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First-Time Homeowner's Guide to Successful Renovation

Do Your Research

Before you buy a house to renovate, make sure you do your research. Renovating your new home and making it truly your own can be a great way to get more for your money, but sometimes the renovation costs make it challenging to achieve your goal. Consider getting estimates for the renovation costs while you’re in the negotiation for the home’s purchase price, and make sure you will be able to afford both.

Always have your home professional inspected, particularly if it is in rough shape. You want to be able to renovate without spending a fortune on foundation work or electrical upgrades to make the home safe. Finally, make sure the renovation you’re planning is possible in the property you chose. Sometimes, homeowners will have big dreams to tear down walls that end up being supporting walls or remove the flooring that would be better refinished and left where it is, so talk to your contractor before you buy.

Get A Thorough Inspection

Before you begin the renovation or building process, have the land and/or the building inspected first. This type of inspection goes beyond the initial purchase report/survey and helps establish a good foundation to make the right design decisions for your site, and to plan your budget efficiently.

If you plan to build, rather than (or as well as) renovate, you want to ensure you choose a good piece of land without unseen hazards, frequent flooding, or other unfavourable aspects. Problems aren’t always visible at first and warrant a second, more detailed inspection. For example, the risk of occasional flooding in the area you chose may not have been picked up in initial inspections. 

Spend Time in the Space

As obvious as it might seem, it is essential to hold off on some decisions like paint colors, carpet, and light fixtures until you spend time in the space you're renovating. For example, the choices can be overwhelming if you want to replace dated carpet. Dense or loose fibers? Striated or no pattern? What exact shade of gray? The answers depend on the other aspects of the renovation, like choosing paint colors.

If you select paint palettes before the renovation starts, you still need to see them on walls. Your decisions about colors could change as you spend time in the house. Also, freshly painted walls and new carpet can reveal that existing light fixtures don't illuminate the space as you thought they would.

If you spend a little more time before painting and recarpeting to consider how everything works together in the room you're remodeling, you can save several back-to-the-drawing-board moments.

Prepare A Proper Cost

Another thing that first-time homeowners must do when planning to renovate a newly purchased home is count the costs. Some rooms are more expensive than others to remodel, for instance. If a house needs a complete kitchen makeover, you can expect to pay around $14,000, while if it needs a master bathroom renovation, the cost drops to about $8,000. These are the most expensive rooms in a home to remodel, so if the home needs renovation here, make sure the purchase price accounts for these additional costs.

Set A Realistic Timeline

It’s a common misconception that renovations in small apartments will take less time compared to work done in bigger homes. This is, of course, not a hard and fast rule—it depends on what you’re having done, after all.

If you live in a tiny apartment like mine, you will do well to adjust your expectations accordingly. In Hong Kong, where apartments are notoriously small, the reason remodelling tiny flats can take much longer than what you might expect is precisely thanks to the lack of space. While a large home can accommodate several contractors working on different spaces at the same time, a small apartment can only have so many people in it at any given moment.

Meanwhile, without the luxury of space, it’s also not always possible for large items to fit through your front door. Custom-made furniture that addresses small, awkward spaces—popular in pint-sized homes in the city—often requires assembling inside the home. This can add considerable time to the renovation process.

Plan Your Design With A Professional Designer

If you want to save time and headaches down the line, it’s best to pick out your build or renovation finishes early on in the design process.

Some finishes to focus your attention on include:

  • Flooring

  • Countertops

  • Cabinets

  • Exterior materials

You can select and then order the finishes so they are ready for use by the builder. Just check with your architect first and make sure your contractor can install them before you place the order. This strategy can make the entire process go faster and smoother. Another point to consider is that you can take the time to shop from several sources to get the best materials for the best prices instead of having the builder order it from their sources or having to buy locally because you’re on a deadline.

The renovation process of an entire home, or even part of a home, is an immense undertaking. There are many decisions to make, and it can become overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed, you’re not placed to make the best decisions and you may regret them later. 

Consider working with a designer to help reduce stress and make the process go smoothly, especially if you’re busy during most parts of construction and installation. A designer also has a trained eye and plenty of experience to help the decision-making process. Ensure they can be on site during any installations and other crucial times to guide the contractors and ensure everything goes according to plan.

Lighting matters

So one tip before embarking on your renovation is to seriously consider the amount of natural light your home receives. Ask yourself if you need to add or relocate more windows or openings such as full-length doors to the space and if so, what kind and if that’s structurally feasible. Or perhaps you may need to seal up some windows, especially if it lets in too much light and heats up an area too much.

Also consider what you’ll be using the window for. If you have a killer view to highlight, choose a fixed (or picture) window for an unobstructed perspective. Louvers or casement windows that open fully are ideal if you want to encourage air-circulation or cross-ventilation. Lastly, maintenance is also a factor so before you decide on materials for your window frame, it’s wise to gauge how much time you are willing to spend on keeping them in good shape. Wooden frames have a rustic charm but need to scraped and painted periodically while vinyl is virtually maintenance-free.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Built-in Furnishings

Carefully contemplate on the merits of built-in joinery and furnishings before you make the long-term commitment.

On one hand, these custom-made elements are the ultimate storage solution, efficiently hiding away clutter while displaying precious mementos and objets d'art. Built-in shelving and furniture also conceal awkward corners and create added functionality to nearly every square foot in your home—whether it's storage built under a staircase or a bespoke headboard that doubles as an architectural statement. Plus, these bespoke elements will definitely blend seamlessly with your home’s interior design.

However, these permanent solutions are definitely not for the commitment-averse, so it's important to plan ahead. For a young family, loose furnishings in the children's bedroom may be preferable as these can more easily adapt to your kids’ changing needs over time, from the toddler age to their school-going years. Besides the steep costs, built-ins are also lasting fixtures that limit the flexibility of your space compared to furniture pieces that you can swap out when needed. Take it from me—I'm currently looking to renovate my study but the built-in bookshelves and cabinetry are a major inconvenience, and tearing them down is an added cost and hassle to consider. 

Interview Multiple Contractors

It pays to interview multiple contractors and compare bids. Suppose you want your water heater removed from an upstairs closet and a new one installed in the garage. The first plumber you ask may say he plans to charge $6,000 and would reroute hot water lines, cutting into your living room tray ceiling. The second plumber may find it's too much work for his schedule. Plumber three plans to finish the job in a day and charge $3,285 with no water line rerouting needed.

You risk paying too much and not getting what you want without interviewing multiple contractors. It pays to do your homework and talk to several experts before making a final decision.

Expect the Unexpected

All homes hold secrets—in the walls, under the floors, and elsewhere. A renovation can bring those to light. For example, your contractor tells you your floors are uneven due to a shifted center joist while measuring for your highly anticipated new hardwood floors. You'll need to deal with the home inspector who missed it and get the floor joist repaired before the new material can go down. This is just one possibility of the unexpected and why you should be planning for extra time during your renovation and extra money into your renovation budget to allow for unanticipated mishaps along the way.

You'll want to narrow your design preferences before meeting with an interior designer. Get inspiration from browsing home decorating magazines, interior decorating websites, and design shows. Getting a handle on a design direction will help you avoid being talked into a designer's personal ideas, which might differ from your vision for the renovation.

Also, keep your designer strictly on your budget. Don't allow them to purchase expensive materials and charge you for them later. If you try to stay within a specific time frame, your costs will remain low, too.