Ask Brian: Quick DIY Projects to Give an Old House a New Look



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 askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Jenny in PA: Hello Brian, My husband and I are proud new first time homeowners. We’ve been in our home since April and are now comfortable that our budget will allow for a few inexpensive improvement projects. Our house is an older 1983 split-level in need of some modernization. I have no experience doing home improvement projects but my husband has some limited experience. He helped his father do a bath remodel when he was a teenager and he’s helped a buddy with a few home repairs over the past few years. Both of us want to become more adept with home repairs and improvements. Our thoughts are to start with a few smaller projects and build up to bigger projects as we gain more experience. Where’s a good place to start to bring our home into this century?

Answer: Hello Jenny. I like the way you think on a couple of levels. Learn-as-you-go is a great approach. Also, updating your older house will make it feel like you have more of a custom home as well as add value over the years. There are tons of DIY projects to get you started. Novices can complete many of these in a single weekend to build confidence for venturing into bigger projects in a few short months. And speaking of this century, you can easily search for online detailed instructions covering almost any project. Including high-quality videos showing step-by-step instructions. So let’s take a look at a few to get you guys started.

Replace kitchen and bathroom hardware. Once you have all of the hardware off the cabinets and drawers, you might want to consider painting them a contemporary color. But as for the hardware, this can make a striking difference in both rooms while being one of the easiest projects that requires the fewest tools. You can choose to either carefully match the new hardware size to the existing screw holes or plug and drill new holes. If you plug and drill new holes, plan to repaint the entire cabinets and drawers. If you want to match the existing holes, measure the distance between holes and bring an old knob to the hardware store for comparison.

Replace the showerhead while you are making small changes in the bathroom. Replacing a 1980s showerhead makes a big difference. You’ll probably improve the water pressure with a new head and also update to a spa-like look and shower experience. Depending on the model you select, you might not need much more than an adjustable wrench and some plumber’s tape to wrap around the threads of the pipe protruding from the wall.

Add pullouts, shelves, and other organizing tools inside your kitchen cabinets. Adding pullout drawers requires some more advanced skills and tools. But inserting wire shelves or a Lazy Susan for spices takes no skill and significantly increases your storage capacity.

Update the front of your house. You can move up the skill level by replacing your front door with something more contemporary or you could just give it a new coat of paint. Paint is your friend when first starting with small DIY projects. It’s important to use the right paint. Good brushes also make a big difference but good brushes are expensive, so you want to choose wisely. You also want to get in the habit of taking care of good paintbrushes. While you are at the front door, paint all the trim and the garage door as well. Add fresh house numbers and a new mailbox.

Convert a coat closet into a small mudroom. Jenny, a split-level house doesn’t usually have a coat closet at the front door so this probably won’t work for you but it could work for a lot of other people. Converting it into a mudroom or something more useful can be as simple as removing the closet doors and adding hooks and shelves for backpacks, sports equipment, and other items to better meet your family’s needs.

Let’s move a little further up the DIY experience level…

Swap out for updated light fixtures. Changing an old light fixture for a more fashionable one of the same size is surprisingly easy; this can include the dining area chandelier. The big thing here is being confident that you turn off the electricity at the breaker box. Most lighting fixtures attach to standard size electrical boxes on the ceiling. Usually, the only tools needed are screwdrivers and pliers. Change the wire cap connectors at the same time. However, if you deviate from standard electrical fittings, you might want to bring in a professional or at least ask for help from a friend with the right experience. While you’re at it, replace all of your outlet and switch covers with new clean custom ones.

Take on replacing plumbing fixtures. Beware here, plumbing is often more difficult than it looks. You’re probably not ready to gut and remodel an entire bathroom but starting with new faucets can expressively modernize your kitchen and bath.

Let’s hear your simple DIY ideas for updating. Please add comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.