The Timeline
As Weinstein points out, the longer you stay in your house, the more likely you are to recoup your costs. With home prices rising about 5 percent a year, your outlay will eventually be absorbed into the increase in the property's value. (Plus, you'll be able to enjoy your renovations for those years.) A few caveats: There is no natural law that says prices must go up, so don't depend too heavily on that annual bump. And remember that sometimes life can throw a curve, and you might have to put your house on the market sooner than expected.

For some projects, time also works against you. "There's stylistic depreciation," says Harvard's Baker. "All the fads now are for knocking down walls and making big rooms. But ten years from now, that might not necessarily be the case." Kitchens and bathrooms are especially prone to looking dated, as anyone who has blanched at discovering avocado-green appliances in their dream house can tell you.

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