I haven’t even begun construction and I have already learned so much about how to go into a full home renovation (it doesn’t hurt that I research it every spare second that I can). I hope to both inspire and save you time and heartache with what I have learned in this process. My goal is that you are better prepared for what it actually looks like in real life and not just in a cleanly edited together 30 minute show or a beautiful magazine where it looks like a breeze!
This ending up being quite the long post so I divided it up into sections to make it a little easier to digest. The main sections on where to start on a full home renovation are:
1. Buying Your Home
2. Finding Your Budget
3. Creating Your Design
1. Buying your home.
If you already own the home you are going to reno – congrats! You have made it through one of the most stressful parts (at least for me anyway). If you are still in the process of looking for the perfect home to renovate, here are some things to consider while buying:
Spend more on a bigger place vs. add an addition: When we first began our house hunt I had these grand plans to buy the cheapest little house we could afford and build on a master suite, gorgeous new kitchen, etc. I read a bunch of stuff online about how it is cheaper to move than build an addition. I thought, this can’t be right? If I do almost everything myself from design to finishes, it can’t possibly be more?! Then I looked a little deeper. As someone who has done a lot of “facelifts” but never full construction, I was a little out of my element. Just trying to plan all the steps on paper, from pouring the foundation to hiring the right framers, to making sure I could oversee that the windows were hung right was overwhelming, to say the least. I decided to take a step further and have a general contractor take me through all the permitted steps (foundation, wiring, structural, etc.) and I could do all the finishes. That’s when I started calling around to get local prices (I will talk about this more in the next paragraph). After talking to quite a few general contractors in the area, the base price for getting through permitting was around $150, on the VERY low end, and permits in my City were 6 months or more out. This would not be a quick remodel or a cheap one! After running the numbers, it was definitely cheaper for us to find a house that was initially more expensive but had the shell and square footage we wanted. This ended up being more cost effective than trying to go cheap in the beginning and having not nearly enough budget for additions. This may be a different story for you if you or family members have lots of construction experience and could build the additions almost 100% DIY or your dream neighborhood is full of small houses and you have a large comfortable budget. This process looks different for everyone depending on your location and experience, additions and building-on may be a much more expensive option in the long run.
Call local contractors for local pricing! Don’t skip this step, I originally felt like I could rely on Google searches for general pricing. Nope. I happen to live in a high cost of living area which can give some serious sticker shock! but I rather know the reality now then after I buy a house that I end up not being able to afford to renovate. For example, we found a great yet small bungalow in a wonderful neighborhood with a large crawlspace for the basement. We felt that we could make the space work no problem if we turned the crawlspace into a finished functional basement and there were tons of companies in the area that specialized in this, win-win – right? I Googled the cost and the average price to convert a basement was about $50/sqft and some people were even doing it DIY (again, over my skill level). We almost made an offer on the house but I decided to make some calls to local companies about actual prices. The lowest price was $185/sqft, which for 500 extra sqft in the basement would be about $92,000. This wouldn’t include drywall, permits, radon testing or any finishings. It could also potentially lead to some pretty big headaches. After getting this info we luckily didn’t make an offer since the cost of just the basement conversion would be more than our home renovation budget at the house’s offer price.
General contractors were also quite a bit more expensive in our area than my initial research led me to believe. Now, I believe a good general contractor is worth every penny but sometimes those are pennies we just don’t have. After spending about two hours going through our local BBB.org website and finding about 6 licensed contractors that I would want to work with I called them for rates. While I did find a contractor in my area that could do the bare bones for $150/sqft, most of them quoted me $300-$450/sqft. So a normal sized 10×10 bedroom with no plumbing would be around 35,000 base cost. Most of the homes we were looking at were 2 bed/1 bath houses. To add a master suite which is an average of 350/sqft at the totally finished price of $450/sqft would be $157,500 and take up most of the yard unless we built up. We also factored in it would have been a delay of about a year to get started due to schedules and permits. That can be really stressful environment to live in for a year and these are all factors to consider when doing an addition in your home renovation.
Your area may have a lower cost of living and construction and it may be absolutely worth the addition costs. Especially if you are already in your dream location and have no desire to move and need more space. But before you buy a house that is 1000/sqft when you really need more like 2000/sqft, take the time to get local rates from contractors. It may be cheaper to buy a more expensive 2000/sqft house than the smaller cheaper one where you have $300,000 in additions and a year of stressful living.
How big of a renovation can you take on? While house-hunting we found some really nasty houses at great deals. If I was a pro-flipper I would have been on these places like white-on-rice. But as much as I love to watch all the gory to gorgeous flipping shows on HGTV, I had to have a very honest conversation with myself that I am indeed not a pro-flipper. Plus these homes needed a month or two of intense work before they were even inhabitable and that would be a good chunk of the reno budget spent on rent until we could move in. This ended up really narrowing my housing search to a home that already had the square footage we needed and required a total update instead of a total gut.
2. Finding your Budget
How easily I can get lost in beautiful design and planning the perfect dream home but then we all have to fall back into reality and focus in on that dirty word – budget. But it is there, hovering over your whole project making you limit what dreams you can chase. And as dirty of a word as it is, it is the most important piece of your renovation.
How to pay for a renovation. There are many different ways to pay for a renovation and it is important to research them all so you can choose which one you are most comfortable with doing. The first is either with your savings or setting aside money in your paycheck and do a pay-as-you-go. If you are using your savings the budget planning is pretty straight forward, you have X amount of cash and that is your budget. If you pay-as-you-go with a set amount from your paycheck every month, you can budget on a monthly basis. This way of financing will probably result in a slower renovation but if time is one your side and you don’t want to dip into savings or take out a loan, it may be a good option for you. These are both cash options that won’t require a loan.
