Top Home Renovation Tips for First-Timers

Are you considering a home renovation or remodeling project but a little hesitant? I’m going to share a few things I learned this year, my top home renovation tips list, especially relevant if this is your first-time home remodeling experience. If we can pull off a whole-home reno during COVID quarantine, you can do it any time!

When we bought our home in 2013, we knew it was going to need some updating in the future. The cabinets showed wear, the granite was not what we’d call attractive and the flooring was what we called “FU beige.” (The seller was told she had to repaint the interior and exterior and put in all new carpet and she was unhappy. Her color and paint choices said it loud it clear.) We had other priorities when we moved in, so we put it off.

And you know how that goes. That Home Upgrade and Repair List started the day we moved in and got longer throughout the years. We were okay with it, as our two dogs were aging and having accidents. We traveled. We spent money elsewhere and weren’t worried about the house much.

Then last year, our 25th wedding anniversary came around, our first grandbaby was born, our son graduated from high school and we put off our anniversary trip to Europe until 2020.

And we know how 2020 went.

Not long into COVID quarantine, I got laid off. Other things we’d planned got cancelled. We decided that since I happened to have some time on my hands, we’d jump into the renovation, not just here and there, but with both feet.

Let the organized chaos begin.

But first….a couple of questions we were asked:

What are the Best Home Remodeling Ideas?

This is largely a personal choice, but for home value, real estate experts will say kitchen and bathroom updates and upgrades. These can be the two most expensive upgrades, but they will also give you the best return on investment. Quality of life matters to homeowners and people spend a lot of time in these two spaces. Make them comfortable, functional and enjoyable.

Is It Cheaper to Remodel or Buy a New House?

We considered just selling our house and buying a new one. Interest rates were relatively low, and it was a seller’s market. However, that means we’d have to put our stuff in storage and wait to buy until it become a buyer’s market, or we’d just have to put all our profit into someone else’s house, not really saving us any money. Since we could add everything to our current home via a remodel, other than adding a larger property/yard, it was definitely cheaper to remodel.

What Should You Not Do When Remodeling a House?

Customize your home so much that it becomes a nightmare for a new buyer. Crazy paint colors, ugly strange flooring or dated decor can all be detriments to an easy sale.

first time home renovation tips
Morning of Day 1, aka Demo Day

We’re not yet completed, but I’ve got a list of top ten first time home renovation tips to share that may help save you a little time and money.

