mistakes. On the other hand, take the comments with a grain of salt because there will always be people who don’t want to admit that they cannot afford to buy your house, so they try to come-up with things that are wrong with it. That said, nobody wants to hear rats & roaches rummaging through the attic and snakes mating in the sewer line. That’s just plain disgusting not to mention creepy. How is that even a thing, let alone a choice? I think having interior laundry is essential for resale. I also think changing out 70 year-old toilets and rusty sinks necessitated by modern building codes is imperative. I’m a fan of open shelving, but only if you have cabinets or a pantry to store the jars, cans and cereal. Let’s face it, most of us are not super neat, even though we’ve bought out half the Container Store. Butcher block is a very personal choice. I prefer quartz because it is bulletproof, but I always use big butcher block cutting board that I keep on the counter next to the stove, because I do actually cook. However, I have had divorce Carrara marble counters, even though I love the look because they are super delicate. They will stain and etch when someone just holding a lemon approaches them, I have never been able to remove lemon stains from marble. If anyone knows how, please share.

  6. We are in the process of remodeling our 30-year-old home that hasn’t been touched. We’re talking honey oak everywhere. We are very focused on the kitchen right now and trying to plan as much storage as possible, quartz countertops and no open shelving. Your article helps confirm our choices. We plan on living in our home at least 10 more years, so we know no matter how neutral or transitional we design it, the next owners will want to put their own spin on it. We plan on adding our own personal flair here and there.

  7. I just want to say how much I love your kitchen! Super, super cute and I totally agree with how nice it is to be able to display lovely dishes.

    1. For us, we would have to BUY lovely dishes to have them on display. We have white cups bowls plates etc. They are great for us and look fine but are not “display” worthy. Nor are our glasses and mugs. They are great but not works of art I want to see. We DID add 3 small floating shelves in our kitchen to a blank wall so we can display things we love but did not remove any cabinets to do so. The way we personalized our kitchen was to paint the walls a lovely Robin’s egg blue green. Its the first thing people exclaim with delight over. But the cabinets are white, the counters are light grey and we have original wood floors, so I know the kitchen will be easy to neutralize when we sell. In Minnesota schlepping my laundry to a laundrymat in a blizzard or having to leave the house to manage laundry for 3 kids in the 9 months of winter would be a hard no, so adding W/D to the house is a must. Each region has its own quirks I guess

  8. This is such a useful and interesting article. I would never have guessed that buyers would reject either the washer dryer or the butcher block. Who wouldn’t want a washer dryer???? Can totally understand your being grossed out by the original toilets! But I do understand the love for original sinks – which can be cleaned restored and retrofitted to work like new. Your home was adorable and I hope you got a great price despite these blips. Also: I now know never to buy a house with a creek in the backyard, because I love wildlife- but snakes in my attic are a hard no.

    1. We have a creek (Northwest MT, quiet development at the edge of a town of 20k+) in our backyard, maybe thirty yards from the house. No critters in our crawlspace, other than a very occasional mouse (which I HATE, but it’s manageable). All manner of critters to look at outside, including a black bear a few years ago. And flood risk is practically nonexistent due to slope.

      1. Brit – we have a creek in our backyard in NW Montana…are you outside of Kalispell? Not too many other 20k person towns around here ;).

      2. Living in the Southeast – the humidity is almost as much to blame for the roaches and spiders. We have the very occasional roach in our surbuban house, but when we lived in a neighborhood in the downtown area they were much more prevalent. Everyone had a quarterly pest service. Same with rats and squirrels – much more prevalent downtown.

    2. I kind of understand how the washer/dryer space could be seen as useful in other ways. In our current home, the w/d closet is right next to the kitchen and I keep wishing it was either a pantry (which we had to install in the garage) or a powder room which we don’t have at all. Small house (and first world-pointing at myself here) problems. That said I love the kitchen and bathroom changes in this post.

    3. I live in a canyon and we have rats in the crawl spaces, tons of spiders and snakes galore outside. As long as they don’t get inside, I’m fine with it! 🙂

  9. Interesting read, especially as a native Atlantan who is looking to buy a house right now. I’m very surprised by some of the feedback y’all got! Washer/dryer and updated bathrooms are hugely desirable here. I do love the original tile in the bathroom and imagine it was in great shape to keep in the remodel design. I’m also shocked that buyers were used to snakes. We had a creek in the backyard growing up and never had that happen. Now I know to keep an eye out for that! Lovely design and we definitely would have come see this house in person had we been house hunting when it was on the market.

  10. This is totally fascinating! Such a good angle to consider. Design preferences are so much more regional than the internet suggests – thanks for sharing so much in depth. (For what it’s worth, I would have loved the function AND the looks of that kitchen!!!)

  11. ATLien interior designer here👋🏻 such good points. I would agree with most of your lessons learned. I think I’m regards to the bathroom, people expect older homes to have and maintain a certain amount of charm. While obviously not spending too much money, selecting a vanity cabinet that doesn’t have a big box feel. Funny you mention the laundry, I think you also have to think about the community and city you live in. As you know Atlanta is not the most walkable city and has terrible public transit (as in hardly any).
    Your home was beautiful and designed for you, which unfortunately is not often a huge selling feature. People really like their “freshly renovated” boring, zero personality, designs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. The bathroom is awesome .. maybe just a few vintage touches would have redeemed the newness in the potential buyer’s eyes? A vintage light fixture, or vintage hardware on the vanity?
    I can’t see how a washer and dryer would ever be a negative. ever.
    And yeah, I wouldn’t be excited about a chopped up butcherblock counter when there was pretty quartz around the corner. The whole thing is sooo pretty, though!

