How to Prepare for Home Improvements

home improvements

If you’re a homeowner you know this already, home improvements never end. When we bought our fixer upper in 2012 we did a big renovation project that covered many of the major areas in our home such as, kitchen, bathroom and new flooring.

Since then we’ve had to replace the water heater, sump pump and air conditioning.  The fact is that owning a home requires maintenance and repairs.  Below I discuss some of my lessons learned and ideas on how to prepare for home improvements.

Decide What Type of Home You Want

It all starts with what type of home you want to buy.  To me fixer uppers are special cases because they will require more home improvements than other homes.  There are many questions to ask if you’re going this route.  For example, will you be doing improvements all at once or slowly as the years go by?  Will you DIY it or hire contractors?  This will help you determine how much money you will need immediately for home improvements once you purchase the home.

Educate Yourself

If you’re a first time home buyer it can be difficult to figure out costs without having experience. Learn as much as you can about homeownership and repairs. Do research online and talk to family members or friends who are homeowners to get a real feel for how much things costs. Be specific with your questions too because sometimes people will just give you a general idea but the devil is in the details. You’d be surprised how expensive small items can be.  I’ll tell you that I wish I did more of this when I was planning to purchase a home.

While house hunting remember to look out for the condition of things such as, flooring and kitchen cabinets. You can save a lot just by not having to replace these items and maybe doing a light touch up instead.  Also, check out my post on uncommon things to consider while house hunting.


Once you get an idea on costs, save, save, save, before you buy.   Believe me you will not be sorry to have more than enough money to cover your home improvement projects.  Ever heard how home renovations can easily double in cost?  When you renovate, you never know what you’re going to find behind walls or underneath floors.  It’s best to have that extra savings as materials and labor costs can be expensive.

You can always save by DIYing some of the projects, but if you don’t have the skills to do so that may not be the best option for certain complicated repairs.  For example,  plumbing and electrical are two areas that I don’t feel comfortable doing work myself.

Ask for a Credit at Closing

Speaking from experience and if you’re buying a fixer upper be sure to get a home inspection and ask for credits at closing to cover any home repairs for items that are on their last leg.  For example, we received a $3,000 credit a closing because of some of the issues that were found during the home inspection.  The cost to replace the items I mentioned above was about $2,200 so it was worth it to ask for the credit.  In our state everything was done through a real estate lawyer so we didn’t have to negotiate this directly with the sellers.

DIY It or Ask for Help

As I mentioned above, do it yourself projects can be a great way to cut costs.  Youtube is a great resource.  Also, ask for help from family and friends who may have some skills you may not.  I had family members help me with installing light fixtures, door knobs, closet organizers and bathroom vanities.  I would also recommend paying attention and learning from them while they’re performing these tasks.  Family members or friends may not always be available to help.

Replenish Your Maintenance Fund Every Year

Ever since we bought our home we’ve been saving 1% of the home’s value for home maintenance, repairs and emergencies. Saving 1% of the home’s value is a general rule but you can always save more if you’d like especially if you have a specific project in mind.  But I would recommend to save at least 1%.  This doesn’t mean that every year you will be using that fund but at least it’s there for any emergencies.

Being a homeowner is different from being a renter.  The main difference being that you are now solely responsible for everything that goes wrong in your property and you need to be prepared.  The good thing is there are many resources out there to help you with the challenge.  And in the end you will enjoy the many perks of homeownership for years to come.


What other tips do you have?


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How to Prepare for Home Improvements — 32 Comments

  1. We done many home improvements over the years to our house and every one was budgeted first. We never just went out and bought stuff on credit or added to our line of credit just to update the house. There never is a rush unless something is falling apart in which case an emergency savings comes in handy as well as keeping a percentage of the price of your home each year in a projected expenses fund so you have money to use when home improvements come due. This is what we do. I’m currently renovating the bathroom which will be about $5000. I still have another bathroom, full kitchen and full basement to renovate so you can imagine using our budget spreadsheet is going to be imperative to us saving that money first.
    canadianbudgetbinder recently posted…Why the fixer-upper house might not be for you: PF Weekly Grab a brew #83My Profile

    • Sounds like you went with the slow but steady route of home improvements. Some people like to live in the house first to see what type of improvements they want or to see how they feel with the space. Having an emergency savings is very important once you’re a home owner.

    • I have to say that I learned a few things from my contractor. Such as spackling and sanding. How to use caulk. We also installed our own closet organizers and search on Youtube for DIY advice. It’s good to learn as much as you can.

