The Guide to Home Renovations

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By Devon Thorsby, U.S. News & World Report - Real Estate

Whether you just closed on a fixer-upper or you’re looking to update the house you’ve lived in for 20 years, there’s a good chance you’ve got plans to make home improvements in the near future.

There’s also a good chance your renovation will be a major project: Among homeowners who frequent Houzz, a home improvement inspiration site and marketplace, 51 percent are planning to spend $10,000 or more on an upcoming renovation, according to Houzz’s 2018 U.S. renovation report.

“The underlying force for that growth is the fact that 50 percent of the housing stock today is 37 years or older," and most of these aging homes have roofs, furnaces, flooring and appliances that have reached the end of their lives, says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist for Houzz.

[post_ads]Sites like Houzz and Pinterest and decor companies like Ikea and Wayfair encourage homeowners to take on more do-it-yourself projects, while home renovation shows on HGTV and other channels inspire new trends in many houses throughout the U.S.

You may be looking to take on a small remodeling project that changes or updates the look and function of a space or tackle a larger renovation, which is typically geared toward restoring a space or building to peak performance and glory. Even a small repair or home improvement task, like annual maintenance on your HVAC system, requires some planning and consideration of the scope of the project. Here’s your guide to home renovations.
Know First: Why Remodel?

Before you start drawing up plans for an addition to your house or a major kitchen conversion, identify the reason behind your home improvement project: Does your plumbing need an update? Are you looking to convert a room to more usable space? Are you simply ready for a change? Understanding the motivation behind your project affects how you apply your budget, how you'll prioritize tasks throughout the process and whether you tap professional help.

Start be getting an initial feel for the project by looking online, says Leah Tuttleman, an interior designer certified by the American Society of Interior Designers and designer for Re-Bath, a full-service bathroom remodeling brand.

“Always do a little bit of research on your own to understand what your style is that you gravitate towards,” she says. It’s not just about knowing what you want the end product to look like, but getting a realistic view of how your budget will be allocated as well.

Here are five primary reasons you may want to update your house.

Maintenance. Whether the house is five or 105 years old, maintenance is required to keep everything working smoothly. Especially if you’re house is decades old, you’ll likely find the electrical, plumbing and even the foundation may need a little love to maintain a safe, stable structure for you and your family.

A renovation project driven mainly by the need for maintenance will likely mean the majority of the budget goes toward hiring licensed professionals and replacing dated materials. Depending on where you live, extensive work on the structure, electricity or plumbing may also require permits and an inspection.

Updating rooms. The plumbing may still be OK, but a 1980s kitchen might be an eyesore. Plenty of homeowners remodel to bring a space out of decades past and into current times.

For a kitchen or bathroom, much of the renovation budget may go toward new, state-of-the-art appliances. These updates may also involve high-cost materials like marble, new tile and custom cabinetry.
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As a result, consider splitting your budget between function and the appearance of the room. Sitchinava says many homeowners opt to wait until they update a room to address maintenance problems: “[For] any project, unless it’s a big water leak, people wait until they’re able to fix or upgrade [it].”

Try out new styles. You may have redone the living room 10 years ago, but those beige walls now make your stomach churn. So you may be looking to take on a remodel project simply to bring your home in line with current interior design trends. In many cases, this is a small remodeling job, so the budget can be focused on paint, furnishings or other decorative materials.

Because trends are, by definition, fairly short-lived, avoid taking on a major renovation purely for the sake of embracing a new trend. Steve Pallrand, owner of Home Front Build, a design-build and renovation company based in Los Angeles, recommends keeping the original style of the house’s architecture in mind: “The mistake a lot of people make is you walk into a Spanish colonial or even Craftsman house, and then you see a 1990s Home Depot kitchen or a modern kitchen.”

Getting ready to sell. Homeowners who are prepping their house for the market may need to make minor repairs, give rooms a fresh coat of paint or install a trendy backsplash to make buyers feel wowed when they tour the property.

When selling is the goal, home improvements are aimed at maximizing the return on investment. There’s no need to install a state-of-the-art kitchen when many homebuyers want to customize it to their needs; restained cabinets and a new countertop may be enough to freshen up the space for sale.

Improving efficiency. Many homeowners are looking to do their part to reduce energy waste and their utility bills by making energy-efficient upgrades. These may include adding solar panels to the roof, insulation inside the walls or a smart thermostat.
Most Popular Home Renovation Projects

Some rooms are more likely to see changes every few years, while other areas of your house, like your roof, may not need to be replaced for 30 years.

If you’re looking for inspiration or are curious to know whether your plans for renovating a linen closet are considered out of the box, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular home improvement projects:

Maintenance. Houzz’s renovation report finds that home system upgrades are gaining in priority among many homeowners, with the share of homeowners making system upgrades reaching 64 percent in 2017.

Popular maintenance-related projects include:
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Automation
  • Roof
  • Heating and cooling
  • Water heater
  • Ventilation
  • Insulation
  • Structural or foundation upgrades

Updates to rooms. You’re probably not shocked to hear that kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular remodeling projects. Forty percent of first-time homebuyers will renovate the kitchen shortly after purchase, according to the Houzz report, while as many as 30 percent of long-term homeowners also look to take on a kitchen project. For bathrooms, 25 percent of renovating homeowners will remodel a guest bathroom, and 22 percent are tackling the master bath specifically.
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But Sitchinava says some homeowners are starting to focus on another space for renovations: “The kitchen is clearly a big focal area when it comes to homes, but we’re seeing this emergence of another focal area, which is the master suite.” Homeowners aren’t just looking for a fresh, customized look in the common areas of the house, but they're focusing in on the more personal areas as well.

