Each time my wife and I finish renovating a home, I tell myself that I will never fix up an older home again.  And yet, I find myself in the midst of yet another time consuming, budget sucking makeover that is sure to last well into the next decade.  Each time we finish a house, we suddenly get bored and romanticize about the next project around the corner.  I fully understand the appeal of wanting to buy something unloved and turn it your own masterpiece.  The reality however, is that most people are not really good at managing a project like this and jump into it with both eyes closed.  To that end, I've put together my Top 5 tips for those about to leap. Having done this dozens of times for myself as well as clients, I can honestly say that these are the best lessons to learn:

1- Don't do any work immediately unless you have to.

I understand your old home may need a new roof or a heating system or something else really important.  However I have seen too many homeowners take down walls or rip out kitchens well before they should have.  I always advise people to live in the home for 6 months before doing anything major.  Experience how the sun moves through your home.  Figure out where the cold leaks in or where you may need to change doors.  This kind of exercise will not only save you money in the long run, but allow you to make more informed decisions about what changes are necessary.

Before


After








This kitchen didn't require a full gut as originally planned.




2- Don't start work without a REAL budget.

Most homeowners have no idea how much things really cost.  The internet is full of bad information on how to 'do it yourself' and save thousands.  I once had a client who spent over $1000 on tile that he installed himself and wondered why the tiles were all popping off of the floor.  Products like tile have associated components (underlayments, grouts, sealers) that go well beyond the cost of just the tile itself.  He ended up having to rip all the tile out and start over.  There is also no substitute for qualified labor, which is not cheap.  I would suggest getting bids from a qualified contractor for anything you want to tackle.  Even if you don't use them, it's good to get a reality check before starting any project.  You can also hire an Architect to give you some ideas and estimates based on their recent projects.

3- Use the internet as a tool, not as a school.

Websites like Houzz and Youtube give people lots of inspiration and advice on how to create the home of their dreams.  There is nothing wrong with using Pinterest or Houzz to save boards full of ideas you can take and make your own.  Be careful though when it comes to implementing those ideas.  Just as colors look different on different screens, you must be familiar with the existing conditions and the nuances of different environments.   People who have installed wood floors in humid climates often find that the floors don't stay down for long.  Professionals understand these things and videos are no substitute for hands on experience.

4- Understand your goals.

Are you renovating a starter home that you plan to sell in five years?  Do you plan on never moving and raising a family here?  Make a list of the top priorities you have for the renovation and then determine if those make sense with your goals.  It may be cool to turn your garage into a great home theater  but your future buyers may not think so.  

5- Be honest with yourself as to how much you can do.  

There is nothing more frustrating than living in a renovation that never ends.  It places a great strain on a relationship as well as makes it difficult to move on with your life.  If you have a realistic budget in place, plan to get some help with the tougher stuff that might take you alot of time.  You might be able to lay a wood floor in a weekend, but tiling a bathroom could possibly take you a month of weekends or more.  If you follow steps 1-4, this one should be pretty easy to figure out.

In closing, remember that your home is your castle.  Fixing it up may be alot of work, but the rewards can also be great.  If you take your time and do it right, you are more likely to protect your investment as opposed to becoming a cautionary tale. Good Luck!
 
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