Ask LH: Where Should I Splurge On A Home Renovation?

Ask LH: Where Should I Splurge On A Home Renovation?

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

Photos by kio, Becky Striepe, tubedogg

Dear Resourceful,

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.

Good luck!


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  • plenty of renovations return 1:1 or ideally more than 1:1. The key is to look at what will people actually notice or what can achieve a ‘look’ for a lot less.

    In a kitchen we tend to use a cheap sink, a mixture of new/second hand appliances and then a stone bench top. Also high gloss kitchens are well accepted at the moment and you can get this look by using a standard laminate door with high gloss edging, it isn’t as nice as cut and sprayed with a 2 pack paint or vinyl wrapped but it is significantly cheaper.

    Then not to re-spend money decorating can chew up a lot of money, we use very neutral finishes on curtains, flooring, paint, etc… which can either be expensive or time consuming to change. If you want to can use very bright features over the top and still leave a blank canvas for when you sell or want to change. Also it is decorating which tends to go out of style, even an old door or window won’t make a room feel dated compared to some 70s wall paper and orange carpet.

  • Also, don’t be afraid to look for second hand, there are a lot of companies out there that specialise in taking down houses piece by piece and then re-selling them, I’ve had a few friends who have done all of their renovations this way for a 1/4 of the cost and you would never know unless they told you. Allowed them to really go a bit bananas and buy some items they would have otherwise not been able to afford!

    For example a company I know of back home is:
    I’m sure if you do a quick search you’ll be able to find a similar business nearby!

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