Loans are another way to finance your renovation. There are a couple of different kinds of renovation loans you can get. I recommend talking to a local credit union or bank in your area that provides these loans to get detailed information on how they work and what they would look like for your personal finances. Then when you are confident on what works best for you, shop around for the best interest rates. I am not a finance person so I really had to sit down with an expert and have the process fully explained to me and I am so glad I took the time to do that. I was able to make the best financial decision on which payment route to take with no regrets. Some loans to consider are Home Equity Loans, HELOCs and FHA 203(k) loans. A very important thing to remember when taking out any of these loans is, unless you have owned your home and refinance it and cash-out, all these loan payments will be in addition to your mortgage payment. Before taking out the loan, always double check that the total cost of your mortgage, renovation loan monthly payments and bills combined are something that you are comfortable spending every month. Renovations are stressful enough, you don’t want the added stress of stretching your finances too thin and being “house poor”.
Forming a budget. Once you have figured out a comfortable financing plan you will have a set budget that is either cash on hand or a total loan amount. This is where you will form your design (I will go more in detail about this in step 3). After your design is created you can go through and price everything out. If you hire a pro, like a general contractor or a designer, they will help you with this part. If you are almost exclusively DIY on your reno like I will be, unfortunately you are on your own to price everything out. I recommend doing this for the whole house before buying anything or beginning any work. This pricing includes sub-contractors (always get three quotes!), materials and tools. This will be very helpful because if you are like me and have champagne taste on a box-wined budget (my husbands personal motto for me!) then you will need to prioritize certain things or spend more time looking for deals to get everything you want. The more organized you are about pricing everything out, the more likely you are to get your whole renovation done without the stress of running out of money. This can always be done in phases as well, it’s totally up to you how quickly you want to complete your entire reno.
Always overestimate. Always. My standard overestimation for my home renovation is always at least 20%. What that means is if you have $100,000 for a renovation, only plan on using $80,000. That extra 20% that you pretend doesn’t exist will save you from all kinds of unpleasant surprises. The cost of wood unexpectedly goes up, your water heater fizzles out, your home needs more structural work than you thought, you forgot to factor in the cost of buying or renting tools for your DIY projects, the list goes on and on… In a whole house renovation, or even just a single room renovation, that “nonexistent” 20% can be a total lifesaver. If at the end of the renovation you just totally killed it and you didn’t need to use some of the overestimation money, you’re in a wonderful, stress-free situation. Use that extra money to upgrade to your dream tile, build a trellis in the backyard or go on a vacation to Hawaii – I have no doubt you will need it after this.
3. Creating your design
Now to the fun part, the whole reason you are doing everything in the first place! Let’s talk design.
DIY vs. hiring a pro. These are both great options when creating the perfect design for your dream home and there are pros and cons to each one.
I’ll talk about hiring a pro first and they’re are two main types of pros you can hire for this step. A design-build firm will be great for huge renovations that will often require an addition and major structural changes. The beauty of a design-build firm is that you will just have to coordinate with one company the entire time. An interior designer or interior architect can be great with more interior focused remodels. If you haven’t had your eye on a certain firm, and great place to start looking is houzz.com and “old-fashion” Google searches. Spend time finding websites and portfolios of local companies that really match your style then find a few to schedule an in-person consultation. Personality of the designer can be just as important as their style, designing your home is an incredibly personal thing and you want to be working with someone that you enjoy collaborating with and really listens to you. The pros of hiring a designer are, well, they’re pros. They know design and how to make a space work. If you are busy or just want that professional guidance, hiring a designer is a great option. The only really con is that it may be more expensive, you will be paying for the expertise of the designer and may not have access to as many “budget” materials.
Now lets talk DIY. If you are like me and spend a good 80% of your life thinking solely about design, this may be the best option for you. This option is pretty self-explanatory so we can get straight into the pros and cons. The pros of DIY design is that you have total control over style, budget and details. You get to spend hours figuring out the perfect flooring at the perfect cost and watch YouTube video after YouTube video on exactly how to install it. If this sounds like an absolute nightmare, then investing in a designer is 100% worth it, but if it sounds like your typical Friday night then DIY may be a dream come true. But there are cons to DIY. As much as you love the process – planning, designing, cost-estimating then actually doing the work may be an overwhelming addition on top of your already busy life. Plus you are only one person, so doing all the work yourself and factoring in learning curves could end up taking about 10x what a pro could. If you are going to be making structural changes it is always worth the money to consult with a structural engineer and pull the correct permits or things could go very wrong, very quickly. These are all factors that are going to be different for every individual homeowner so taking a realistic look at the pros and cons will help you decide the best way to plan your design.
Design is personal. Unless you are planning on selling your home quickly and need a lot of resale appeal, design your home the way you and your family want it. If you love French Country, don’t design in an industrial feel because someone told you it’s on trend now or it’s what you need to have good “taste”. Spend time on Pinterest or reading design books of all styles and see what both makes you relax and feel comfortable and inspires you.
I will go more into how I planned my design here.
Especially in today’s crazy housing market, doing a full homerenovation may be the best way to get your exact dream home in your dream location. I hope after reading this you feel confident and prepared in your decision and have exciting but realistic plans. I can’t wait for you to follow along on my full home renovation with me and see the good, the bad and the ugly of what can happen!