Let's get real: The first room you stumble into in the morning -- bleary-eyed, dazed, and yawning -- should be a soothing oasis. A bathroom that achieves those lofty heights? That's a bathroom you can love. That's why these most special of rooms are second only to kitchens as the areas homeowners eagerly spend time and money renovating -- and that catch a buyer's eye when you're trying to sell.
But exactly which upgrades are the best, in terms of both usefulness and return on investment? Before you go nuts installing saunas and rain shower heads, check out this second installment in our series Renovations That Really Pay Off, for some smarter tweaks you'll be very glad you made.
Reglaze, don't replace, the tub
"No, no, no -- do not put in a new tub," says Rebecca Knaster, associate broker with Manhattan's William Raveis. "It'll cost thousands between the tub and the installation." Instead, have the tub reglazed for "around $1,500," which will make it look brand new.
Matt Plaskoff, founder of One Week Bath, agrees that if the shower area "is in decent shape," it's best to concentrate on the front part of the bathroom, which "sets the tone for the space."
Invest in a new sink
Face washing, teeth brushing, gerbil bathing -- your sink sees a lot of use. It's also the very first thing a buyer notices in a bathroom, says Knaster.
"Step 1 for getting the most bang for your buck is a new contemporary sink," she says. "It will set you back a few hundred dollars and make all the difference."
Just note whether the sink you already have is an undermount (where the edge is below the countertop to create an uninterrupted surface) or overmount (where the sink lip comes up over the countertop), says interior designer Randal Weeks, founder of Aidan Gray Home.
An undermount can be difficult to remove unless it's under a formica top. If the sink is adhered to the surface, the top will also have to go, which quickly drives up the cost. One easy and dramatic sink upgrade Weeks recommends is replacing separate hot and cold faucets with a sleek single-handle faucet that starts at $70.
Go for timeless tile
While natural stone is hot, Weeks prefers neutral styles that will appeal to a broader range of people and provide better return on investment. Pricey stones are taste-specific, he notes, and can give a busy look that's a turnoff regardless of expense.
In fact, Weeks says one of the biggest issues buyers consider when making offers is the cost of redoing other people's "bad choices." So go for crowd-pleasing features such as bright white subway tiles, which run a mere 21 cents each. The payoff?
"You can add $10,000 of value to your home by selecting timeless elements that won't date it."
Upgrade your lighting
It's not just Snow White's evil stepmother and the Kardashians who spend lots of time staring into the mirror on the bathroom wall. For most of us, lighting and lighting fixtures are critical elements.
"Dated light fixtures are a turnoff," says Knaster. "For no more than $100 you can buy a basic but nice bathroom light fixture."
Install a double vanity
The last thing you need in the morning is a battle with your partner over who gets the sink. It's no wonder "I'm looking for a double vanity" is one of the most common things heard by Will Johnson, a Hendersonville, TN, real estate agent and founder of the Sell and Stage Team.
A double vanity typically costs between $200 and $800, with installation falling around $220, Johnson says -- and it's a wise investment. Johnson has clients who "won't buy a house simply because there's only one sink in the master bathroom!"
Swap in new fixtures
"Old materials such as bronze can instantly date your bathroom," says Johnson. To knock out this easy DIY update, simply purchase new door handles, drawer pulls, and towel bars. A nice chrome drawer pull can cost as little as $3, while a towel bar can average $30.
Get a water-saving toilet
Old toilets use 6 gallons of water per flush, gobbling up about 30% of all residential water in U.S. homes. Go green when you swap out your throne. New WaterSense models using only 1.28 gallons per flush (e.g., TOTO's Carlyle II 1G toilet) conserve up to 18,000 gallons of water annually. The initial cost of $974 will shave more than $110 per year off a water bill and add up to almost $2,200 over the lifetime of the toilet. Bonus: The latest water-saving thrones actually work.
But skip the bidet
Bidets may be considered the Rolls-Royce of toilet upgrades, but most bathrooms simply don't have room for them. What's worse: Most Americans have no idea what on Earth these things are and may even be weirded out by them.
"My personal opinion is that our society is not accustomed to this practice and doesn't see the extra value in them," says Tracy Kay Griffin, an expert designer at Express Homebuyers in Springfield, VA. "We haven't renovated a home yet where we thought it would be a good investment to add a bidet." Just say nay to the bidet.