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Planning for your DIY renovation, on a budget

Everyone dreams of that gorgeous HGTV-inspired kitchen or bathroom remodel. But before you decide to go out and blow out all the walls and your budget on a DIY home renovation, there are some things to consider. First of which, is that you can’t always believe what’s on TV. In reality, many home renovation projects are far from what you see. Way more timely and often much more costly than what you see on shows like Love It or List It or Property Brothers.

We have hired help in the past for some projects and have done some work ourselves. Keep in mind there are things you need and should leave to a professional. But regardless, before embarking on any home improvements, it’s important that you do your own research, learn to manage your own expectations and are realistic about your own financial situation. A home renovation can add value and life to your home, it’s true, but they can be stressful enough and the last thing you want is to add any undue financial stresses. That’s why it’s important to create a plan.

1. Ask yourself, why are you doing it?

Before you even start picking out rooms from magazines, or start your plan, you should consider why you’re doing the project in the first place. There are generally three reasons people decide to renovate:

  • Renovating to sell. If you’re planning to make upgrades to your home for potential resale, you need to consider the value of your upgrades, so that you get the most potential profit for the least amount of renovation. There are many easy things you can do to liven up space without spending the bank. Keep in mind, this house is no longer for you, you have to cater to what potential buyers will like.
  • Upgrading for you. If you plan to stay in your home long-term, your family is your biggest client – decide what’s most important to them. Maybe your family will expand in a couple of years. What upgrades could you make, that would make the best use of the space and make it the most comfortable for you and your family?
  • Fixing a problem. Either fixing for current damage or preventative maintenance.

2. Know thy neighbourhood

Whether you’re preparing your home for future resale or turning it into your ‘forever home’, it’s important to know your area. And I mean, really know your area, because you want to spend on items that are going to provide you with the best value.

  • Get to know the neighbours. Go to open houses in your area or have a peek on MLS, or the online equivalent home classifieds in your area, and be nosy. Especially if you’re planning to sell your home in the next few years, it doesn’t make much sense to spend a bundle on high-end upgrades, if many in your own neighbourhood only have the basic, builder finishes. Or vice-versa, if you’re in a higher-end neighbourhood and plan on reselling, you don’t want to be the only home with laminate countertops, when every other home has granite, especially if it might mean, for example, an extra $10,000 added to your resale value.
  • Why it’s important to do your research. When we renovated our two bathrooms a couple of years ago, we spent just over $150 for both countertops. We went with laminate. Sure, my initial gut reaction was to get granite vanities. But not only did that not make much sense for our budget, but our area also consists mainly of young families who bought their first home and plan to move within the next 5-10 years. I know that because the houses in the spring are flush with ‘For Sale’ signs. So when I took that into account and had a look at what everyone else had, no one had even granite/quartz countertops in their kitchens, let alone their bathrooms. So as much as I wanted a stone countertop, if we plan on moving in the future, the money I put into it, I knew I was never going to get back.
  • Also, consider future value. It’s hard to predict what any area will become, but sometimes there are hints. My area is surrounded by a protected conservation area, so I don’t think the demographics would change all that much in the next 5 years. But what if you knew a new school or maybe a new fashion mall was currently opening soon in your neighbourhood. How would that affect your neighbourhood demographics?

3. Set your preliminary budget

  • Determine your max budget. It’s important to know how much you are willing to spend before you even set foot in a store. Write down all the items you think you will need (and want) for your renovation. Include all materials, and tools (if applicable).
  • Then estimate the costs. I like to divide them into high, and low. High is the highest amount you’re willing to pay for that item. Low is the lowest you think you can get for that item. The importance of this is two-fold: it lets you see how expensive a renovation can get, while at the same time giving your renovation some flexibility. There’s also a bit of a psychological play here as well, as when you see what the low is, you try and work towards the low. No one wants to pay the high-end.

Below is a sample preliminary budget I did a few years ago, for one of my two bathroom renovations. There are certain items I didn’t need, and some were excluded from the list (and some categories simplified for purposes of illustration), but every budget is a little different, depending on the size and scope of your reno project.


4. Go window shopping

  • ‘Can I help you with anything? Oh no, I’m just browsing’. Leave your wallet at home and go window shopping. Visit hardware stores, discount stores and antique / salvage shops, to get ideas and price out your items.
  • Adjust your numbers. Some of your initial numbers will be way off, but this is where you can revise your numbers and create a budget that’s a little more realistic. You might learn that you probably don’t need that $1000 toilet, but the man at the hardware store advised you, for that size of the room, you probably need more paint than you originally thought.

5. Prioritize

  • Reevaluate. When you set up your budget, order the items in terms of priority. Start with what you really need (it probably goes without saying), and work down to your wants. What do you really want? What can you do without? And if you can’t do without anything, are there comparable products that will satisfy your tastes and budget?

6. Shop and record

  • Start at the top. When you start shopping, start at the top of your list with the most important things, as opposed to getting that fancy accessory first. Get the necessities and then if you’ve stayed on track with your budget, there’s no reason you can’t reward yourself and get that gorgeous… towel rack? (I’m sure you can come up with something better). But the point is you don’t want to have to compromise on an important item, just because you focused on your ‘wants’ first.
  • List your ‘actual’ costs. Finally, add a column to your list named ‘Actual’. As you shop, this is where… you guessed it, you’ll record your actual spending. You’ll find some items may lean more towards the high-end, but hopefully, you’ll have some items you can steer towards the low-end to balance out the overall amount.

Renovations can be a fun and rewarding experience if you plan it properly. But they can also be dangerous if you don’t. Home renovation temptations abound and it’s much too easy to get caught up in the dream. Be realistic about how much you can truly afford.

As I said renovations, can be costly, and if you are planning to finance a renovation, it’s even more important that you do have a plan today. Just keep in mind why you’re doing it in the first place, research your area, and set a budget with some flexibility.

Happy renovating!

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