Bathroom Remodel

Can you totally remodel a 3/4 bath for only $3,500 in 48 hours? One of my clients recently purchased a house that needed a remodel of the basement level 3/4 bath. I have lots of before and after pictures in my head, of “what is” vs. “what can be”, but it is often difficult to convey that information to my clients.

So, for my client who closed escrow last week, I am going the extra mile.  This morning I ripped out my own basement level 3/4 bath, and am attempting to upgrade it to today’s standards for only $3,500 in two days or less.

Our basement level bathroom had two interior walls. One separated the shower from the toilet to give the shower three sides.  The other separated the shower and toilet area from the double sink counter via a wall and pocket door.  Chopping up a 5′ x 9′ bathroom with two interior walls was way too confining.  The biggest complaint of the users being that the square front door shower was too small and too dark, as the walls surrounding it cut it off from the light.  So first thing the guys did when they arrived this morning, was to knock out all of the interior walls.  It looks bigger and brighter already.

[photopress:sh.jpg,thumb,alignleft]The picture in my head of the finished bath, included a larger shower unit that only utilizes two walls instead of three. The one I see used most often in newer townhomes. Before hiring the contractor, I picked out the shower unit over at Lowes.  The total cost was just under $700.  The plumbing needs to be moved a bit to the right.  The door to the shower being angled on the front provides access from the largest open space in the room, the center, instead of the left or the right.

Finished bath will include replacing the 3″ tile countertop, too much grout to clean.  The floor, which was a rug that would get wet and never seemed to want to dry out, will be replaced with a stone look one piece floor.  All brown wood towel bars and towel rings will be gone and replaced with brushed nickel.  The wicker over the toilet cabinet will be replaced with a white and brushed nickel upgraded version.  In other words, a total transformation!

Can this all be done for less than $3,500?  Good question. As agents we are often frusrated by the inflated prices buyers attach to needed upgrades.  Often a buyer will look at a bathroom like this that needs updating, and attach a cost of $15,000 to the improvements needed.  When we say it will only cost $5,000 max, they really don’t believe us.  So once again, I am putting my money where my mouth is and am out to prove that a 3/4 bath can be totally remodeled for less than $5,000. If I can cap the cost to $3,500, I think  suggesting others can do so for no more than $5,000 will be an honest representation.

Off to Lowes to get towel bars and towel rings and whatever else is needed.  I’ll report the final total cost with a break down in the comments section when we’re done.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

40 thoughts on “Bathroom Remodel

  1. All the plumbing is complete and the water is back on at 1:00 p.m. Toilet back, shower base in. Pipes for the shower headmoved from the left wall to the right wall. So far so good.

  2. I don’t think the question should be “can you renovate a bathroom in 48 hours for less than $5,000”, it should be “would you want to buy a house from someone that renovated the bathroom in 48 hours for less than $5,000”. In my case, the answer to the second question is NO.

  3. Well, I’m not selling my house :-). That’s an odd observation. It’s a 3/4 bath in the basement. There’s a full five piece mega master bath, another full bath and a half bath, in addition to this 3/4 bath. I’m sure no one would decided whether or not to buy this house, based on the 3/4 bath in the basement. Anytime you can improve on something you have in the house, you add value. The less you spend on the upgrade, the greater the return on your investment.

  4. Great Experiment Ardell!
    I believe that you can do it, it’s not just an “HGTV” home improvement stunt, it really can be done for “real” Real Estate.
    This shows exactly what you write about how first time home buyers can gain equity to protect themselves and add value, and take an affordable “diamond in the rough” and make it a home. Of course, your house is not in that condition, it’s just the guinea pig!

  5. >the greater the return on your investment.

    At this point I think getting the house ON the market as quickly as possible is key. With the way the market is obviously headed, remodeling will only increase the probability the home won’t be sold, unless it can be done quickly.

  6. I’d say you could do it for less than $2,000 if you did the work yourself. I redid a bathroom earlier this year with a slate-tile floor, new fixtures, new mirror, lighting, etc. for less than $1,000. I may not be a professional, but it looks good. Heck, I’ve seen new construction that looks like a child did the work.

  7. Synthetik,

    I am not selling my house LOL. I love my house. Nor is my client who just bought his, planning to sell his house NOW!

    Point is that if you make reasonable and affordable improvements while you own the house, you build on the home’s that by the time you do sell it, you likely will not suffer due to changing market conditions. Your insistence that everyone sell their homes right now is strange, dont you think?

