Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Zandar in NJ: Hey Brian. I’m the new owner of an old home. I’m on a very tight budget but I want to start modernizing this old house. The bones are strong, but the overall appearance is straight out of the 1980s or 1990s. My thought is to make this a four or five-year project, but I want to make a big impact from the beginning to motivate my wife and myself to keep going. My wife thinks we should just hold on to the house for a couple of years and soon buy up to a more modern home. If we can make a big impact from the beginning, I think she’ll see the value of continuing to live here for many years to enjoy our improvements while also making our home worth more money. I know it’s a long-term goal, but I’d rather stay here for 10 or 12 years and move up to something significantly better when we do buy our next home. How do I make a big impact for a little money?
Answer: Hello Zandar. I’m not going to try settling the difference of opinions between you and your wife but I can point you in the right direction to modernize your home on a tight budget. It’s up to you to get her to go along with you financially.
Zandar, you’re not the first person needing to renovate on a budget. What seems to work for most people is picking one room at a time and finishing that room over several months before moving on to the next room. But before you decide on which room and what project to start with, take a step back to plan your long-term goal for the entire home. In the end, you’re going to want a consistent scheme that flows through the entire house. There are many architectural styles to choose from. It’s might not be Roman Classical or Victorian, but it could be a Sustainable / Green Design or Industrial or Urban or a Ranch Design. Even if you’re not going to rip out walls or add a grand entrance, you can still work on a color and texture scheme for the entire house. You don't have to use the exact same color scheme in every room, but you want to connect the colors throughout your house. Especially if it has an open floor plan. Color and texture continuity creates a cohesive, harmonious look because the eye flows smoothly from room to room.
Next, you need to decide where to start. If you want to create a strong visual first impression, you might decide to start at the front door and porch. This can also be an inexpensive place to start. If you can afford it, you may want to replace the front door and trim. However, a fresh coat of paint that contrasts with the exterior color makes a big statement. If you have a wooden porch, it might need to be refinished. To modernize, you can add a remotely activated lock system and add a security camera or two.
Next, you need to decide on which room to tackle first. For most people, the decision comes down to the kitchen, bathroom, or living room. Obviously, replacing all the appliances in the kitchen, new cabinets, and new counters are going to be expensive - even if you do it yourself. Getting started, you might want to consider that many older homes have dated gold or brass hardware and fixtures. Today, there is an almost limitless number of options these can be replaced with. A fresh coat of paint and new fixtures and hardware will give your kitchen or bathroom a fresh look. Also consider installing a new lighting system that features uplights, spotlights, and assorted colors to really show off your home. You can easily do all this yourself over a weekend or two and it won’t cost much money. Hopefully, it does motivate you to move on to bigger projects even if you must save money for a few months or buy materials a little at a time. That’s probably what you’ll need to do for more expensive items like an oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher. These are good investments because replacing dated appliances with sleek new ones not only improves the look of your home, but also the functionality.
Whichever room you begin with, you can continue the painting and new fixture upgrades to the other rooms for more inexpensive upgrades. But eventually, you’re going to need to invest larger amounts of money. By the time you get to this point, you might be able to consider financing upgrades with a home equity loan. When you’re ready, look down at your floors. Nothing dates a home like old carpets. Keep that common color scheme in mind for every room. For a fresh modern look, consider one of the many wood plank floor selections available. Also, when you replace the floors, don’t’ do it one room at a time. If your house has two levels, do at least the entire downstairs with the same flooring and preferably at the same time so that it all comes from the manufacturer’s same lot number. The continuity will give your whole house an open, flowing feel. It also tends to make it feel bigger.
Zandar, along the way, your wife and you can keep your eyes open for decorative touches like lamps, art, rugs, and furniture in the matching architectural style to bringing your home together into a modernized, inviting space. With a little imagination and some patience, you’ll modernize your home on a budget. Now let your creativity flow and have fun with it.
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Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].