High-end home improvements worth splurging on (and when it’s best to scrimp)

By Dan DiClerico

Published December 20, 2018

The only thing harder than setting a realistic remodeling budget is sticking to it. The secret? Knowing when to splurge and when to save on materials and services. I asked HomeAdvisor pros (including the architects and designers who draw up plans, contractors who do the work, and repairmen who get called when things go wrong) for their top splurge and budget items. Here are their top picks by category.

When to Splurge

It’s not worth cutting corners on the following five things:

Long-Lasting Paint

Paint store employee assists customer
Cheap contractor-grade paint goes on thin and is prone to fading, staining, and other flaws that make for an eyesore. You don’t have to blow your budget on crazy-expensive designer paint costing $100 per gallon or more. But it is worth investing in a high-quality paint in the $30-$40 per gallon range, versus the $10-$20 per gallon economy stuff. Better paint will provide ample coverage, often in just one coat, and withstand scrubbing, fading, and mildew for many years.

Natural Wood Floors

Man at a floor store looking at wood samples
Installing wood floors costs $4,500 on average. That’s three times as much as you’ll spend on bargain materials like vinyl or linoleum. But the warmth and beauty of wood floors is without comparison, plus they can be refinished several times, so they’re probably the last floor you’ll ever have to install. They’re also coveted amoung home buyers. Wood floors add significantly to a home’s value, meaning you’ll recoup the cost if you ever decide to sell.

Cabinets You Can Count On

Shop assistant showing kitchen cupboard to young couple
It always pays to spend more on things you interact with every day, and that includes kitchen cabinets. A drawer that sticks or a door that’s falling off its hinge after just a few months will fill you with all kinds of remodeler’s remorse. Custom cabinets can get very pricey, but nowadays you can find solid construction, including dovetail joinery and full-extension drawer guides, in reasonable semi-stock cabinets.

Hard-Wearing Countertops

Shop assistant showing design products
Countertops take a ton of abuse and they’re often a focal point of the kitchen. It’s worth spending more on a material that combines beauty and durability. Natural stones like granite and marble are the traditional favorites. But in recent years, quartz has emerged as a popular countertop material because it looks great and wears incredibly well, without the periodic sealing required with many natural stones.

Professional Design

Interior designer with digital tablet showing senior couple augmented reality, planning living room remodel
Don’t underestimate the value of a good designer, especially on more involved projects, like a kitchen or bath renovation. If you’re knocking down walls and putting in new mechanicals, an architect will be required, for a fee of 10 to 20 percent of overall project cost. If you just need help choosing fixtures and materials, a certified kitchen and bath designer will fit the bill for about half as much as an architect.

When to Save

Balance your budget by cutting back on these items.


Young family shopping for stoves in appliance store
A suite of high-end appliances—fridge, range, dishwasher—might run $20,000. That’s the price to pay for built-in appliances. But you can get similar looks and performance by choosing a cabinet-depth refrigerator, slide-in range, and traditional dishwasher, all for as little as $5,000.

Bathroom Tile

Worker and couple discussing plans in home improvement store
Designer tile made of natural stone or glass is certainly striking, but an affordable ceramic tile can deliver an elegant look for a fraction of the cost. Plus, it’s often much easier to maintain.

Light Fixtures

Woman Looking at Price Tag of Chandelier
Lighting is another category that can quickly get over-the-top, with sculptural designs and luxury finishes. If you’re on a budget, pass on the glam and instead make sure the overall lighting plan is noteworthy, with ample layers of natural, ambient, task, and accent lighting.

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