The only thing harder than setting a realistic remodeling budget is sticking to it. The secret? Knowing when to splurge and when to save. Here are top picks from HomeAdvisor pros, including the architects and designers who draw up the plans, contractors who do the work, and repairmen who get called when things go wrong.

When to splurge

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

Long-lasting paint

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-to-$40-per-gallon range over the $10-to-$20-per-gallon economy stuff. Better paint will provide ample coverage — often in just one coat — and it will withstand scrubbing, fading, and mildew for many years.

Natural wood floors

Installing wood floors costs $4,500 on average, according to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide. 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. That’s a big reason why wood floors add significantly to a home’s value. Ultimately, you’ll likely recoup the cost if you ever decide to sell.

Cabinets you can count on

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

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. And it doesn’t require the periodic sealing that many other natural stones need.

Professional design

Don’t underestimate the value of good design help, especially on more involved projects like a kitchen or bath renovation. If you’re knocking down walls and putting in new mechanicals, you’ll need to hire an architect for a fee of about 10 to 20 percent of the 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.


A suite of high-end appliances — fridge, range, dishwasher — might run $20,000. That’s the price to pay for true built-ins. 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

Designer tile made of natural stone or glass is certainly striking, but a simple glossy white ceramic tile can deliver an elegant look for a fraction of the cost. Plus, it’s often much easier to maintain.

Light fixtures

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 incorporates ample layers of ambient, task and accent lighting.

Dan DiClerico is a reporter for HomeAdvisor, an online marketplace connecting homeowners with trusted service professionals to complete home projects. Visit