Want to know which projects pay? Real estate professionals and remodelers reveal their top picks. 

By Logan Ward
May 05, 2005

Here's a little quiz. Which of the following remodeling projects will most likely quicken the pulse of a would-be buyer: an attic playroom for the kids or a master bath with a bubbling jet tub and view of the surf? Exactly. That's because when it comes to coastal home resale value, not all remodeling projects are created equal. Based on interviews with leading real estate agents and remodelers along some of the country's hottest stretches of shoreline, this list of 10 projects will likely pay off when the "for sale" sign goes up.

1. Flowing living spaces
Transforming a cramped, stuffy warren of rooms into an open, informal living space fits with most people's dream of life near the water. And, says Gregg Fujita, an agent with Harbor Bay Realty in Alameda, California, "because coastal space is at such a premium, creating a home that feels spacious is very appealing." Even six-figure construction projects can pay off, so long as they don't cost more than 10 percent of the home's total value.

2. Glass, glass, and more glass
People crave natural light and postcard views of the coast. Skylights, bigger and more-stylish windows, height-gaining transoms, and French doors enhance an existing home.

3. Outdoor life
"Any way to help people enjoy the outside adds value to coastal homes," says Robert Van Cleef, owner of Yankee Housewrights, a remodeling company based in Jamestown, Rhode Island. According to Remodeling magazine's 2004 "Cost vs. Value" report, a $6,900 deck addition will recoup $6,000 (or more than 86 percent of the cost) at resale. Screened porches, patios, outdoor showers, outdoor dining areas, and open-air fireplaces are also popular.

4. Landscaping
An attractive yard goes hand in hand with outdoor living space. Native plants help establish a sense of place and are much easier to maintain than imports. Net effect: small investment, big visual return.

5. A new bath
Plumbing and costly fixtures make bath remodeling more expensive per square foot than any other home improvement. But the expense is worth it, say real estate professionals. A makeover that costs $25,000 will recoup an average of $21,000 at resale. Even adding a bath (average cost $41,500) will, according to the Remodeling report, earn back more than 80 percent of your investment.

6. Dream kitchen
Makeovers in this room top most remodeling greatest-hits lists, coastal or otherwise. Specifics: Do include a commercial ice maker; you always need cubes at the beach. Do not include a trash compactor; the hassle-factor is high, especially if you'll be putting your home up for rent. A minor kitchen remodel can return more than 90 percent of its cost.

7. Fresh new face
Whether you're adding weather-resistant exterior siding or reconfiguring the facade, "a face-lift gives your home street appeal," says Pat Campbell-White of RE/MAX Realty Group in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. "And no matter how [much of a] cliché it is, you never get a second chance to make that first impression."

8. Heart and soul
Attitude inside counts, too. Cosmetic changes, such as wall colors and furnishings that complement the cheery colors of the coast, give visual cues that make a beach or bay house feel like home.

9. Boat parking
The hassle of getting a permit can make building a new dock a real headache. But for houses with navigable-water access, a private space to tie up a boat is a real bonus, if not de rigueur. "Jump through the hurdles to build a dock and around here it might mean a five-to-one payback on your investment," says Robert Van Cleef of Jamestown, Rhode Island, which faces the boating haven of Newport. Already have a dock? Additions such as a boat lift or built-in seating increase value.

10. Central air-conditioning
As much as we wax poetic about salt breezes, on those stifling August afternoons when there's not enough airflow to ruffle a window sheer, being able to switch to back-up cool is a major relief. "No matter how shaded and cool your house is, if it doesn't have central air, and nine out of the other 10 houses on the market do, yours will be at the bottom of the list," says Pat Campbell-White.