  13. Great article! When we decided to sell our home, we actually chose NOT to replace our laminate edged with maple hardwood because we have seen so many design shows where the new owners come in and rip out beautiful cabinets and granite or quartz. I don’t believe it had any impact on the sold price.

  14. I have noticed that sometimes it’s just not the right home for them to begin with (neighborhood, price, size) and they share a few things they didn’t love with the realtor and then suddenly this feedback carries a disproportionate amount of weight. In a buyers market that might drive you to adjust, but in a seller’s market like it is in most of the country right now, there is definitely less pressure to bend to the whims of each potential buyer.

    Find a good realtor that knows which feedback is worth listening to for your market and definitely agree on researching comps in your area!

  15. This is a great blog post! We purchased and sold a home in less than a year and a half and lost $40k. Some lessons I learned – 1 – if you are already buying a more expensive property for the area, your ability to put money into the home and get a good return is almost non-existent. 2 – Always research the prices and how homes look in the area to get a feel for what is an acceptable remodel/update. 3 – Things that might not bother you will end up bothering others. We had cracked tile in our entry, but I threw a rug over it and never noticed it because I never walked in through the front door. However, it was the one thing all buyers commented on because that was the entrance they used to get into the home. 4 – If your realtor tells you to paint all of your walls gray after spending thousands to paint it white, just ignore them. 5 – I am so glad we didn’t replace the carpet which was also suggested by the realtor and instead spent $300 to have the white carpets professionally cleaned. 6 – And last but not least, do not over renovate for the area. We put in quartzite countertops, something that is very pricey, when we should have just put in a cheaper granite. I still cringe thinking of this decision as it would have saved us thousands.

    1. May I ask you if this was meant to be a flip? Or was your intention to actually live there and enjoy the quality and location? Did the quick sale just happen due to life changes?

      1. The quick sale happened due to life changes. We originally moved to be near my family. My husband started his job as a pilot when we moved into the home and we found not living near a major hub made him gone an extra six days a month and it was just too much with three little kids, so we made the move once I found a new job near a hub and my husband’s family.

  16. This is definitely interesting. My husband and I often debate how to think about making updates. In the end, we live in this home and want it to work for us. We have decided to prioritize our preferences, not invest our money on behalf of a potential future buyer’s preferences should we decide to sell. So, I guess that means that we may end up in a similar boat if we sell. That said, some of this feedback and lessons learned would not change my choices even if I was trying to appeal to a future buyer. No way would I opt to not have a washer and dryer.

  17. Butcher block counters baffle me. It would drive me crazy to chop right on the counter.

    1. While you could, it’s not advisable to cut directly on butcher block counters. Just like how granite and quartz are hard enough where you could also cut on them, most people wouldn’t do that for fear of potentially damaging them, and also because cutting boards are a thing.

  18. Lifelong ATLien here and I think it’s really dumb to make the generalization that we all prefer having gross old sinks and toilets when looking for a new home. Big eye roll. Just because you heard one person say that does not make it fair to paint southerners as gross germ lovers. I also don’t trust your realtor saying it’s the norm. That’s a load of garbage. Maybe they were saying they would have preferred the original to what you chose so they could rip it out and make their own picks. I often look for homes that haven’t been remodeled so that I’m not paying for someone else’s choices when I know I’m going to want to change it to my preferences anyway.

    1. I’m in Atlanta too and I didn’t interpret Ajai’s comment about original fixtures as a generalization about all of metro Atlanta but as a very specific preference of buyers in neighborhoods known for historic charm, like Druid Hills, Virginia Highland, and Morningside.

    2. I agree. I’m in Nashville, and one of my biggest pet-peeves is when flippers go into a rancher and rip out the bathrooms and put those tiny half sinks that you can’t even wash your face in. I always think they could at least replace it with a pedestal sink. That seems more appropriate to me. I’m also here for the new toilet. That old one is gross and too low.

  19. I would not buy a house where the butcher block countertop has clearly been used. That would not necessarily be a deal breaker; I would factor the cost of replacement into the offering price. However I would DEFINITELY replace it.

  20. Love this! These practical design life-lesson posts are my favorite. Great real-world experience and takeaways. Thank you for sharing your hard-earned knowledge with us. My personal preference–I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of open kitchen shelving. While lovely, it cuts down on functionality way too much. I thought your bathroom reno was on-point.

  21. Wow this is so helpful! I’ve commented in the past that I love Emily’s posts about design mistakes – although, in your case, they weren’t really mistakes until you needed to sell! Super fascinating. Thank you!

  22. I have to say, used butcher block counter sounds REALLY gross to me. Especially not knowing what was being chopped on those counters (meat, fish, etc.).

  23. I made some very budget updates to a kitchen in my mom’s house. Painted the 70’s basic cabinets, replaced the countertop with butcher block, used subway tile for the backsplash. With new appliances and lighting, people loved that kitchen. The house sold for way over asking, with multiple buyers competing. To be honest, even in the photos I can see that there’s are missing subway tiles around the windows with plant pots shoved in front. As a buyer, seeing flaws in craftsmanship makes me instantly start looking at everything much closer. For instance, the two countertop materials is interesting, but the fact that they are at different heights makes it a big drawback. As lovely as this house looks in photos, I have to wonder if some of the feedback was the real reason for people to walk away

    1. I agree. I flip houses and I do a combo quartz/butcher block kitchen regularly. It’s not an issue. But people want to feel like they’re getting a spotless home, which means new-looking butcher block counters. Seeing worn ones would make me think there’s a lot of other wear and tear on the house. Couple that with the broken tiles and the amount of clutter on the countertops and sitting on the shelves because there’s no storage and you end up with a chaotic-seeming, hard-used space.

      I also think the lack of storage is what made people comment on the washer and dryer….if everything has to sit out on your counters then clearly you could use a pantry off the kitchen to store things.