    I’ve lived by these principals since I began owning my homes in 1982 and have never lost money on my homes in changing markets. Leave a place better than you found it, and add value as you go.

  8. Rich,

    Excellent! I never attempt plumbing work on my own. I do my own painting and minor improvements, but remodeling a bathroom is beyond my personal abililities. I will change out the bath accessories myself like towel rings and wall cabinets. I’m painting the under sink cabinets.

    I don’t do my own electrical either. I bought replacement fixtures for the first floor main living areas. The bathroom contractor is going to install those for me tomorrow.

    I use Thanksgiving coming up as the incentive to make improvements every year.

  9. >Well, I’m not selling my house . That’s an odd observation.

    I didn’t say YOU were selling your house. You’ll have to forgive me Ardell, I assumed that you had read your own post. Here’s what it says:

    >Can this all be done for less than $3,500? Good question. As
    >agents we are often frusrated by the inflated prices buyers attach
    >to needed upgrades. Often a buyer will look at a bathroom like
    >this that needs updating, and attach a cost of $15,000 to the
    >improvements needed. When we say it will only cost $5,000 max,
    >they really don’t believe us. .

    So, my point again is, would I buy a house in which the seller had hurriedly slapped together the bathroom for the least amount of cash possible? No. No I wouldn’t.

    Why? If I’m purchasing a house to live in, I’d prefer that the work be done properly with quality hardware. What you’re describing is a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s to find the cheapest off-the-shelf hardware you can find to have it installed by the lowest bidder. Perhaps you feel that adds value to your home; more power to you. I’d prefer not to have to rip out the cheap shower stall that was hastily installed to find that water ingress has destroyed the wall behind it. See, the way I look at it, I’d rather pay to have it done properly the first time than have to not only pay to have it done properly the second time AND pay to repair the damage.

    Yes, you might get lucky and it might not leak. I wouldn’t take that bet. And this is why I’d never buy a “newly renovated” or “recently updated” house. Who knows what some flipper did to meet their schedule and budget?

  10. Peter,

    Not sure why you want to be argumentative on this, but you are enitled to your opinion. I am sure we will get good use from this improvement, especially with my daughters who use it heading into town soon for Thanksgiving. It looks much better already with the interior walls removed. Bigger, brighter and much more appealing.

    Looks better equals higher value. Better quality generally does not give you more money for your home, unless that better quality equals looks a lot better.

    I can’t tell you how many times a seller wanted more for his house based on quality of improvements, only to find that people value what they can see. Good quality at lower price beats best quality on resale. Unless best equals granite vs. laminate, something they can see, but not when best equals higher paid contractor vs. lower paid contractor, something they can’t see. Case in point, condo conversions.

  11. Bingo! You nailed it, Ardell.

    ” . . . only to find that people value what they can see.”

    This is why people will pay almost $1M for the crapboxes down the street from me, because they have all of the ooh-aah looky-nice features that tug at their purse strings (grainite, stainless, hardwood, etc).

    If ONLY these people knew what they were buying. Chipboard sheathing everywhere including on the roof–on the roof, BAD IDEA. When you’re paying $1M for a house, you’d think that the builder could shell out an extra few hundred bucks for some plywood–they do actually still sell that. NO house-wrap underneath the siding–this is the semi-permeable barrier that allows the house to breathe but prevents any moisture from getting to the chipboard sheathing–BAD IDEA (I’ve looked for this on the new construction around here and apparently most of the builders feel that it’s unnecessary). Especially on a 2-3 story house with minimal roof overhang–those walls will be soaking wet everytime it rains. After that 99-cent-per-tube caulk that they used to seal the siding and window trim shrinks and hardens in a year or two, how long before that chipboard underneath turns to mush. Five years? Ten? Fifteen, anybody? Place your bets now!

    I could go on and on . . . but you are exactly right, Ardell. People will buy a bag of crap if the bag looks nice. Why should builders worry about quality when all that really counts for a quick sale is appearance?

  12. Good ideas, article and conversations!
    I look forward to seeing the pictures and neat challenge. I love the comments on choice of material, types of new construction, and general opinions.

    Good luck and let us see the finished product.

  13. Ardell,

    I’m not sure how you could possibly infer from my post that I thought you were selling your house. I’m assuming you had some point you were trying to make and this wasn’t just a random bloviation about your own house. “you too can remodel your bathroom for only $3500 bucks making your house saleable”

    If one were planning on staying in their house, why would they be happy with a wal-mart renovation? The only time you’d do that is if you were a landlord looking to get the most bang for your buck — or you needed a quick remodel in a desperate attempt to sell the house.

