My fiancé and I watch a lot of home renovation shows. While we hope to one day own a home, we don't right now. Right now, we're that couple who say "what were they thinking?" when the do-it-yourselfers on the TV unknowingly remove a load-bearing wall, when we also can't tell the difference between a wall that's load-bearing and a wall that isn't. However, we have learned a thing or two watching other people's mistakes.
1. Get a realistic idea of what things cost before setting your budget.
It seems 9 out of every 10 projects go over budget, and every single of those homeowners is surprised to spend as much as they do. But if you plan to gut your kitchen, rewire, change the plumbing, move walls, replace cabinets, redo the floor, and get all new appliances, $10,000 is not going to cut it. In the worst case scenarios, the homeowners don't realize they're in over their heads until the room is gutted and inhabitable, so they have to find a way to finish the room. Sometimes they have additional savings, sometimes they have to get a loan, but over budget is over budget. You'll save yourself a lot of stress, time, energy and money if you look at costs way before you plan to start. Get realistic quotes and estimates for everything you plan to do; look at countertops and floor tiles so you have an idea what you'll pay to get the look you want. Then set the budget and save.
2. Everything is easy with a pro by your side, telling you what to do.
But unless you are lucky enough to make it one of these shows, you won't have a pro by your side. Do your homework before hand. Look for how-to videos on Youtube, home improvement books. Ask your friends and family if they have any experience doing the same thing, see what tips they have. If you're really lucky, one of them may volunteer to help out.
3. Make decisions and take accurate measurements before demolition.
That "measure twice, cut once" mantra is really important. Measurements need to be exact, or they will create more problems later. You don't want to be the one saying, "I think the door is going to be about...here," demo the wall, then find out the opening you made is too big and in the wrong place. Now, in addition to cutting the opening and installing the door in the correct location, you also have to fix the wall you destroyed.
4. Everything has to be straight, square, and/or level.
And getting it that way is much harder than it looks. If it isn't square/straight/level, it makes everything else you do more difficult. And uneven floors are annoying.
5. Unless you are an electrician or plumber, don't do your own.
This needs no explanation, but I'll give one anyway. If the wiring or plumbing is screwed up, it creates a dangerous home. Bad wiring can start fires. Bad plumbing can create mold problems, or flood your house. If you have both bad wiring and bad plumbing you might be able to put out your own fire, but let's not find out.
6. If you're doing your own construction work while consulting with a contractor, he is billing you for his time.
You think you're saving money, which you might, unless you do it wrong. Then your contractor will eventually swoop in and fix your mess, and he gets to bill you for fixing your mistakes plus doing the job right, in addition to the time he spent giving you "free" advice.
7. Don't start a new project until the previous project is complete.
People who break this rule end up with so many incomplete projects that their homes are barely habitable. You shouldn't need to worry about your toddler falling through the hole in the kitchen floor; you should fix the hole in the floor.
8. Take little kids to Grandma's.
They don't understand the concept of danger, they won't stay in the playroom, they won't sleep through it, and they think they can help you. Take them to Grandma's, drop them off at a friend's house, get them out of the way. Then you can focus on the project without worrying about them.
9. If going over budget will threaten your financial security, don't do it.
No home improvement project is worth bankruptcy.
We've agreed to follow these rules when it comes to our own home, when we have one. We've also agreed that when we're ready to buy a house, it'll be move-in ready. We can deal with ugly as long as it's functional, we can always redo a bathroom at some point down the road. However, I would love an unfinished basement that we could finish ourselves...