New-Home Syndrome: How Renovating Dreams Can Dig You Into a Hole


new home syndromeFor Roxanne Greenberg*, it all came down to the bathtub. It wasn’t just any bathtub, but a Victoria and Albert freestanding soaker tub with sleek lines and a deep basin. It also cost a cool $3,000.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s the nicest tub you’ll see in your lifetime. I thought it would be the pinnacle of my bathroom,” says Greenberg, a 42-year-old writer from northern New Jersey. “And then I realized how stupid I was because the only person who uses that bathtub is my 4-year-old daughter.”

Greenberg was suffering from what could—or perhaps should—be called New Home Syndrome. And it’s been known to afflict freshly minted buyers eager to turn their scruffy abodes into a page torn out of Dwell magazine. For Greenberg, it started when she and her husband, a public school teacher, remodeled their Colonial-style house. For other homeowners, it may start a few hours after their broker hands them the keys.

How Your Dream Home Can Do You In

For many Americans, buying a house is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. And, after a down payment and closing costs, their finances can be in a state of shock. But the siren call of decorating your new home is hard to resist, and it’s a sentiment reinforced by HGTV reality shows, websites like Houzz, and home decorating magazines that imply that the perfect living room is just one overpriced throw pillow away. Enticing as the message may be, furnishing a house to perfection can wreak havoc on a homeowner’s wallet and undercut longer-term financial goals.

“Greenberg’s remodeling aspirations went way over budget—and are still costing her in credit card debt.”

“We always advise our clients that the emergency fund should not be used for anything but an emergency, but of course people might march straight to Bed Bath & Beyond and start spending,” says Ellen Derrick, a certified financial planner™ with LearnVest Planning Services. “If you haven’t saved up for home decor, don’t put your financial security in jeopardy just to impress your friends with your decorating style.”

RELATED: Spring Renovation Challenge: How to Redo Every Room in Your House for Under $500

Cait Slater* and her husband spent a year searching for their first home, a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. When they finally landed one for $100,000 under budget, Slater took that as an opportunity to make her shabby-chic domicile look a little less shabby. In just a few months, she spent $30,000 refinishing the floors, repainting the rooms, and adding a patio to the mossy, overgrown backyard.

  • Desiree

    This article came at a perfect time for me. We are moving in to a new home next month and I can’t help fantasizing about how cool it would be to do this or that; redo the older kitchen etc. We are moving from a 5 room 2br unit to another 5 room 2 br unit. We should not be buying a single piece of furniture.

    I was also reading a few articles on Retro Renovation ( last night and even thought of submitting it to LearnVest since your goals are totally aligned!

  • SSM

    My husband and I just bought our first home 2 weeks ago and this article really hit home for me! Even though the house was just built, it has builder-grade items that I have been replacing like crazy. Even in these 2 short weeks I have realized that what I planned to do in a certain space really wouldn’t look good. Also the daily trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot have really depleted our bank account :)

  • RoseJB

    We thought we were being thrifty, buying other people’s leftover renovation materials. But we didn’t factor in the cost of tools and additional supplies! Learn from our mistake. Find out the cost of all of the materials you’ll need before you take on a DIY project.

  • veronica_corningstone

    My husband and I got lucky and found a rehabbed Victorian row house that didn’t need any immediate updating, as the previous owners did a great job, but it does need some exterior work, like painting and newer windows. I found out that the city we live in is offering a $5,000 rebate on exterior
    renovations for historic homes in our neighborhood, so I’m going to look into whether we can take advantage of that. It might be worth looking into incentives like that in your own city to subsidize any renovations and save some dough :D

    Thanks for the article, this is great!

  • imdb

    Awesome! Thank you for saying what the rest of us are thinking. It’s so easy to buy that new couch, then realize thecurtainsthepillowstheendtablestherug, etc. scream to be upgraded too. One room at a time. As Slater did in the article, once I’ve pinned something I like and looked at it for several weeks, I almost feel as if I already have it. The want seems to dwindle.

  • John

    This is a great article. We recently did a minimal renovation for our house and was under our budget. Before starting renovation work, we worked out an estimate for the budget. So, we follow the budget very closely. At the end, we still keep laminated counter top.
    For young family like us, saving is very important.
    Here is our rule for renovation:
    1. Try to DIY as much as you can.
    2. Buy reused items as much as you can.
    3. Stick with the budget and schedule. The longer you work on your house, the more money you will spend. So, set a deadline for completion. That’s it.
    4. Always think alternate product.