    What advice do you want people to take away from your post? I don’t see how a $3500 br remodel improves the value of a home or makes it more saleable. And if one is staying in the house, why do a lackluster job of it?

  14. Synthetik,

    Every homeowner should be getting the most bang for their buck, when making improvements to their home. Putting 1/2 of 1% of the home’s value into modest upgrades every year, is more important than doing massive, costly changes.

    I can’t tell you how many times I see even the smallest condo sell for $10,000 more than their neighbor, simply because the owner painted the dark brown wood trims and doors to a bright or off white color. A do it yourself improvement that costs no more than $50 turned into a $10,000, or at minimum, a $5,000 return on investment. Often they put back the same hardware when they are done! Huge return…tiny cost.

    Conversely we see owners who lose their shirts on the $50,000 upgrade they made ten or twenty years ago, using finishes that are no longer in style.

    Does it make sense for someone to pay $5,000 more for a condo with a $50 upgrade? No more sense than someone paying $30,000 more for a house because it is staged. But that’s how buyers react. Many pay more for a house simply because they like the people’s furniture. How silly is that? But true nonetheless.

    Why make these improvements, if you are not planning to sell your home? You of all people should know that all too often people need to sell their houses, when they least expect it. If you put 1/2 of 1% into upgrading the “look” of the house every year, you will get you a lot more for your investment than sinking $50,000 or more into yesterday’s “look”.

    Plus, you will enjoy the improved look while you are there. Almost every single time I spend up to a week running around changing the “look” of a property before putting it on the market, the owner says, WOW! I think I want to stay! And always, without exception, they regret not having made those quick and cheap changes, a long time ago.

  15. Apparently 48 hours of “work” takes longer than 48 hours, due to “dry time”. The new shower involved cutting out a portion of the drywall on both sides. Even though the new shower is bigger inside, and takes less overall space in the room, it does take up more “wall space” on both sides. So the drywall had to be cut, taped and the tape needed a “mud cover”. Since that mud had to dry before the walls could be finished, and the floor can’t be done until the walls are done, etc… the workers skipped yesterday and are back today.

    Will do an update at day’s end.

  16. Update. The room looks great! But it doesn’t function very well… Looks like we’re going to have to switch contractors midstream. How do you extricate from one and switch to another midstream?…will be interesting.

    In the meantime, my daughters have all arrived for the holiday and I kicked everyone out until they are gone. Too disruptive. Can’t say we’re worse off than if we hadn’t started it before they arrived. Can’t say we are better off either though.

    They have a new toilet and floor that isn’t a wet rug anymore. That’s good. The room is bigger without the interior walls so they can all see and stand in there to put on makeup etc… It kindof has a new door 🙂 …the shower looks great…but they can’t use it. So everyone is trekking up to my double headed shower in the big master bath…not that they are complaining 🙂 Not all at once, of course.

    So 2 days? NOT!! Further updates unavailable while we enjoy our holiday. All workers are banned from the house until then. More to come.

  17. Where did you find a “contractor” that thought this would be a good idea? Does he or she have a license or insurance? Have you obtained the required permits or inspections?

    A home is most American’s single most valuable possession and largest investment, and yet many people can’t seem to stomach the idea of paying a professional to do a professional job. A CHEAP bathroom remodel in a CHEAP house in King County better cost you $7000 or more up front. Otherwise plan on budgeting three times that to fix the water damage two years down the road. That “contractor” sure as hell won’t be around to sue by then.

    Not saying annyone’s advocating this, but, if you want to screw a young couple on a budget, remodeling a bath for chump-change and selling them a “professionally updated” house is a great way to do it. It only leads to problems. I was in a house this morning, its in escrow, every “repair” or remodel in there in the last 10 years is a code violation and a health and safety hazard, and it needs $25,000 just to get it back to a blank slate that’s safe to start updating.

  18. I totally agree with Duke, I am a contractor myself and these “real estate agents” think these things can be done in 2-3 days and around $1500, HA I am usually the third contractor on the job
    gutting all the existing work to make sense and try to seal up what got “missed” or mop up ruptured waterlines. keep on getting the low bid and you may get lucky, but if you don’t plan on losing time, labor and materials, get a qualified contractor, use your brain, and maybe some common sense!

  19. “I don’t think the question should be “can you renovate a bathroom in 48 hours for less than $5,000″, it should be “would you want to buy a house from someone that renovated the bathroom in 48 hours for less than $5,000″.

    Still think that way in 2009, Pete ol’pal?

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