After the dogwoods bloom, you can start to see a fevered glint in the eyes of some homeowners. Suddenly, hardware stores and home improvement centers are overflowing on warm Saturday afternoons, and the sound of hammers banging, power tools humming and Gus down the street cursing at the bare studs in his third bedroom fill the air. Spring is the official start of renovation season, and every year it can bring on headaches, stress and maxed out credit cards. But it doesn’t have to be this way. After five years of renovating a 1921 bungalow, I’ve learned that although home renovation will never be an easy or seamless process, asking yourself a series of questions before you begin can help you make better decisions up front—before you’re several grand into the project and are surrounded by the remains of your kitchen walls.
1. How long do you plan to live in the house? The answer to this question can help you determine where to put the most energy in your home improvement project. If this is your home that you have no intention of leaving anytime soon, then do whatever project will improve your quality of life. Letting the thought of resale value dictate renovation on your home will lead to years of living with beige carpet and inoffensive paint colors. If, on the other hand, you know that your time in the house is finite, focus on the renovations that are most likely to draw the eye: kitchens, bathrooms, finished basements, decks, and attic bedrooms. Even in doing these, however, it is better to do the small work that can help curb appeal than recreate entire rooms. Wouldn’t it make you sick to spend money and time on a brand new bathroom that the new owners immediately rip out? So even if you are renovating with an eye to sell, always keep in mind that the first person you need to please is yourself.
2. How much are you willing to do yourself? Much larger projects are available to the average homeowner if you are willing to invest in some sweat equity. However, you need to know your interests, abilities and limits before you start. I may be perfectly capable of re-plumbing my bathroom, but I simply do not trust myself with work that important to daily life. A discussion with your co-renovator before beginning the project about what can (and should) be done in-house will stave off some nasty “uh-oh” moments, not to mention some avoidable marital conflict.
3. What are the priorities? Not all home renovation is as sexy as making your basement into a game room. Some stuff simply must be done to protect your investment in the house. If your house is in need of a new roof, an updated electrical system, or an improved drainage system, you will have to get those done before you tackle “fun” projects.
4. How much money do you have to spend? This is an important factor, because home renovation projects NEVER cost as little as you initially plan for. If you have $4000 to spend and that is exactly how much you expect the project to cost, then you’re going to get yourself in trouble financially. Build a cushion into your project costs, and think through all the possible extra expenses that aren’t part of your trip to Home Depot. For example, when my husband and I stripped wallpaper from all the downstairs rooms of our bungalow and then skim coated and painted the walls, it didn’t occur to us until we were mid-project that it would be very difficult to cook in our tiny kitchen that was now crowded with extra furniture from other rooms. So we had to add the cost of convenience foods and eating out to our project totals.
There is nothing more satisfying than putting the finishing touches on a home improvement project. Just remember that getting to that point does not have to be budget-breaking or stressful if you take the time to plan ahead.