The economy may be steadily showing signs of improvement, but for many budge conscious homeowners, setting aside the funds necessary for a wide-scale renovation may be unrealistic. However, with a few of these tips, it may be easier to prioritize the projects that should happen now from those that can wait until better financial times.
The first thing a homeowner should ask is whether a project needs to happen immediately, or whether it can wait. If there’s a pressing issue like a defunct heating system or structural error in the house, these should take precedence. However, if a homeowner has no immediate need for renovation but simply wants to improve the appearance of his or her domicile, there are many ways to do so without breaking the bank.
Increase efficiency, not size.
If you can reorganize and equip your kitchen for maximum utility, you may not need to blow out the walls to gain square footage. Start by replacing space–hogging shelves with cabinet–height pullout drawers 8 inches wide, containing racks for canned goods and other items. “You’re getting three or more horizontal planes where you might otherwise get only one,” says Louis Smith Jr., an architect with Meier Group, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You could easily shell out a few thousand to outfit cabinets with upgrades like dividers, pull–out pot trays, and lazy Susans, but you’ll save many times that amount by skipping the addition you thought you needed.
*Cost to expand kitchen by 200 square feet: $48,000 to $95,000
Cost of super–efficient, custom–designed cabinets: $35,000
SAVED: Up to $60,000
Do your own demo.
Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. “If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that,” says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. “But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before.” The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load–bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, “Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.”)
Cost to demo a 200–square–foot deck yourself: $450 (Dumpster rental and parking permit)
Cost for a pro: $1,000
Make sweat equity count.
Unless you’ve got loads of time (and expertise) to spend on your project, the best way to add sweat equity is up front, by handling your own demolition, or at the back end, by doing some of the finish work yourself. “If you want to save money, dig in and start helping out,” says Tom Silva. “You can insulate, you can paint, you can sand.” Or better still, he says, help with cleanup every day. “Instead of paying someone to pick up sawdust off the floor, put your money into the time it takes to trim the window properly,” he advises.
Cost for construction crew to handle cleanup: $200 per day
Cost to do it yourself: $0
SAVED: About 3 to 5 percent of the overall job cost
Plan with stock sizes in mind.
“Ask yourself, ‘Why am I building something 10 feet wide if plywood comes in 4–foot–wide sheets?'” says Lisa Stacholy, of LKS Architects, in Atlanta. The same applies to stock windows and doors: Use manufacturers’ off–the–shelf dimensions from the outset and you will save the premiums of custom fabrication. Cost of custom doors: $1,500—$2,500
Cost of standard doors: $500–$800
SAVED: Up to $2,000
Use Home Equity to Finance your Flooring & Cabinets
If you are thinking about using home equity for something, consider the consequences first. Your home equity is one of your most valuable assets as a homeowner. You could do many different things with your home equity, but not all of them are a wise investment. Once you use your home equity it may take several years to get it back
One of the best things that you could possibly do with your home equity funds is to improve your home. When you use the money from the equity of your home to actually improve the home, you will be creating even more equity. When you do this, make sure that you are using the majority of the funds for projects that add value. Buying new curtains is not going to increase the value of your house. Adding a room onto the house will add value.
When you are deciding what to do to your house, keep an eye out for permanent changes to the structure. When you put in hardwood flooring, update the cabinets, and add on rooms, you are improving the house as a whole. When you get new carpet or drapes, you are just making it look nicer. While other things can make your house more enjoyable while you live in it, they may not actually add value. Therefore, try to put your focus on projects that actually add value.