Beware the 4 most expensive words in home remodeling | Entertainment/Life

Once again, even though I know better, those four little words, often uttered in the throes of a home remodel, got me: “As long as we’re” remodeling the kitchen, let’s update the guest bathroom! Yeep!

That innocuous little phrase, “as long as we’re,” and its falsely implied convenience, also masquerades as the equally dangerous (and expensive) four words: “While we’re at it” … After these humble phrases often come the words why don’t we, or we should, or let’s. Next thing you know, your whole house is torn apart.

My husband and I were in the process of remodeling our kitchen and had picked new stone for the counters. If you’ve never done this, it involves buying slabs of the rock the size of freeway ramps. To avoid unseemly seams in your counters, you often need to buy more slab than you technically need, which means you’ll have pieces left. Sometimes big pieces. Which you own and will go to waste, unless …

True to my Scottish blood, I could not abandon all that good bought-and-paid-for quartzite, but where? How? Ding! The upstairs guest bath!

A long story short

Here’s where the tailspin begins. When we bought the Happier Yellow House five years ago, I knew I wanted to remodel this Jack-and-Jill bathroom. Designed with children in mind, the double-sink vanity was only 31 inches high. Standard counter height is 36 inches.

Even I, at a towering 5-foot-3 with shoes on, feel like a basketball player in that room. Because most of our guests are over 4 feet tall, I wanted a standard height vanity with new counters. The existing countertop was a molded marble-wanna-be material that flowed right into the sink basins. Cool 20 years ago, I suppose.

However, the thought of tearing out the old (barely used) vanity, finding a new one, buying new sinks and faucets, and pulling out the plated glass mirror that would need to go if the counter moved up, seemed daunting and expensive. By my mental estimate, which usually falls short, it rang in at around $5,000. So we did nothing.

Until, ding!

Overcoming obstacles

When the woman from the stone installation company came to measure for the kitchen counters, she mentioned the stone remnants. Knowing the potholes, cliffs and brambles that lay ahead, I almost said nothing, but before reason intervened, the words were out. “Just curious, would we have enough stone left to do a bathroom upstairs?”

“Let’s look,” she said.

We stood there, two giants, surveying the situation. “You have more than enough stone,” said the counter woman, who has been doing this for 30 years. “Builders don’t do these child-high sinks anymore,” she added. “Kids grow up.”

“Meanwhile, they can use a stool,” I said.

Then, as if reading my mind, she removed one project obstacle after another. The same contractor who would be doing the carpentry work in the kitchen could remove the existing counter and raise the vanity to standard height. Her company could provide new porcelain basins. We could reuse the existing (again barely used) chrome faucets.

The cost counts

This was starting to make sense, but the sinking concern remained. How much? She worked up a price. To make and install the quartzite counters and backsplash, $850, including sinks. For the carpenter’s part, to remove the old counter and mirror, raise the existing double vanity five inches, put in a new toe kick, and reconnect the faucets once new counters were in, $875.

My heart was skipping. I mean, when was the last time a home design project cost less than you thought? What’s more, I wouldn’t be destroying a perfectly good vanity, or throwing away good stone. Plus, I had both the workers and the materials in hand. In this day of supply chain delays and labor shortages, when that happens, you seize the moment.

I had only one hurdle left. “Honey?” I approached my husband. “As long as we’re …”

Taking on an additional home improvement when you are in the middle of another one can be a big, expensive mistake. But not always. Here’s what to consider next time those four little words cross your mind:

THINK IT THROUGH: Be careful of making impulsive remodeling moves. If the project is one you’ve been thinking about and wanting to do, but the timing or price haven’t been right until now, consider going for it.

KNOW THE COSTS AND SCOPE: Be sure you have a good handle on the labor and material costs for your existing project as well as the new one before you start. So costs don’t spiral, know before you commit what you will need to buy, what you can reuse, and who will do the work for how much.

HAVE WORKERS AND MATERIALS IN HAND: A big upside to doing two projects at once is efficiency. Workers can do the work at one time. If you have trusted contractors ready to go, and the materials are available, you could come out ahead in time, money and hassle.

KEEP DISRUPTION TO A MINIMUM: Think twice before tearing up too much of your home at once. The inconvenience may not be worth it, especially if you have to move out.

DOES THE IMPROVEMENT FIT THE HOME?: Be sure the update will integrate with the rest of the house. Changes need to harmonize or the upgrades will look out of place.

DOES THE IMPROVEMENT FIT THE NEIGHBORHOOD?: If resale value matters, and it should even if you’re not planning to move, then make sure your neighborhood can support your home improvement. You never want to be the best house on the block. However, if everyone around you has updated their decades-old kitchens but you, you may want to step up to meet market norms. 

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books. She can be reached at

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