    2. Great points! Buyers don’t know that I have a separate board to cut meat and fish on and that I only cut vegetables on the butcher block. If I saw marks on a counter when I was purchasing a home, my mind would also go to a scary place. Also, you’re referencing a photo of our kitchen during its evolution. Check out the others, you’ll see the tile was completed, along with all the other updates. 🙂

      1. Ah, gotcha. I do find that things need to be absolutely spotless when you go to sell to get the best offer. Windows washed outside before photos, tubs/backsplashes etc. freshly caulked, all the little maintenance things that get put off over the years. So I can imagine the used butcher block being a big stumbling block for a lot of buyers. One thing that’s not mentioned in this is that sometimes you won’t get your money back on an update but it’s still critical to sell. For instance, if I spend $20k to replace a roof at the end of its life, I won’t necessarily get that money back, but it might have meant that an offer failed in the inspection period if I didn’t do it. Your critter proofing may well have been one of those things! And anytime I do a lot of work on a house, I make a sheet of all the improvements (especially less visible things!) along with years for potential buyers to bring home.

  24. I can’t BELIEVE your buyers are so picky! Here in Oregon, houses are still flying off the shelf, no matter WHAT condition they’re in. Your house is beautiful, and those buyers don’t know what they’re missing.

    1. You are too kind! Thank you! I think everyone has their preferences and ultimately want to put their personal touch on a space. 🙂

  25. Hmm… this is interesting. Some things I totally get (butcher block maintenance = annoying), but people would really trade being able to do laundry at home for more food storage (?!). That floors me. I don’t care if I find a laundromat serves free margaritas, I would 100% rather do it at home on my own schedule!

    1. Likewise. While I have small (24″) machines that sometimes make laundering larger items problematic, I often soak linens overnight in the washer — something that would be hard to do at the laundromat!

  26. Thank you for sharing this! I think I would have made most of the same choices you did. I’m surprised by the response you got to the laundry room. In-home laundry is a must for me, so I love the easy access of the laundry space with the sliding barn door. The kitchen reno and lay-out look great. 😻

  27. it all looks beautiful, and clearly you had originally planned to stay for a long time. sounds like some of these were very picky buyers. the butcher block and quartz look great together, to me.

  28. Your home is so pretty, and this is helpful, as I was just looking at butcher block and bathroom vanities yesterday, and my HVAC definitely needs some love. Thank you. I must say I feel validated that that I am not the only one who does not love open shelving. My 2 cents is I bought a home with painted wooden kitchen cabinets and the paint tends to chip. I know they paid a professional to paint them but I am struck at how much less durable the paint job is compared to laminate or wood that I have had in the past. I prefer the look of painted cabinets but since I am not going for the ‘country cottage worn spots by the handles’ look, they seem to demand more upkeep.

  29. I think you did a great job on your home. Ajai. And I would definitely prefer to have the option of a washer and dryer in the house. You have to make trade-offs in a small house. I’ve had nothing but negative experiences in trying to sell our houses, too. First of all, I think that anyone who is really into design will make cool changes but I would guess more than half of all people don’t recognize or appreciate good design. And even if they do, they will want something different than what you’ve done. So the tradeoff is to please yourself or live in a generic house. But I always try to keep in mind now, when I want to do anything, how potential buyers will perceive it. I don’t want to waste money and I don’t want the heartbreak of people disdaining my “taste”. We had a beautiful custom 1941 house on a large lot in the Cleveland, Ohio area. It already had a lot of wallpaper in it. We kept most of it and put new paper in a few rooms, It was a very traditional house. We had a very hard time selling that house. It took 6 months. I looked it up later on Zillow, and the new owners had removed most of the paper and done a clumsy job with new paint colors. They listed the house for 20% less than they had paid for it, 16 years later. Granted, the price may have reflected a decline in neighborhood housing values, too, but it made me very sad because I loved that house and neighborhood. I’m at the point where I just expect to be heartbroken whenever I try to sell, unfortunately. I know that’s not necessarily the case, but I’d rather have low expectations! 🙂

  30. Loved this piece – so interesting to read and personally I love what you did to the place. I think you’re biggest issue was probably just not being able to wait around for the buyers who would have been the perfect fit for your home because that kitchen and bathroom are just gorgeous! However I am mostly insanely impressed by your totally blasé mention of snakes mating in your backyard 😂 One of my favorite things about moving to the urban east coast (NYC) after growing up in Northern California is that the long, cold winters definitely cuts down on the critter populations. Being on the 4th floor also helps!

  31. Awesome post. So helpful and interesting. To be fair to you I’m team open the kitchen all the way.

  32. What a helpful and ruthless post! Wow I can’t imagine hearing all that feedback from buyers about my house. But so important.
    I have to disagree about adding the laundry room, that was major! Not having laundry is a no go, period. If anything, adding a free standing pantry in the dining area might have been preferable to not adding that laundry. You did the right thing.
    We made a bigger than usual kitchen because that works for us and we have no intentions of ever selling (but definitely are open to renting). But renovating based on future buyers is something I find so frustrating, it limits your own needs and you have to anticipate the wants of total strangers. It’s a necessary evil for most people though.

