Saving for Home Improvemen​ts

My wife and I live in an old house (built in 1911), and have a list of projects a mile long that would improve the house.  Some we will absolutely have to get done if we ever decide to move – e.g., fix the trim in the upstairs hall, replace the railing by the back stairs.  Others would be bigger upgrades – installation of storm windows, finishing the basement.  We have estimated that with $30,000 over time, we could have the house in great condition, love living there, and have it move-in ready to put on the market if the time came we decided to sell.
 
Of course, we infrequently get around to checking anything off the list by doing it ourselves, do not have enough saved and are not saving enough, to be able to put that money into the house.
 
My brother just bought a new house, and now he and his wife have to sell their current one.   They brought in a “stager” to walk through and point out the projects that are must-dos before listing the house (as well as telling them how best to arrange the furniture, what lighting to use in the listing pictures, etc.).  They are going ahead with spending a bunch of money on these projects. Most are things that I know my sister-in-law wanted done all along, before they ever decided to move. 
 
I cannot say I have seen any authoritative studies on the subject, but I have repeatedly encountered this theme that most people only get around to making many improvements when they anticipate selling the home.  Like anything, people procrastinate, and when they want to sell their homes, often realize they need to spend a bunch of money (money they may not have planned for) and work really hard in a short period of time in order to get the house ready for sale.  
 
The kicker is that we would all enjoy living in our homes more, now, if we got around to getting this stuff done.
 
I think there is room in the financial planning toolkit for a vehicle similar to 401k’s for retirement or 529 plans for education. Of course, not with respect to tax benefits (that I would be aware of), but at least with respect to the savings mechanism, I propose a product that would build savings for home improvements into your monthly mortgage payments.  This money could be put in a separate account, and could accumulate sight-unseen until the family decides to go for a kitchen upgrade, addition, or other improvement.
 
The idea would be to have a pool of funds specifically available for home improvements, and make the saving automatic.  We already pay a lump sum payment for the mortgage, home insurance, and taxes. 
 
Putting a special label on those dollars would encourage a positive use of mental accounting.  It would make homeowners more likely to save funds and use them in a way that could be potentially profitable, in terms of building equity in the home, or simply using them in a way that improves their quality of life. I believe that many homeowners would opt for a savings strategy that is specifically geared toward helping them actually improve, not just pay for, their homes.
 
This could be a product that banks and lenders could include with their mortgage offerings.  Of course there wouldn’t necessarily be penalties for misuse of the funds, as there are for withdrawals from a 401K, but I believe the mental accounting effect would be powerfully enough that most would use the money for its intended purpose.  (I have savings accounts earmarked for education for my daughters, and I would am loath to spend a dollar from those accounts.  $20 in my wallet, though, isn’t likely to last a week).
 
From “rational economic agent” perspective, this doesn’t make any sense.  I theoretically should not need a savings account with a separate label, or need to “hide” the savings from myself by embedding them into a larger monthly payment.  I should be able to maximize the utility of my current consumption, as compared to the utility of investing in the home, and as compared to any other investment opportunities.  It’s hard to argue that I do that.  Instead, my wife and I eat out too much.

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