Dear Lifehacker, I’m getting ready to renovate my home. While my options for hardware finishes and cabinet styles are seemingly infinite, my budget is not. Where should I spend more and where should I cut back to get the biggest bang for my buck? Thanks, Resourceful Renovator
Regardless of your budget, renovating is definitely a balancing act. Whatever part of the house you’re revamping, you’ll face a lot of choices and will have to make tradeoffs. You want to make all your choices really count, not just for your lifestyle, but also they will affect the resale value of your home. No pressure, right? Don’t worry, here’s what you should keep in mind for just about any renovating project.
Splurge: Prioritise Based On Use
Very few renovations will return 100 per cent of your investment, so the decision to renovate should primarily be about your enjoyment of your home and getting more out of it. For any space, think about your family’s lifestyle, and spend more on the areas that support those priorities. Take the kitchen as an example. If you’re a gourmet cook, a professional range will probably be worth the investment to you. For busy families, a large kitchen island or breakfast nook might be more important.
In the lounge room, sound, lighting and Ethernet wiring might be important in an entertainment-focused space. If you use that room for relaxing or other hobbies, you might make different decisions — a skylight or more built-in storage.
Remember to keep in mind how long you’re planning to live in your home and enjoy these upgrades to make sure they’re worth it. If you’re in your first apartment but plan to move when you have kids, don’t over-invest.
Skimp: Don’t Over-Customise
Your renovating choices should always take future homebuyers into account and how much you’ll be able to recoup your investment. You don’t want to overspend and price your home way out of proportion to the rest of the neighbourhood.
Lean towards neutral options: Redesigns that are too customised or unusual can turn off buyers. Purple wall-to-wall carpet or a walk-in-shower bathroom might sound great to you, but wouldn’t fit the majority of most homeowners’ needs or wants.
Avoid non-standard sizes or finishes: Custom, non-stock choices — in cabinets, countertops, exterior finishes, and more — will also add (painfully) to your renovating cost. This isn’t always necessary. If your cabinets are structurally fine, refacing or staining the doors will be cheaper than replacing them altogether, and still give you that brand new look. The same goes for other areas of the home.
Splurge: Invest In The Most Fundamental Items
When you’re spending big bucks on a renovation, you want the improvements to be lasting and make the biggest different over the long haul.
Spend more on quality items that are hard to replace: Permanent fixtures (such as the bathtub) should take priority over ones that you can improve later when you have more money (such as the taps). Likewise, under-floor heating isn’t that expensive to install — if you do it when you’re replacing a floor.
Invest in insulation, windows and doors: Decent insulation is always a worthwhile investment. Don’t skimp on windows or doors. You don’t need to get the ultra-expensive brand name doors or windows, but avoid the cheapest ones, because these affect your security, safety and home comfort, as well as your power bills.
Skimp: Buy Cheaper Alternatives
Often, you can buy lookalikes for a lot less than the premium versions of certain materials.
Decorative tiles: If you’re tiling a basement bar area, kitchen backsplash or bathroom, spending hundreds of dollars more won’t always produce visibly-improved results.
Moulding and trim: Instead of opting for expensive moulding and trim, you can stain cheaper lighter woods to look like more expensive varieties.
Floors and other materials: Laminate flooring, if installed properly, is a pretty good looking alternative to hardwood floors. (If you already have wood floors, refinish them instead of replacing them.)
Splurge: Spend More On Your Room’s Focal Points
As an alternative, choose to use high-end materials selectively in a room, where it counts the most. Go for impact, and pick the focal point where your splurge will matter most.
For example, in the living room, you might spend more on the fireplace surround or entertainment centre. Expensive tiles or other materials you’ve fallen in love with could be used selectively in one area while the rest of the room gets a cheaper treatment.
Start Off On The Right Foot
Finally, make sure you’ve set up a realistic budget. Pick all your materials before the start of the project to avoid as many problems as possible.
If you’re careful with your choices and tackle all the parts of the work you can do yourself), hopefully you’ll find that nice balance between the perfect space you’ve been dreaming of and saving as much as possible for the next project.
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