  33. I also want an un-renovated house…. unfortunately the real estate agents where I live tend to tell the sellers they should do cheapo cosmetic upgrades so the house looks fresh and trendy. (Or they do this on their own). Then I’m expected to pay their returns when I just want to redo everything anyway. Grrrr. I am looking for something specific so I’ll keep waiting, I’d rather wait than be unhappy or wastefully ripping out a “fresh Reno”.
    Anyway, the point is everyone wants something different so you have to take some feedback with a grain of salt. When people say the same thing repeatedly, that’s when your ears should perk up and also why you should really trust your agent.
    I’d be shocked if most people didn’t want laundry, or didn’t want fresh bathrooms. I’m guessing they just wanted to do it themselves rather.
    BUT the butcher block-quartz is an issue for most buyers. I love butcher block but I think you can really only get away with using it if A: You don’t actually cut on it, and B: it isn’t around the sink. Always make sure more water-durable material is around the sink. If the quartz wrapped around your sink with bb just on stove wall, you’d probably get less negative feedback about the bb

  34. This is so funny as I am in Atlanta and look at houses for fun most days, and I agree with a lot of the choices you made! Not having a washer/dryer would be an absolute deal breaker for me whereas I have bought two places without proper pantries (it is on my wish list for the next place). And the bathroom feedback? Maybe they wanted the originals so they could make their own updates? That is the only logical thing I can think of. Finally, as some one who really hates bugs/snakes, I always look to see if there is lots of ivy or any environment that would be bring in the creepy crawlers!

  35. I always wonder if we should have put a walk in pantry in our kitchen instead of making the powder room that opens onto the hallway to the kitchen larger and adding a zero entry shower. The zero entry shower means that if needed you could turn the ground floor office into a bedroom and if you either had an elderly parent move in or aged in place/became disabled you wouldn’t have to move. But I’m not sure, if we had to sell, that buyers would necessarily see the value there. And I’ve always wanted to design a walk-in pantry to make it look like an Edwardian space. Sigh.

    But, the kitchen is quite large with no lack of storage. And while I have a large pine display cabinet in the alcove that was leftover from and runs along the bathroom wall, you could put floor to ceiling cupboards there to match the kitchen cabinets and have enough pantry storage to feed an army if you felt anything was lacking. So, other than my own design dreams I don’t ‘think’ anything was really lost? But I would love to hear what people think.

    I did add a crazy wallpaper to that powder room/shower room though. If people are into design, then people tend to love it (Cole & Son Gondola wallpaper in the blue and orange color way – – with a vintage chinoiserie mirror over a wood/marble vintage dresser turned into a sink). Non-design people tend to look a little askance at it and me over that choice. A buyer might tear it out but I can’t regret getting to live with that lovely crazy pattern!!!

    1. A full bath on the first floor was a must for me, along with a space, like the office you mention, that could be used for sleeping. Even if you don’t need to accommodate an elderly parent, you or one of your kids could be incapacitated due to an accident or surgery recovery. I’d love a pantry, too but I’ve never had one and I never put one on a list of must-haves!

  36. Your “starter” house is gorgeous, and I’m honestly shocked at a few of these – I can’t believe people didn’t appreciate the washer/dryer. I always considered that to be a huge luxury.

    Also….. keeping old toilet fixtures for “character”? Pfffft that buyer just wanted something to gripe about. New toilet fixtures are much more water efficient, and like you said, required by building codes.

  37. (Architect here) The updates you made to the crawl space and plumbing are good and increase the longevity, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality of your home (even if they couldn’t quite keep the roaches out). You absolutely did the right thing there. At the end of the day, layout and storage are the biggest issues for buyers and that can be rather subjective. I think TV decorating shows mislead homeowners to believe that every improvement translates to resale value. Maybe you could have sandblasted the original sink or found a salvaged one in better condition, but that seems pretty minor considering the cute one you had installed. I’m sorry it was a hassle to sell, but I think it’s lovely and you treated it like the personal long-term investment it was!

    1. Second this comment! It sounds like you greatly increased the efficiency of the home, which will be a huge bonus for any incoming owner! heating and cooling bills are wild. am also surprised that anybody would be mad about a newish washer dryer inside, versus more pantry. and truly stunned that anybody wants an old toilet (??!!).

  38. I find the laundry situation very interesting. I would hands down want a washer/dryer and laundry room than have a pantry.
    Who has time to hang out at the laundry mat?!?!
    I also would definitely appreciate new toilets and sinks.

  39. As a designer, let me point out that paying an interior designer for a consultation can save you thousands of dollars.

    1. If it were my kitchen, I would have swapped the side door a window and continued that cabinet run along the back wall all the way across the dining area. I would have matched the floors to the wood in the rest of the house so the space flows together, and just done an “L” kitchen, where it stopped by the sink, no peninsula.

      Once that was done and a long line of base cabinets installed, then the laundry closet is OK, because you have enough storage. Bugs and creepy crawlers – yuck! Honestly it seems like the pest guys you hired took advantage of you.

      I think one lesson most first time home buyers learn is to do your own research, get lots of quotes before hiring vendors. Local realtors are excellent resources, they know their markets including stuff about pests, which updates are worth it,, etc. and are happy to share what they know.

  40. Wow, I had no idea buyers are so picky. Your bathroom update is very pretty, and I wouldn’t buy a house without a w/d. I love these sort of posts that give insight into house reno, buying, and selling–absolutely fascinating and good info for when I eventually buy a house and update it.

  41. Maybe it was something about the laundry setup they didn’t like? A pantry in place of a laundry is *bonkers* to this wife & mom. I can stick a standalone cupboard anywhere, but the thought of fitting in a run to a laundromat for all-too-common laundry emergencies – not to mention more embarrassing or gross forms of dirty laundry – would likely be a dealbreaker. Akin to having an outhouse instead of a bathroom. I can see merit in the rest of the complaints, although I wouldn’t agree with most of those, either. Butcher block is a perfectly acceptable material. I’ve an inkling it either should have been installed throughout and better maintained or should have been a smaller, more designated work surface. Maybe the varmint prevention efforts were slightly over-the-top, but a pretty penny still would have been spent on eradication and remediation. Unfortunately, it’s just a more thankless fix. The replacement of the bathroom sink with a tiny box box vanity sink was the only mistake in my opinion, but even with that, sometimes restoration is impractical. The thing is, a quick turnaround would often mean losing money even if one didn’t spend on updates. If the home was priced to accommodate those changes as well as a mortgage payoff, the asking was probably on the high side?

