Things to Consider When Renovating a House

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Here’s how to zero in on a home project that can pay off.

If you’re like most homeowners gearing up for a renovation project, you’re probably excited about improving your home, but apprehensive about the cost. After all, renovations can make homes better to live in and potentially better for resale. But they’re also generally big-ticket expenses. In 2019, remodeling a bathroom, for example, was estimated to cost around $20,420 on average, while adding a deck made out of composite can cost about $19,150.

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What’s more, not all home renovations deliver the same value, which can add to the anxiety of deciding what to tackle and how much to spend. These steps, offered by contractors and homeowners who’ve been through the home renovation process themselves, can help you choose the right project and develop a plan that can help you avoid getting in over your head.

Understand the payoff.

If increasing your home’s resale value is a primary consideration, online guides can help you identify a project with the greatest potential upside, such as new entryways or adding a deck.

But keep in mind that your neighborhood’s home values can affect whether you will recoup your investment. “Look at your neighbors and the level of the remodeling they do, and don’t go overboard,” advises Betsy Nichol, an interior designer in Centerville, Ohio§.

Of course, you may be like Janell and Warren Bendler, whose dream kitchen project was primarily about “joy value” rather than resale. The Bendlers were in their South Euclid, Ohio, home for 27 years before they finally decided to spring for an expansion plan that involved tearing out a wall and moving a bathroom.

“We knew we’d never get it [the investment] back,” says Janell Bendler. “We did it for ourselves.”

Know your real renovation price.

It’s one thing to know a bathroom renovation is a good investment, another to know how much renovation is worth the money. Conventional wisdom holds that rounding up the average of bids from three contractors will give you an idea of what your project will cost.

But you have to be very specific about what you want. It can be surprising how much prices swing. Being detailed about brand names and types of materials can help to make apples-to-apples comparisons possible and keep costs down.

Remodeling a bathroom, for example, runs $20,420 on average, while adding a deck made out of composite will cost about $19,150.

2019 Cost vs. Value Report
Remodeling Magazine

You also want to know what you don’t want to do—because contractors may say, “Well, if you’re putting in new cabinets, you should do the floors too.” Casual decisions can drive costs up. Online calculators can help offer guidance on project component costs.

Being clear about your priorities and disciplined about sticking to them are also key to helping prevent creeping costs. “Know your ‘must-haves’ (the reason behind your remodel) versus your ‘nice-to-haves’ (what you’d like if the budget allows it),” advises Jean Brownhill, CEO of Sweeten††, a homeowner-contractor matchmaking service.

Get more value for your renovation.

Once you have an idea of price, choose a contractor who has demonstrated expertise and a willingness to talk through your decisions. For example, find someone who can guide you through the pros and cons of spending $700 to move a kitchen sink. Exploring online resources can help you find home renovation ideas and avoid common missteps.

Closely reading contractor bids before you sign can also help protect you from going over budget. Make sure that allowances for materials like faucets, lighting, and tiles will cover the quality of those items that you want. You may also be able to rein in costs with a little legwork.

The Bendlers were able to reduce expenses on flooring and counters by 20 to 30 percent by utilizing suppliers outside their local, more urban area. “We found that the farther we got from the city, the cheaper the prices were,” says Janell Bendler. “The kitchen island counter is quartzite. It was going to be $3,000, but we were able to get it for $900 by driving out to a rural stone yard.”

Whether you’re financing your project in cash or utilizing a home equity loan‡‡, don’t max out on your spending. Plan to have a buffer, like an extra 10 percent. You don’t want to put all your money into your home renovation and have nothing left in your savings. You also don’t want to get caught without the resources you need to finish the job.

Related Content

Remodeling Magazine, 2019 Cost vs. Value Report.

See for example, For Sale by Owner, “Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff.”

§Interview with Betsy Nichol.

Interview with Janell Bendler.

††Interview with Jean Brownhill.

‡‡All loans are subject to credit application and approval.

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