Q&A: Cash is king when it comes to home improvements

Dear Liz: My husband and I are squabbling over how to pay for the pool we may get. We have a line of credit on the house, and rates are still low. I say we use that, make it part of the mortgage and pass the cost on to the next owner (assuming that, someday, we sell this house). He wants to pay cash, which seems insane to me. I don’t pay cash to buy a car — why wouldn’t I finance a pool?

Answer: You probably should pay cash for your cars. Borrowing money is usually advisable only when you’re buying something that can increase your wealth, such as an education that helps you make more money or a home that can appreciate in value. Paying interest to buy something that declines in value generally isn’t a great idea.

Whether a pool can add value to your home depends a lot on where you live. If pools aren’t common in your neighborhood, adding one may not add much if any value. A pool could even place you at a disadvantage by turning off potential buyers who might not want to deal with the hassle and expense of pool maintenance. Parents with young children also may shy away from pools because of the drowning risk.

Adding a pool could increase your home’s value if you live in a warm climate and most of your neighbors have pools. But even then, it’s unlikely that your pool will add as much value as it would cost to install. (Home improvements rarely result in a profit — even the best-considered upgrades typically cost more than the value they add.)

A reasonable compromise might be to finance half the cost and pay cash for the rest. You’ll still want to pay off the line of credit relatively quickly, though. Lines of credit typically have variable interest rates that can make this debt more expensive over time.

You won’t be passing on the cost to the next owner in any case. Any money you borrow against your home has to be paid off when you sell, reducing your net proceeds. That’s yet another reason not to borrow indiscriminately.

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Comments

  1. Daytont turner says:

    While I definitely agree that credit purchases of depreciating products should be kept to a minimum, there are exceptions. In the case of an auto, there are sometimes no interest loans or loans under one percent where I feel it might be OK to not pay cash in full. If I can borrow, say 30,000, from a car dealer for less than one percent, that cash could easily be used to purchase stocks which pays better than one per cent. Unless, one can receive a greater discount from the dealer by paying fully in cash.

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