  42. I loved this just so many great ideas! We are no selling and think we are in our forever home, but going through a major reno so this was awesome!

  43. I’m so shocked that someone would prefer a pantry over having an in-home washer and dryer! That’s wild to me — although it’s not to say there aren’t other locations in the home you could put a washer and dryer. But still. Having 3 kids and a dog means I spend a full weekend day every weekend doing laundry, and I’m still never caught up — no way in H E L L would I be doing that at a laundromat if I had the choice.

    1. It’s wild to me too, but I have 2 teenage boys who do sports and I do laundry all the damn time!

  44. I’m from Florida, where there are so many creepy crawly things. I HATE them and would have been so excited to buy a house where that problem was taken care of. Also, I think old sinks and toilets are gross, not charming. So you did great in my opinion.

  45. I’m shocked about wanting a pantry over a washer/dryer. I would much rather store my extra cereal in a cabinet in my living room or make more grocery store trips than have to haul my clothes to the laundromat.

  46. The image of balls of mating snakes in the crawlspace is going to haunt me for some time. If I ever think of moving south, I’ll just imagine the sound of a snake hitting the toilet. ACK!
    I love the choices you made here though! Including your efforts to keep the nightmare creatures out–how could you not?

  47. To each their own but I’m making it my life’s work to save original bathrooms, especially those from the 1950s and 1960s!! The ceramic tile is better quality, as are the sinks and tubs, especially if they’re Crane products (I make exceptions for the original toilets that certainly are not low-flow. . . ) And all of those original details were made in the USA, and if retained, won’t be replaced by lesser quality products made far, far away that then have to be transported thousands of miles. I find the original bathrooms so charming, and I wish more people felt the same.

  48. Love this post! I live in a partially renovated ranch in Atlanta and the roach problem is so real! They’re huge and some of them fly. The rat problem is a thing where I live too. The size of bunnies. Just staring at you from your kitchen floor like it’s no big deal. Makes me laugh so hard.

    And I would have loved someone to have replaced the sinks and toilets in our house. The old ones were not cute or charming. I think you did a beautiful job!

  49. Interesting to see priorities for a different area of the country and perhaps commenters are in different live stages too. Our cool rainforest environment means moisture is a battle in homes- so drainage is paramount. A creek to tap into is desired (no snakes here) as long as it’s below house level. Since we are isolated and shipping is expensive to the islands- people are into refinishing vs replacing and figuring out diy solutions- no big deal to refinish butcher block. I used to like hanging out at the laundry mat with a book, but now with an active 4 year old boy and a husband who is in construction- I love having in house laundry.
    It’s wonderful you are able to shift closer to family- we can’t get that time back. And don’t stress too much about what people say about the house- they are looking for any way to pay less so they can find a home that works for them.

  50. I’m sorry, did you say SNAKES coming up your TOILET? BALLS OF SNAKES in the BACKYARD??? Note to self: never move to Atlanta. Let me just stay here in the Bay Area and go bankrupt from cost of living and then die in an earthquake before dealing with a toilet snake 😡

    p.s. your old house was gorgeous!

    1. oops didn’t mean to make a mad face emoji lol but yes that would be the face i’d give a snake sticking its head out of my toilet!

    2. That is the only thing I will retain from this article lol – not because the rest isn’t valuable and interesting, but because that is a nightmare image I will never get out of my mind. If I ever have to move to Atlanta I am buying a mongoose!

  51. Ug. I was selling my house in a historic neighborhood, it had some original stained glass pieces inside, (all new windows though), pocket doors, French doors, original wood floors, redone bathrooms but I kept original claw foot tub- but all people wanted are ensuite bathrooms (which actually gross me out – I don’t want to go so close to where I sleep!), gray walls, and marble counter tops…. It finally sold…. and it wasn’t pretty.

  52. I understand why buyers thought it would have been better to leave the wall intact and expand the kitchen into the eating area — you gave up an entry hall *and* cabinet storage, and didn’t get anything in return except 2 chairs that block traffic flow and are only a few feet away from the dining table anyway. And now the front door opens directly into a kitchen which buyers can imagine being very messy due to the lack of storage. Also, I think the bathroom feedback was more about the style of the original fixtures than their age — replacing the sink with one in a similar style would have been more in keeping with the age of the house and the original tile floor vs a generic white box.

  53. Interesting article. I think you were spot on with the crawl space thing and the laundry. Also agree with the new toilet, yikes. We just sold our starter home we were in for 5 years. We made many changes over those years but never got to the gut kitchen Reno. Right before we listed we met with our Realtor for a market analysis and any final work. We ended up replacing 90% of flooring from carpet and vinyl to LVP and we also painted the entire living area white. We had already updated lighting. Our realtor said do NOT gut this kitchen since we had all new appliances, that will work for this market. I am so glad she was talented. Our house sold for 25k over list with 5 offers in 36 hours. I still would have loved a new kitchen but the layout worked for us so we ended up doing other stuff like a huge trex deck , landscaping etc. Our new home which is clad in honey oak will be receiving a new kitchen since we plan on staying here a long time. Real estate is crazy.

  54. I appreciate the candor. Definitely going to remember this if we ever go to sell! It’s so hard to design for the general population (especially because they might not follow design blogs for fun!).

    I would walk into this house and love it! I would also appreciate the laundry over pantry, the crawl space updates, the butcher block and the open shelving.

    Some people carpet over hardwood floors! I guess to each their own.

