Moving into a new (or new-to-you) house is always a big undertaking. Even in a newly built home, you will likely have a list of projects that you want to tackle. (Hang art! Paint the bedroom a different color! Landscaping!) Some people dread this process; others thrive on it! In fact, tons of people go looking for the home with hidden potential, the one that they can work on and remodel to suit their own tastes. A subset of that group will buy the house and gut it, tackling the project in one swoop. But others—especially younger homebuyers—will purchase a home with plans to update it over time. For that group, prioritizing what to work on first, what to work on next, and so on can be a big challenge. I’ve helped many people buy fixer uppers over the years, and in fact, my husband and I gutted our house a few years ago, too (with the help of an amazing team!). Follow these tips to prioritize projects in your fixer-upper:
- Safety first. Fixer uppers may be in various states of disrepair. Your home inspection likely alerted you to a whole host of issues. Review that report carefully and pay particular attention to any items that impact the safety and basic livability of your new house: wiring, plumbing, pests, broken windows and doors, and old heating and/or cooling systems. Also pay attention to the outside of your property, including sidewalk cracks (these could be a liability) and trees (root systems and branches). Begin to schedule contractors to assess the scope of work to be done and to get bids.
- Pre-move in tasks. Think about what projects you might want to tackle before you move in. Some are obvious: you’re going to need at least one functional bathroom and doors with locks. Beyond that, some projects are much, much easier to do when the house is still empty. Do you need to paint? Painting is SO MUCH easier when you don’t have to move around furniture. Do you need to install new flooring? Then why move all of your stuff in when you’re just going to have to move it back out again?
- Budget. Once you’ve addressed safety issues and essential pre-move in projects, it’s time to assess your budget. How much money do you have to work with? (Remember to pad for unexpected expenses—and there will always be unexpected expenses.) It’s crucial to establish a budget and to know how much money you’re able to spend—and then stick to that budget.
- Big projects versus small projects. Once you have estimates for the projects you want to do and/or you’ve assessed how much a DIY job will cost (factor in both time and money for DIY!), it’s time to examine these projects and costs against your budget, and then prioritize what’s most important to you. Do you want to gut the kitchen? That’s obviously a capital-B *BIG* expense. Or do you want to retile the entryway—a relatively inexpensive project that you can tackle with rented equipment, YouTube videos, a long weekend, and a can-do attitude!
- What makes you happy? This one is really important! Sure, it might be ideal to upgrade the dishwasher to a more efficient model. But will a cozy, master bedroom that you can retreat to make you happier? Then fix up the bedroom. Think about what changes and upgrades will positively impact your daily life, and make those a priority!
Unless you’re sitting on buckets and buckets of cash, chances are that you will need to carefully choose which fixer upper projects you tackle first. It will sometimes feel like one project bleeds into the next, and that you’re not ever going to be finished. Shift your thinking: it’s not about when the job is going to be done. It’s about the process of making your house your home. And that’s worthy of careful consideration and planning at every step. Good luck!