You’ve spent the last few months searching for a new home. You’ve re-calibrated your wish list several times before finally deciding that in order to get into the neighborhood that you like and stay within your budget, you had better consider a fixer-upper. It looks easy enough, so how hard could it be? Besides, it looks like fun. You know that you would like to add or change some of the features in your new home, so how hard could it be? Well, if you are a first-time homeowner or a first-time renovator, stay tuned, this article is for you!
Fixing up an old or run down home has been a way of life for me and my family for as long as I could remember because I grew up with my parents being fixer-upper renovators. As a child coming home from school and walking through the front door, I was sure of one thing, somewhere in my path, there would be wet paint or freshly poured cement with piles of stone ready for stacking, electrical wires hanging from the ceiling, and of course, the furniture would always be in a different place. The perfect environment for this designer in the making.
Years later, I took it to a whole different level. As my children grew up amidst a full-scale major renovation in what was their childhood home, a 200-year-old historical beauty, and a thriving Interior Design and Renovation business operating at full force by their mother, whose first office was in that home. Now that they are adults, I wonder if this must somehow be in the genes as I see my 3-year-old grandson building “staging” as he climbs carefully with his hammer in hand and my 1 1/2-year-old granddaughter standing in her pink tool belt, smiling as I teach her how to retract her tape measure as they help with the next family project. Future renovators in the making, for sure. Needless to say, after 20 years of renovating clients houses and many more years of living in numerous fixer-upper projects, I do have some advice for anyone who has found themselves head over heels for their vision of what this is going to be like.
1 – Be patient and Listen to the house
I know you want to get into the exciting stuff right away. The kitchen, the bathrooms, taking down walls. But allow yourself a little time to access the property close up. Take your time, go through the details of the house slowly. Allow the house to show you what needs your attention first. Believe me, it will! Sometimes new renovators go right at it tearing into everything on their wish list, only to find, a few days or weeks into the project, that house had other more pressing issues that really should be addressed first. Usually, these are the less exciting projects, like the roof, the furnace, electrical, or plumbing issues. And my personal favorite from past experience in 2 of my own homes, water well or main water line issues. Many issues can be brewing that you are unaware of even when you’ve had a thorough home inspection. So be prepared with your budget to address some of these issues, should they come up sooner than anticipated in your renovation project.
2 – Really access your goals for the house.
Are you hoping to be living in the home for a while? Or are you going to be fixing it up and selling in a few years? Both of these scenarios should be approached very differently with regards to how to approach your plan, renovation, and budget. Be clear on your goals before you start. This will keep you from over-investing in design elements that only you think are great and might hinder the sale of your home if that is your intention. If you are here to stay, then you can create a plan of action based on your goal for you and your family.
3 – Have a detailed plan.
After accessing the house thoroughly addressing any immediate issues, now it’s time to develop a detailed plan. This is a great time to involve a design professional who knows the ins and outs of transforming your home with a renovation. An experienced designer will be able to review your plan and assist with creating a phased plan of action. This is important because you don’t want to find out later when you finally get to do your bathroom renovation, that the adjacent rooms, which you renovated first, will now be affected in order to run plumbing and electrical for your new bathroom project. You certainly don’t want to spend time and money backtracking because you didn’t do things in a logical order.
4 – Life during a renovation.
If you have the opportunity to do some or all of the work on your fixer-upper before you move in, then great. Plan those projects strategically. It’s much easier to address any floor work before you have a house full of furniture unless this doesn’t make sense for your timeline or project goals. If you are going to be living in your home and fixing it up as you go, really think about ways that you can make our life easier by progressing through the house and thinking out the logistics. This is something that I review with every client before a renovation. Even in the best of circumstances, your projects will cause some stress and logistical issues when your lifestyle is disrupted with a renovation.
5 – Don’t try to be your own contractor
Don’t try to be your own contractor unless you have the additional time and money needed to correct expensive errors that you might make by learning as you go. Pick and choose the projects that you know you can compete and that are within your skill set, if you want the hands-on experience. Remember that a poorly done renovation can cost just as much money as a professional renovation, usually takes much more time, and can actually decrease the value of your home if it doesn’t look great in the end. Hiring the pros will ensure you get the desired results without all the stress, guesswork, and endless hours trying to figure it all out.