  55. I can’t believe people would have preferred a pantry over washer and dryer! I don’t know anyone who would buy a home without those, but here in the northeast they can be tucked into basements so they don’t take up valuable storage space.

  56. I have to agree with the shelves vs cabinets in a small kitchen. I have a small kitchen and I utilize every square inch of cabinet space. I am very surprised by the washer and dryer complaints though. I can’t imagine living without a washer and dryer, to be honest! Otherwise, I think the other complaints were petty. A vanity in the bathroom is pretty easy to change out if you want a more vintage look. Sometimes I think buyers just look for things to complain about. We were selling our house that was near a major road, and we did have road noise. I can’t tell you how many people complained about the fact that it was near a major road. Did they not know the location before they viewed the house? That one stumped me.

    1. We had similar feedback when selling our last house! It’s not like they didn’t know the address before viewing the property. Google maps, it’s a thing…

  57. I would have loved to buy your house! That old toilet looked disgusting- no wonder you replaced it. And the butcher block counters and open shelving are beautiful. I guess if you want to sell, though, you need to go for mass appeal.

  58. I personally (as a home love and Interior Designer) think that a washer and drier were the smart route to go – can’t believe people would actually choose a little bit more kitchen storage than a way to do laundry. You can always add more storage via a credenza or hutch in your dining room. However, there could have been a way to lay out the kitchen in a more efficient way, to get more storage.

  59. ok that was insanely helpful. THANK YOU.
    My husband and I just bought a home and I’m planning the projects we want/need to do in order to increase our home’s value when we go to sell and this is really sage advice.

  60. Ajai, I love what you did. We sold our ranch house in Portland last summer, knowing two years earlier we’d be selling it down the road. We had already updated the kitchen with new appliances, installed Corian countertops, and put in marmoleum floors. We asked our realtor to come over so I could bounce ideas off of him: how much work should we do in the basement, what updating would bathrooms need, what value would fencing and painting and replaced light fixtures make. I explained I wanted every project to both benefit us during our time living there but also be smart for resale. He actually reined me in on certain projects, and reminded me to create a file system I could hand over to the buyer documenting contractors’ work, sewage line replacement, and more. I had painted our dining room a vibrant blue–was this too much?–and he said it showed personality and boldness. When we completed the projects, including framing out spaces in the full, dry basement, and listed the house, he suggested a list price $50k higher than what I had imagined. This was at the tail end of a summer in which BLM protests occasionally gathered outside our house. We listed the house on a Friday, and on Tuesday reviewed three strong offers, all substantially OVER the list price. The buyers we selected were very specific in their midcentury affinity, their appreciation for our native NW landscaping, and their support for the BLM gatherings. But it all helps living in a market with limited inventory of houses for sale, and especially having a well cared for, attractive house and garden. (Incidentally, our new house has one wall of open shelving for plates, glasses, cups, and serving bowls–which we love.)

  61. I live in a suburb of Atlanta and am very surprised with the feedback you got! I would totally choose a washer/dryer in my house over just about anything else! The bathroom feedback makes no sense to me. Would they actually want a rust-stained toilet over a new one, or do they just like the “idea” of old fixtures? I bet if you had left the old fixtures you would have people complaining them! I can understand some people not wanting open shelving (although I think it’s pretty!) and butcher block counters.

  62. 1. I personally love all of your updates.
    2. Am I the only one here who thinks it is absolutely insane that those buyers would rather have a pantry than a laundry space?! I know the writer enjoys going to the laundromat, but I don’t know anyone (at least anyone with kids) that would not prefer the convenience of having an in-home washer and dryer. BONKERS! I mean, if they want storage, why not just add cabinets in the kitchen or add a piece of furniture to provide it? But no laundry?!
    3. Open shelves. Yup. Putting cabinets there instead of open shelves may have helped with not having a pantry. Keep the laundry, add cabinets. Again, who doesn’t want in-home laundry?
    4. Who in the world wants an old toilet over a new one? Gross. Unless maybe it was a fun color or something super special. We’re planning on selling our house this spring and we just changed out our toilet to a new nice one. I feel like a buyer would appreciate that. And when we are looking, I want a newer toilet. But I do get the thing about the vintage sink. I love older sinks and would have loved to put that older one into a customer cabinet (added storage would be great). But that new one isn’t bad, it’s perfectly fine. I love the paint job in there, and the original tile floors are gorgeous.
    5. The ecosystem thing? All I can say is SNAKES?! Nope. Hard pass.
    6. I get it about the countertops. But the butcher block is pretty.

  63. I wouldn’t give too much consideration to some of those specific criticisms, like keeping the old toilets and sinks. I’m guessing for every person who commented that they wished you had kept the old toilets, there were probably two more buyers who were happy with the updates but didn’t bother to comment because they took the updates for granted but would have considered those old toilets to be just as gross as you. I think sometimes we give too much attention to the very specific criticisms, but don’t realize how many people liked what you did.

    1. Yeah, I’m surprised people put that much stock in those comments. They aren’t representative of every buyer, and who knows if they are even telling the truth? And if you’re lurking on them via Ring (so creepy, but that’s another story) you don’t actually know whether or not that’s feedback they would have found important to share – it’s just a thought they had at one point in time. And I’ve literally never heard of someone turning down an otherwise perfect house because it has a washer/dryer. Clearly I would not be listening to these buyers but this is also why I’ll never make a decision based on resale value 😂

  64. The most interesting home topic I’ve read in a long time! Thank you for sharing! I love the charm you put into your Atlanta kitchen, if I had come across it while house hunting I would have thought it was lovely. Guess that is why they say sometimes you just have to find that one buyer.

  65. Ajai, this is so interesting! Laundry addition was the absolute necessity here. No way should a stand alone house not have a washer and dryer — that would be so strange! I say fantastic job on improving the crawl space and envelope of that house – I bet it was more energy efficient.

