For love, not money

Why some homeowners are still making major changes in a market that won't pay them back.

By Vanessa Parks
June 26, 2011

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Just a few years ago, back when every other show on television was about house flipping, the conventional wisdom was that renovations were better than money in the bank; they might cost a lot, but they’d pay several times over when it came time to sell. But those days look to be over, especially, it seems, when it comes to pricier projects.

According to Remodeling magazine’s 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report, a Boston-area homeowner could expect to spend $28,000 on a new roof, yet recoup less than $16,000. Same with building a new garage: It might add roughly $42,000 to your home’s value, but it will cost you more than $72,000 (for more examples see

Architect Lawrence Reeves of Reeves Design Associates in Marlborough is often called upon by clients “looking for a dramatic change” to their home exteriors. A metamorphosis can come in any number of ways. Maybe it’s using an intricate, multihued paint palette on a Victorian, he says, or adding a portico or pergola to a Colonial to create “a little more drama or interest.” As you might expect, the cost of an exterior renovation can vary widely, from$10,000 to $200,000 or more – and all that without adding to the home’s square footage.

But Reeves says those customers who can afford expensive work tend not to worry about a return on their investment, opting instead to follow their hearts. A few years ago, for instance, he transformed a “pseudo-Tudor” in Andover into a Shingle Style cottage, an extensive and incredible transformation that cost about $220,000 for exterior work, including landscaping (see photographs on these two pages). You could buy a pretty nice house for that in some towns, but, says Reeves, many homeowners are willing to spend on less quantifiable benefits, such as how an update to their old home makes them feel. “It’s nice to have a house where you can drive up and know you’re home and enjoy it,” he says.