Monday, February 12, 2018

HOME RENOVATION: The Un-Sexy Stuff Comes First

Just patch it up? No, I don't think so.
I recently spoke with a client who just bought an old house in, shall we say, less than pristine condition. That’s understandable—home prices are once again on the rise, and you take what you can get.  

The problem? As we went through the place, he recounted a whole litany of projects he intended to undertake right away, ranging from trivial ones such as painting, to enormous ones such as remodeling the kitchen, without drawing any distinction whatever as to what needed doing first.

Now there’s a recipe for disaster.  

There's no use building anything on top of a floor like this,
because you'll be fighting it through the whole project,
and still end up with a lousy job. Fix it first.
A complex project such as renovating a neglected house consists of umpteen separate steps, all of which have to occur in a logical order. Now, it happens that this fellow’s house had some serious foundation problems that caused the floors to be markedly out of level. Hence, any work done before this problem was corrected would be a complete waste of time, for two reasons: first, you’d be working with a lot of cockeyed reference points (crooked floors and out-of-square walls); and second, even if you managed to do a credible job of concealing these problems, they would all reappear when the floors were finally leveled.  

Clearly, the ugly job of repairing the foundation, as un-sexy as it was to my cosmetic-minded client, had to be done before anything else. Therein lies half the battle of doing a big project: putting first things first. Here are a few pointers to help keep your own priorities straight:  
Oh, crap—where do I cook dinner tonight? And
for the next three months?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it yet.

•  First, establish reasonable goals and a realistic budget. Many first-time home buyers greatly overestimate how much they can accomplish, and greatly underestimate how much it’s going to cost. Don’t be blinded by optimism. Instead, make a detailed wish list of what you’d like to do.  Then append a guesstimated cost to each item (hire a contractor or architect to help you if necessary)

You’ll probably find that your budget has gone south long before all your wishes are fulfilled, and that both lower expectations and a sense of priorities are in order.   

•  Attend to structural and functional problems first. For the time being, learn to live with the gold-veined mirror tile in the bedroom, and put your resources where they’ll count.  While foundation, dry rot, and roof repairs aren’t the sort of projects you’ll see in glamorous home magazines, they’re a lot more vital than painting your living room in the latest shade of gray. Buckle down and get the nasty stuff done first.
Okay—now you can do the sexy stuff!
(Image courtesy

•  Don’t create more work than you already have. My client was raring to remodel his kitchen, despite the fact that there were a dozen more pressing projects waiting. Moreover, while his kitchen wasn’t great, it was perfectly serviceable, and the last thing he needed was to tear it to pieces. Concentrate on deficiencies first; don’t create new problems where there weren’t any.  That enormously wise old maxim applies here:  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—at least not yet.

•  Save cosmetic repairs for last. Home buyers naturally want things to look better right away. Unfortunately, painting, plastering or carpeting over problem areas is a complete waste of time and money. Once you’re working with a solid base (and I mean that quite literally), then you can go on to the fun of choosing colors and finishes.  The renovation process is like a good dinner—first the steak and potatoes, then the chocolate mousse. 

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