Beatrice is the Consumer Trends Expert for Opendoor

When my husband and I found our home in Los Angeles, we immediately knew the location was ideal and the property had enormous potential. Like 82% of millennials who are more likely to buy a fixer-upper than a newly built home, we were excited to bring our vision to life. 

We had been shopping for homes at the top of our budget before finding our current home and knew we’d need to invest in a full remodel to get the style and quality we were looking for. Despite my experience as a real estate agent, I was caught off guard by how long our renovation has taken. From hiring the right professionals to getting necessary approvals, here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

1. Work begins before construction starts.

When renovating, you’ll need to set plans and obtain permits before construction begins — even if you don’t plan to do everything at once. 

To complete our home renovation, we had two foundation inspections done and hired a structural engineer to ensure our roof wouldn’t cave in if we knocked down walls. We also hired a carpenter to reframe and build walls, drywallers to finish new walls, painters, an electrician, a plumber and a general contractor to oversee the work on a daily basis. A cabinet builder helped create our custom kitchen, and a fabricator installed stone slabs for our countertops. We hired a stonemason to “float” our floors and install tile in the shower. 

After setting out to hire professionals based on internet searches, I learned it was challenging to find people who were available within a year. Instead, I recommend seeking referrals from friends and family. Having inspiration photos for reference is helpful when communicating your vision. Tools like Pinterest and Houzz make it easy to find ideas.

2. Living at home during your remodel may require a temporary lifestyle change.

Living at home during your renovation may mean making big lifestyle adjustments, such as having the internet cut out without notice and living with loud noises for a period of time. You may, like we did, have to live without a full kitchen for a year — something that might not work for everyone. We also had to repair our roof in two phases, which wasn’t as efficient but made it possible for us to stay in our home.

On the plus side, living at home while a renovation takes place can help you save money. It also enables you to see work unfold in real time and be available to consult with contractors or make last-minute decisions. My husband and I spent evenings in each space once the crew had left for the day, and it gave us a good feel for how everything was coming along.

3. Your renovation may take longer than expected.

There are many things you can plan for when you renovate, but like any large project, there are often factors outside of your control that can contribute to delays and shifting timelines. We encountered delays that came from the permit department and had to change our plans based on the city-wide lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Prioritization goes a long way when renovating. We started with the most time-consuming part of the project — rebuilding two rooms — and went from there. I suggest working closely with your contractors to establish a plan and readjusting together as needed along the way.

4. You may spend more than originally planned.

Some projects turn out to be bigger than anticipated. In our case, we had to fix previous, poor-quality craftsmanship, which was an additional expense. With the unexpected cost, we were challenged to regroup on other parts of our project. Ultimately, we were unable to raise our ceiling as tall as we originally wanted.

When planning for a home renovation, it’s a smart idea to buffer an extra 20% into your budget for unforeseen circumstances. Whether it’s a lumber shortage and increasing cost of materials, unexpected damage or a need to change plans, you’ll be well prepared.

5. The little things add up quickly, too.

Our home was in major need of repair when we bought it, so unfortunately, none of the kitchen appliances were salvageable. I quickly learned building out a whole new kitchen called for making countless purchases, from the kitchen sink and faucet to hardware.

Shopping online makes it easy to compare prices across items, categories and sites, but you can also use coupons and score deals when things go on sale. Some sites offer alerts when prices drop, while others offer cash-back incentives. Doing your research will pay off.

6. When renovating, balance personal taste with investment considerations.

Making smart upgrades — such as updating a kitchen or adding a bathroom — can help your home appreciate in value if you decide to sell it in the future. But it’s important to balance wise investment decisions with your personal taste. 

During our renovation, we opted to splurge on stone floors in our home. Our previous home had concrete floors, and we love a more modern look. Stone is also more durable, and won’t scratch easily from furniture or pets. While our contractor initially recommended a less expensive wood floor option, we chose to spend more money on the floors that better align with our personal preferences. 

Despite rising home prices, 73% of Americans we surveyed agree that buying a home is a good investment right now. When debating whether to splurge or save, it can be helpful to remember there are two types of appreciation. The first is an increase in your home’s market value, and the second is how much you enjoy your home. If you plan to live in the home for a short time, it may not make as much sense to splurge on something like expensive flooring. However, if you plan to live in the home for many years, it can be a decision that brings you joy — and you can’t put a price on that.

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