    My big Q though: are either of the doors from the kitchen the front door? Where do the doors lead?

    1. You can see from the front of the house that the door next to the peninsula is the front door — so you come in the front door directly into the kitchen, and have to walk past the two chairs, which are in what used to be the entry hall. The door by the fridge appears to go to the car port.

  66. Had to chuckle, bc one of the selling points to my husband and I about our home we recently bought but had been newly updated: our island is butcher block and the rest of the kitchen granite. I love the contrast and there were others interested in our home, so it clearly didn’t deter SoCal buyers. Maybe it’s a regional thing (like your original toilets and sinks…that’s just weird, LOL)

  67. Thanks for this post! I may have made some of those same mistakes if I had been in your exact shoes, so don’t be too hard on yourself! 😉 I live in LA so I know the longing for open shelves. I still want to have one or two in my future kitchen here. I will live dangerously and maybe just not have the most expensive treasures on them. I hate the look of too many uppers and me and my husband are around 5’5″ and 5’6″ so we never use the ones high up. I would rather have more lowers or my now fixation is having like a buffet/hutch type of thing or I guess maybe a pantry could be nice. So that decision may have been a better one because we all have so many gadgets and stuff these days and don’t want all of it on our counters, etc. BUT I think most people would also like to have a W/D in their home too! So, it’s a toss-up. My only complaint with the kitchen was that it looked WAY too tight for my taste/how I want to live/cook in one. Anyhow, a lot of life seems to be hindsight is 2020, etc. lol

  68. Hilariously, your home is exactly what I’ve been looking for while trying to purchase my first home (too bad I’m moving to Baltimore and not Atlanta!). Everything you did is what I want but can’t find because everyone is building a “convenient” second floor hall laundry closet (which I hate and would prefer a nice room like you have) or they have oppressive upper cabinets in the kitchen that make it feel so closed off and small, or they leave their original half baths in tact and put up some wainscoting and call it “character” (I love character, but agree that old rusty toilets and sinks are gross!). All that is to say that I guess you have to build the house that makes you feel at home when you’re in it, and hopefully despite the difficulty to sell you got to enjoy your choices, if even for less time than expected.

    I’d also like to plead with anyone renovating to stop adding massive weird tubs and spas that take up precious real estate and leave you with a teeny weeny shower stall. I’m seeing it in house after house and it’s so obvious that it’s being done to increase the value but it really ruins the house.

  69. A long standing realtor saying is “buyers lie”. Not that the feedback isn’t worth considering, especially if you do find yourself wanting top ROI for whatever reason. But I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much. The changes are beautiful, with quality construction and thoughtfulness behind them. You are never going to please all the potential buyers and, ultimately, you only need one.

  70. I agree with some of these — I collect handmade ceramic dinnerware but I’m still going with glass-front cabinets instead of open shelving because of the dust issue — but others I’m mystified by. Wanting original toilets instead of brand new toilets?? I have to think that was just one crazy buyer, not a representative opinion of the “majority.”

    The pantry vs. laundry trade-off is trickier, because I think many buyers will reject a home that doesn’t have BOTH. At the very least you need to have laundry in the basement or garage; I can’t imagine buying a house that doesn’t have my own laundry machines. But at the same time, open shelving + small kitchen + no pantry is a tough sell.

  71. Hi,
    Fun article! Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you lived on snake mating grounds. They will always come back to the same location to reproduce. I know of a house in Idaho that eventually had to be torn down because the snakes kept coming in, year after year, due to being built on snake ground. The snakes won! (And I would totally have spent the money to clean up the crawl space and attic space from critters, they would destroy your home eventually)

  72. I think you made wise decisions overall. You could easily have a pantry if you simply remove the washer/dryer. you kept the cool floors in the bathroom ….the “original” toilet and sink didn’t look that special design-wise or historic so better to replace I think. Of course, for buyers allquaryz and upper cabinets make sense but you made those decisions for yourself, which was probably as much of a budget decision as was design

  73. I needed to hear (read) this! We don’t plan on being in our home forever (as our 10/1 ARM indicates) and while we have done some upgrades that we think will add value or at least attract more buyers, one thing I’ve dreamed of is gutting and expanding our primary bedroom bathroom. It’s already been upgraded but it’s small. However, that’s the case for ALL the homes in my neighborhood – the houses were all built in the 1950s and the upstairs bathroom is tiny. It probably wouldn’t help our resale value to throw all that money in to it (I’m talking totally revised layout for plumbing and blowing out a wall to make it happen) in comparison to all of the other homes in our area and the way it is now is actually completely functional for my husband and I. While I do believe that we should create homes that work for us and are our sanctuaries, some things do need to come in to consideration if it isn’t long term. For instance, we already renovated our basement and going in to it said we would be okay with only getting 1/2 of that value back in resale (because we NEEDED that extra space to function well in our smaller house and boy has it been worth it over the last year!). Thanks for the perspective! Your updates were beautiful (and the comments on the bathroom are CRAZY – I would run from the original, ha!) but I can see how a few are definitely personal preference and could turn some buyers off. Thanks so much for sharing, I imagine it could be really hard for a designer to put this out there.

  74. Everything was done so well here and a huge upgrade to what was there. It looks like there are two openings in the kitchen to the outdoors. Could one of them have been closed off so that the kitchen could have been extended in some way?

  75. This was a really interesting read! Definitely some things I hadn’t though of before- thanks for creating this post, Ajai!

  76. I am one ATLien who loves the choices you made. I am particularly shocked that people would want a pantry over a laundry area and that they wanted the kitchen closed off, or wanted to keep the old toilet and sink. I am all for cute vintage fixtures but the update to the bathroom was the right call, IMO.