  2. Great tips! Our house is old (like 110+ years old) and all kinds of interesting little problems crop up periodically. But, we knew it was old when we bought it and, like you said, knowing what you’re getting into is half the battle. I agree with you–YouTube is a fabulous resource for DIY how-to videos!
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…July 2014 ExpendituresMy Profile

    • Every time I have a question Youtube never fails. It’s amazing how great of a resource it is.

    • Yes, they are. It’s cheaper if you can DIY it but not everyone has the skill set. Of course you can always learn if you have the time but if you’re extremely busy DIY projects may never get done. When buying a fixer upper you have to be realistic about your skill set and available time to do the work yourself.

      • I think I’ll be much more realistic about it with the next house I purchase. This one I was definitely unrealistic (from both a money and time standpoint). I’m trying to be patient and get a few DIY projects done here and there, but I will probably have to outsource some bigger projects.
        DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…Do You Use Cash or Credit Cards?My Profile

  3. While we’re still years away from owning a home, we have a general idea of what we’d like. My boyfriend is interested in a slight fixer-upper – nothing too major, and I agree with that. I’m probably willing to sacrifice a few things (super fancy kitchen appliances) if the layout and price are good. There are things that can be fixed later that I’m fine living with for a few years, if need be. I’d rather save than finance a renovation.
    E.M. recently posted…July Budget ReviewMy Profile

    • In my case we thought we had enough to cover the renovations but we didn’t so we had to finance the rest to finish the project. One of the reasons I say save before you buy is because it’s easier to save while you’re renting and don’t have the additional expenses of the home.

  4. I’ve never been a homeowner but my parents did some home improvements to their house. They inherited it from my grandparents, so it was a bit of fixer upper. When they got it, they did everything at once so the house was ready when we moved in. They liked this method better so they could figure out how much to spend on it, because they thought if they chose to do it one by one, even though it didn’t seem expensive at first, the cost would finally add up.
    Poor Student recently posted…Eating Healthy on a Student BudgetMy Profile

    • We did all the major renovations at once also. We didn’t want to deal with living in a construction zone every year, plus it’s much easier to do construction in an empty house. The rising costs of materials and labor is also a valid point to want to renovate sooner rather than later.

  5. We will need to renovate 3 bathrooms and our kitchen before we sell our house. We also plan to replace carpet with hardwood upstairs and paint the whole interior. Some windows may need replacing and I’m sure there’s more. It’s daunting when I think of it. I’ll be watching your blog closely all the way leading up to it and through it! Thanks for the shout out, Raquel!

    • I agree. Whatever you think it will cost just add 10 to 20% more to the tag price. Especially if you’re looking for quality products.

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  8. This is good stuff. The important thing for us was making sure the improvements really increased the value of the home or, at least, made sense. We pinch pennies when we do home improvement projects for our rental property. I think it’s important to save every cent you can to increase the added value.
    Kalen recently posted…The Myth of the Successful Money Manager [infographic]My Profile

    • Good point. Kitchen’s and bathrooms are good places to start home improvements. Both our kitchen and bathroom where renovated and they really needed the update. I don’t think I could get much more money for this house down the road if I had not updated those rooms.

  9. some more. Just got an $11,000 bill for a collapsed chimney! Of course the insurance is not covering it…old age they say! Without savings, l would be screwed!
    Kemkem recently posted…Stress in Malaga!My Profile

    • Oh man, that is one of things I fear the most, getting a huge bill out of nowhere. Thank goodness for your savings! It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have that home maintenance fund.

  10. Great tips and if I were to offer a tip, it would be to get at least 2-3 references for contractors. They can take your money, and never complete the project. Also before you buy the home find out what is the most efficient heating system, and use that in the buying decisions. It will help you with overall costs, savings that can be later placed in future renovations.
    EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted…The 10 Secrets Millionaires Live ByMy Profile

    • That is true. It can be difficult to find reliable and trustworthy contractors. I was lucky to have a family member who is a contractor and we trusted him. We also had another family friend who installed our floors. They did great work for us.

  11. I always say that you should have somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 (depending on the age and wear and tear of your home) extra at closing for home improvements. Even if you don’t think you want to make any, the need for them may not be within your control. After we moved into our home, we needed to replace the 25 year old stove and two toilets sooner than we expected.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays – Least ComplicatedMy Profile

  12. We’re in the process of looking for a new house and one of our criteria is that it should be small (~1000sqft) and ideally a ranch on one level. These two criteria should keep the initial cost down but also should help keep any future maintenance costs down as well. Any renovations will cost less. Any repairs will cost less too.
    Thomas @ i need money ASAP! recently posted…Make Money Selling Bottled WaterMy Profile

    • That’s what we have too. I’m so glad we went for a small ranch. We have about 950 sqft and our utility bills are low compared to larger homes. We have a finished basement as well but most of the work was done in the main level.