Popular room updates include:
  • Kitchen
  • Guest bathroom
  • Master bathroom
  • Living room or family room
  • Master bedroom
  • Outdoor living
  • Dining room
  • Home office
  • Master closet

Where trends fit in. Know that if you fully embrace a current style or trend – whether it’s the farmhouse-chic look seen on HGTV’s "Fixer Upper" or a minimalist, modern aesthetic – it may eventually look dated, simply because styles evolve over time and trends fall out of favor. Pallrand stresses that any renovation should be integrated with the style of your home: “There’s value in keeping your existing home … but you have to integrate that into this existing, perfect whole and now make something that works together.”

Whether you’re looking to update a room or bring in a few trendy pieces, there are some parts of your remodel that may be better areas to embrace a trend than others, simply because it’s easier to make changes if the style falls out of favor in a few years. Here are a few examples:

Lighting. You always have to option to make permanent lighting changes or simply add lamps throughout a room. Recessed lighting is currently popular and considered a classic, long-lasting look, although track lighting, which is now dismissed as dated in many markets, may have once held the same appeal.

Doors. Barn doors set on a track that slide over the doorway have been a popular upgrade for a few years, and they serve as an excellent solution to doors swinging into crowded rooms. The hardware is relatively easy to add or remove from a doorway should you decide to return to a hinged door.

Color. Embrace the hottest colors of the year – Pantone’s color of 2018 is ultra violet – by painting your living room walls or buying an accent pillow. Update your old floors with a darker stain when that light wood feels too early 2000s. Paint your front door to make it pop. Bring in a new, multicolored rug to infuse some life into your guest bedroom. Color trends change annually and month to month, and they’re fortunately fairly easy to implement and switch out in a room.

Furnishings. The simplest, least permanent way to bring in a current style or trend is with furnishings. Lamps, couches and a coffee table in the midcentury modern style may be exactly the look you’re going for now, while midcentury modern wallpaper will likely be a change you'll regret in a couple years.
Budgeting for Your Renovation

Know how much money you have to make renovations before you start your project, and research your options to get a better understanding of how much certain upgrades, materials and changes cost.

Typical home renovation costs. Chances are, the budget you have in mind won’t get you as far in a project as you think. The Houzz report found that 77 percent of renovating homeowners started with a budget in 2017, but 46 percent of them ultimately spent beyond their planned total.

“Either homeowners are just surprised how expensive products and materials are or … a fraction of the homeowners actually choose more upscale products and materials for their remodel,” Sitchinava says.

Pallrand attributes much of the increase in spending and unrealistic expectations to the fact that houses are generally more expensive today than they were 10 years ago. The increased cost to buy a house as well as the cost to hire a contractor and buy materials outpace the average increase in income. “Inflation in the real estate market is what’s putting people behind the curve,” he says.

Plus, if your renovation project involves a part of the house that hasn’t been touched in a while, who knows what you’ll find. Tuttleman says it’s often hard to set a budget before demolition for a major renovation begins because there’s no knowledge of deferred maintenance or systems issues until they’re visible. “We can’t see behind the walls,” she says.

[post_ads]Cash. Most homeowners don’t want to take on additional debt to fund their home updates or renovations. In fact, 85 percent leverage their cash or savings, according to the Houzz report. Necessary renovations for system updates or, say, a water heater breakdown are often considered good reasons to tap a rainy day fund.

With cash, however, be sure to budget accurately from start to finish on the project. You don’t want to get halfway through a bathroom remodel and run out of money, leaving your bathroom unusable for the next six months while you save.

Financing options. For major renovations and home rehabilitations, financing the updates will likely get you to project completion faster. You have the option to take out a home equity loan, which allows you to borrow an amount based on your home’s value – specifically, the equity you currently have in it based on how much of your mortgage you’ve paid off.

A type of home equity loan is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, which serves as a revolving line of credit, allowing you to borrow and pay off the amount as needed. The preapproved limit by the lender is based on your equity in the home.

Home equity loans are a great option for home improvement projects because they lend to increasing the value of your property, but borrowing for frivolous spending can lead to financial problems down the line. Only borrow what you feel confident you can pay back over time.
DIY or Hire Professionals?

Especially if you’ve got a limited budget, you may be hoping to take on a DIY home renovation. Home improvement tasks can be fun, rewarding and far less expensive than hiring a professional, but keep your level of expertise in mind as well as the amount of skilled work the project requires.

Many municipalities require permits for electrical and plumbing work, and those permits often require a licensed professional to at least sign off on the work if not complete it entirely. Even if it’s a simple repair, leave any project that could potentially harm you or the house to a professional.

When interviewing potential electricians, plumbers or general contractors, Tuttleman recommends leaning into your lack of expertise: If you don’t know how to describe what you want, find a picture of it.

“It’s hard to use the terminology that contractors, plumbers and electricians use, because you’re not sure how to describe clearly what you’re thinking,” she says.

Adding in the cost of labor may mean the scope of your project narrows, but you still have options. Re-Bath is one of many companies that offers consultations with a selection of bathroom options that have been styled by designers and offer additional customization. You don’t have to hire an interior designer separately, but the professional touch is still there, Tuttleman says.

The most important piece of advice when it comes to hiring professionals to remodel an old house is to let them do their job. You’ve hired experienced hands for a reason, so don’t micromanage.

“Not everything seems logical to an inexperienced eye,” Tuttleman says. It's important to allow a hired project manager – whether it’s the general contractor or interior designer – to be in charge of ensuring everything gets done as efficiently as possible. More sound advice: Avoid last-minute changes to your preferences and be clear on your expectations from the start.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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