7 home improvement money pits

Mary Butler | Improvement Center Columnist | March 22, 2012

Even with the best intentions, well-planned home improvement projects can end up costing more than they're worth, according to Remodeling Magazine's "Cost vs Value" report for 2011-2012. Of course, the cost and return on investment may vary depending on where in the country you live. Here are some projects that probably won't provide the desired bang for your buck:

1. In-ground swimming pool: In the Massachusetts Real Estate News, Bill Gassett describes this project as a literal money pit. Yes, you may have grown up enjoying a backyard pool and have fond memories of parties and family time spent poolside. But that's what you get you when you install a pool: good memories, and, perhaps, a convenient place to swim laps. A better bet is to invest in a much less expensive alternative: an above-ground pool.

2. Upscale landscaping. If your yard is your sanctuary -- and perhaps, your weakness -- you are not alone. Who doesn't love a dry-stacked flagstone wall, outdoor kitchen or gas-fed fire pit? Lush greenery, flowering bushes and perfectly manicured shrubs will certainly earn you big curb appeal points, but the $40,000 or more you sink into these things may not translate into an equivalent, or near-equivalent return on investment.

3. Backup power generator. 2012 may be the year of the Mayan-predicted apocalypse, but, even so, adding a backup generator at a cost of about $15,000 will net you less than a 49 percent return in resale.

4. Home office remodel. Surprisingly, despite trends that show more people working from home each year of the new century -- about 14 percent of workers in 2008 -- home offices, on average, provide less than a 46 percent of return on your investment.

5. Sunroom addition. As pleasant as it may be to lounge on wicker furniture, protected from the elements but still able to enjoy good light and lovely views, the average sunroom addition sinks $74,310 into an improvement that yields a measly 46 percent return.

6. Master suite addition. A sunken tub and steam shower may give you immense pleasure every day, but the $232,062 average price tag of an upscale master suite addition reaps about a 50 percent return in resale.

7. Bathroom addition. Americans love bathrooms but, unfortunately, they don't like to pay for them. Installing a new bath costs an average of $40,000, but gets you back about a 53 percent of your hard-earned cash.

So choose your projects wisely. You probably should avoid these money pits, unless you are building only for enjoyment, with no thought of financial returns.