Top Home Renovation Tips for a Successful Remodel

  • Get multiple estimates.
    • Our first electrician estimate was almost $11,000. We got two more estimates for the exact same work and both the others came in for less than $3000. (And the company we chose was reliable, on time, and the work was perfect!)
  • Go over every estimate line by line.
    • It may sound like a great price, so great that you want to sign before you miss out, but don’t feel pressured. Take the time to go over the estimate, item by item, line by line. Ask the questions to be sure you understand what each charge is for. We got our flooring estimate and it came in under our allotted budget, so we got excited. Still, it felt high, so I asked the rep to go over it with us. Turns out, there was a $1200 error in their favor, and we found that they were charging $1250 to remove our old flooring. We already had planned to have over half of it removed, so we took out that line and ended up saving $2450 between these two things…things that they should have explained to us, so be sure you make them accountable before you sign the contract.
  • Be willing to put in some work by getting dirty.
    • See above. Ripping out old laminate flooring wasn’t what I’d call fun, but it only took a few hours, a crow bar and a trip to the dump to save that $1250. If your underfloor/base is too uneven due to old glue or whatever, that can also add time and expense to professional flooring installation. Scraping it off is worth your time.
  • Know when to let the professionals do the work.
    • Ripping out carpet is something we can do, with a little sweat, muscle and another trip to the dump, but to have the pros do it was only about $125. They charge $35 to move appliances in/out for new flooring, and while that might sound like an easy $35 to save, if they scratch the floor, they’re responsible for it and they will repair it for free. Not so much if you damage it.
  • Work with people who work with you.
    • Use contractors, cabinet makers, installers, etc., that are patient. This doesn’t mean we get to waste their time, but for the amount of money you will be spending, develop a team of people who want to be sure your home is going to be what you want it. For example, we went into this project with an idea of what we wanted our kitchen to look like. It sounded easy, but pulling together a look means multiple manufacturers, so our installers walked us through the process, showing us varying options so we had a really good overview before we made our choices.
  • Don’t rush the shopping and planning.
    • Take a few hours a day, for a few days, and visit stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Floor and Decor, etc. Take a lot of pictures, including of the price tags. Thumb through your favorite home magazines, websites and blogs. Collect paint samples. Throw everything printed into a folder, and if you want to be really organized, create a Home Renovation folder in your phone’s photo gallery. This counts for things like sinks, faucets, lighting fixtures, baseboards, backsplashes and more. Your contractors will thank you and so will your budget.
  • Create a master home renovation project list before you make that first call.
    • We put our list into an Excel spreadsheet, broken into both a room-by-room list and an overall step-by-step list. Each item had a budget allotment and space for us to add notes. As we signed contracts and made purchases, we added our actual spend into a column so we could see our totals on the fly.
  • Plan ahead. WAY ahead.
    • Our biggest mistake was not giving enough lead time. We assumed it was going to be as easy as calling a cabinet maker, having them come measure, get the estimate and poof, new kitchen a few weeks later. Wrong. Custom built cabinets can take a couple of months during a normal year, but during COVID quarantine, a lot of people decided to spiff up their homes. This meant our first choice for custom-made cabinets wasn’t able to install for five months. It worked out, because we found someone else who was able to go much faster who we equally like. (And bonus, her company is able to do a lot of other projects so we scored!)
  • Prioritize your projects.
    • If your dream kitchen is the most important thing on your list, plan it first. Don’t settle if you really have a vision. Cost it out, compromise only where you know you’ll be happy, and complete it first. This means you’ll get that dream kitchen, not something you’re only semi-happy with. If you run short of money later on, you’ll have gotten the most important thing done. For example, new lighting throughout, a new kitchen, new flooring and new painting were our biggest priorities. We made sure they were budgeted first, and then we can move forward on our bathroom remodels after. (We’re still well within our budget so it looks like I’ll get that spa bathroom I want and both other full baths will get full updates. If not though, we have costs in mind and will be able to pull them together not long after.)
  • Get your finances settled first.
    • I probably should have put this as number one. There are a lot of ways to finance home renovations: cash from savings, credit cards, cash out refinancing and store credit are popular ways. I don’t recommend credit cards, because interest rates will eat you alive later on. Refinancing takes time but good interest rates may still be available. Store credit can offer six- or twelve-month interest-free financing, but you still may need to make monthly payments during that time, and if you’re even one day late paying off the balance at the end of that timeframe, you get dinged the ENTIRE interest amount. (Ask the stores for their current deals. Lowe’s, for example, offers 5% off right now if you use their card; we can then pay it off as soon as we get the bill, and we saved a lot of money.)
  • Get rid of your excess so you have storage space during the remodel.
    • I did a huge purge early this year. I still have a lot of stuff though. A LOT. While we’re having a ton of cabinets put in, I’m downsizing more before I put things into that new kitchen. As we emptied the cabinets, I was piling up things to get rid of. I have to store the rest of it all in my living room while we paint, and then things will get moved from room to room as more rooms are floored and painted.
  • Plan for eating and sleeping during the mess.
    • I slacked on this one. I didn’t get cash out prior so I could send a kid to the store for another breakfast burrito run. I didn’t think about where I’d plug in my coffeemaker. I didn’t have any eggs boiled prior for my breakfasts during the week. Buying takeout for a couple of weeks may sound nice but it gets expensive and it’s bad on your health. Minimize this in any way you can by setting up a temporary kitchen and scouting out healthier takeout options in advance. We also may have interesting sleeping arrangements, which I did plan in advance at least.
  • Plan for surprises.
    • We learned, after we did our own demo, that someone who lived here before didn’t tell us that someone drove their car into the wall of the garage. It didn’t do any structural damage but the wall wasn’t plumb so it had to be fixed before the cabinets were put in or they’d not be even. Extra money but what do you do?
  • Don’t start your remodel too soon.
    • I know, it’s easy to get excited and jump into renovations when you find someone who is available. You just need to make sure you have all those quotes, the clutter-free space, the materials (or access to the materials) and the room to store them, the finances and the longterm schedule settled. If you skip a step, or you have a huge gap between remodel stages, you could be living in dusty spaces and making coffee in your living room a lot longer than you want to.

BONUS Home Remodel Tips for Your Home Renovation

If you have pets, you have extra work to do.

We set up a dog food and water station in the living room. We got all Shuri’s toys and her bed in a safe area on our couch island, created by all our furniture in a big safe L-shape so she’s somewhat contained. Everything’s piled safely out of her reach and we have dog gates. However, we forgot that we’d need to be able to take her out to potty out of two different sliding doors, depending on which room they’d be working in during the week. Oooops. The husband had to redo the game room, where most of our stuff was piled, giving us a safe path to go out back.

home renovation tips

So that little set-up there is my ‘kitchen’ right now. A spoon, paper towels and a rogue knife have sat there all week. It works, though when we bought this, we didn’t know the top of our new wine fridge would be used this way. I have no water filtration system right now so I have to use bottled water to keep that coffeemaker topped off. Minor problems but just one more thing to plan for: buy bottled water ahead of time.

first time home renovation tips

And this is what it looked like after we were 98% done with demo. Stark. Ugly. REALLY echo-y and wow, the prior owners had an odd array of old paint colors under there. We still had to take the tile off the fireplace to the right there and get the rest of the old laminate out.

covered in paint during our first home renovation

Two paint-covered people, tired after a long couple of days’ work…but very happy to have finally gotten this show on the road. We’ve experienced a couple of bumps, because there’s rarely a renovation that goes 100% as planned, but we’ll keep learning from it, rolling with it and keeping our eye on the prize! I hope my top home renovation tips help you get through your home remodel with your sanity in-tact!

Click HERE to read more about our favorite kitchen brands we chose for our new design!

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