  77. This is so interesting! Literally the ONLY buyer feedback I agree with is the 2 countertop materials in the kitchen. It’s a very small space, so one material all the way around is more functional, more cohesive/less busy to look at, and feels higher end (plus would remove the problem of that uneven joint). I can see the point about upper cabinets, yet not having them does look great. Was there room in the laundry for shelves? That would be enough “pantry” in a small house for bulky items.

    I love the flow from kitchen to dining room – in fact, the only quibble I have with it is having 2 exterior doors in such a small space. If possible, I would have lost the door by the fridge, surrounding the fridge with a pantry cabinet instead of having that 2nd exterior door. I think the kitchen would have had a lot more storage that way, but I’m sure there would have been additional costs with patching the exterior.

    And wanting an old cracked toilet? No, ugh, gross!

  78. The former sink was pretty amazing, but keeping a water inefficient toilet seems ridiculous! I cannot believe people could not see the obvious value and character of nicked up butcher block against the pretty white counters. And having laundry is so so so key at home, especially during a pandemic which makes it harder to go to a laundromat. So odd how these things make a house less valuable to some and so priceless to others like me.

  79. When we bought our house, it was right before the 2008 bubble burst. However, our area experiences neither the highest of the highs nor the lowest of the lows so it wasn’t exactly the seller’s market here that others experience where they live. Which is why I was able to put my foot down and say we would walk away if the sellers didn’t like our final offer, which was a good 10k or so lower than they were hoping for. Like many people selling their starter/first home at the time, they had made everything as neutral and open as possible – this whole house is an uninspired (and cheap) copy of 2006 HGTV nonsense from one end to the other.

    Except that they didn’t do anything to the kitchen or the two tiny bathrooms. The two rooms you should absolutely update and optimize if you are trying to flip an old lady’s home after 2 years so you can make “equity” and move into your dream home before age 30. There was some back and forth with them and they listed all the other stuff they’d done to make the house more “today” and less old fashioned. I told our realtor to please find a way to communicate to them that a) they’d neutral-ized a bunch of little details many people don’t care about, b) if people do care about them, those details can be changed by anyone through DIY that isn’t taxing even for a beginner so it’s not much to crow about, and c) they’d skipped things that would have improved the home itself (not just its looks) and that would cost a lot in time and money for professionals as well as necessitate that we live somewhere else while the work is done.

    If a seller wants to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on beige everywhere while ignoring poky bathrooms with disintegrating tile and a kitchen that has a huge footprint but only 5 small cabinets, they are free to do so. But I’m not paying a premium for cheap beige paint AND dropping at least 15k right after move-in to deal with the kitchen and baths while I also take care of a newborn. We weren’t the first people to see the house, and I think our agent either did a great job explaining or it wasn’t the first time the sellers heard those complaints. We ended up paying not only below what the sellers wanted, but far below what we could afford and had been cleared to borrow by our mortgage agent. They ended up living with one set of parents for a few years until they could afford that dream house. (This suburb has strong small town vibes.) Never ever worry more about matching the look of the moment than you do about making it easy for people to move in and start their life in your old house. The average person just does not have the desire or drive to go through the hassle of moving and then jump straight into a renovation.

  80. your house is beautiful! great article about thinking through renovations and future sales, but we also still need to *live* in the houses until we sell them, so i hope you don’t have many regrets. also, i’m in the south and i can’t believe anyone would prefer the old bathroom over the beautiful one you created!

  81. I think the most important message in this post is to know the neighborhood and the standards people in that area expect. We improved beyond the neighborhood in our last house, and while we did not get our dollars out, the house did sell quickly in a bad market. Going to open houses to see what the competition is offering – valuable.

  82. Nice ideas, but everything in moderation.

    I would never buy a house without a washer-dryer or the ability to add one easily. And if countertop material is the only thing that keeps someone from buying a house, they are idiots. It is one of the easiest things to change. Sure a bit pricey, but no major reno time to do so.

    The bathroom changes might have received less negative feedback if the new choices had more character to them instead of something that while nice, reads a bit more common and somewhat bland.

    Anyone who looks at a lot of condos or homes begins to see so much repetition in materials, colors, and even specific items like lights, vanities, et al. I think we have to make choices that are distinctive without being so personal that few others will like them.

  83. The laundry not adding value truly surprised me. Perhaps because I live in a city, laundry space is so highly valued. This post shows one thing: sometimes the things that make your home uniquely yours will not impress buyers. And that is okay!

  84. Thank you for being so open and honest about your experience. While I am sure it was difficult hearing negative comments about a home you lovingly renovated, you story will definitely help others.

  85. Good post!
    The only thing I really agree on with the ‘buyers’ is the kitchen shelves. A small kitchen needs cabinets, I’m afraid. (Especially if you’re a real cook.) The open shelving to me only work if you are more interested in display/design than actual cooking.
    I would like to have the washer/dryer closer to a bedroom or bathroom, perhaps. But there might not have been enough room for that. I like the re-done bathroom.
    Never heard of any homeowners being chill with roaches, etc.

  86. Absolutely think this had to do with the market you are in. In California I think all of the improvements you made would definitely increase value! Good lesson on different markets/locations, that’s for sure! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  87. Soooo fascinating. I loved this! Thank you for being so candid, Ajai! I honestly think I would’ve been too wounded to open up about it, but your frank approach is what makes this such an excellent piece. More from Ajai!!

  88. I’m glad that where I live, in Deutschland, it’s normal to do your own kitchen in a new home—even rentals come with just a sink and an oven/stove. Much nicer!

    From my years living in Georgia and Florida, I can say that not all roaches are the same. Little ones are disgusting; big ones are normal.

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