Ask Brian: What are the Steps to Rehab a House?

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].

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Question from Carol in NC: Hello Brian, my late husband and I bought our first home in 1998. It’s an adorable 2,000 square foot all brick house that was perfect for us because we didn’t have kids or extended family living with us. Unfortunately, my husband passed away almost 10 years ago. I’m only now getting over the devasting loss. Since his passing, I’ve kept myself busy every waking hour running our two internet businesses. I’ve completely neglected the upkeep of the house. At first, I didn’t want anything to change about the house as a tribute to my late husband. After several years, I was so involved with the businesses that I simply chose to ignore everything else in my life, including the upkeep of the house.

After two years of professional counseling, I’m ready to move on with my life and begin making changes. I still haven’t decided whether I want to sell the house or just make it more modern for myself. However, I have decided that I want to do a major rehab either way. I don’t know where to begin. Can you please tell me what the major steps to a rehab involve?

Answer: Hello Carol. I’m sorry for your loss but glad that you are ready to move on. A major rehab is a big undertaking. You didn’t say how fast you want to complete the rehab but there are two general approaches. You can do one room at a time or the entire house all at once. One room at a time means that you will be living in a construction zone longer than if you tackle the entire house all at once. It also typically costs more to do it one room at a time. With that in mind, I’m going to list the steps for a fast-paced rehab of the entire house.

The goal of a fast-paced rehab is completing it as quickly as possible while keeping it on budget and without compromising quality. Each rehab is different depending on the scope and size of the project but with each project, you need a timeline for the correct order of completing each step in the right sequence. Careful planning is needed to avoid overlapping contractors or doing work out of sequence causing more work later on.

For example, if you paint the interior too soon, you’ll be touching up the paint after minor nicks and scuffs from installing large appliances, messy tile work, etc. (this has happened many times!). The goal is to have as much work going at the same time without negatively impacting other work or causing additional work.

Carol, to illustrate, let’s assume you’re doing a project that needs a full rehab both inside and outside. Here is a step-by-step timeline:

Phase 1: All of the following items are the first things to do and can be done at the same time, independently of each other as soon as permits are issued.

  • Pull permits.
  • Demo (exterior and interior).
  • Install new thermal windows.
  • Install new roof.
  • Install new garage door.

Phase 2: After Phase 1 items are complete, you move on to Phase 2:

  • Exterior siding/fascia/soffit: siding is in Phase 2 because while tearing off the roof shingles (Phase 1), the debris might scratch or damage the siding, fascia, soffit, and/or gutters.
  • New trim around the thermal windows.
  • Driveway.
  • Porches and decks.
  • Framing: any framing for closets, doors, widening rooms, adding a wall, etc. comes after the demo.
  • Rough trades: these are electrical, mechanical, and plumbing and they come in after demo but before drywall, because they will be cutting holes to do their work.

Phase 3:

  • Drywall: drywall comes after the rough trades and framing.
  • Subfloors: subfloors are done in preparation for ceramic tile in the kitchen and baths but obviously before carpet or wood floors.
  • Basement. any mold control, patchwork, or repairs.
  • Gutters: now that fascia, soffit, and roof work are complete, gutters can be installed.

Phase 4:

  • Backer-board/tile.
  • Hang doors.

Phase 5:

  • Ceramic tile.
  • Set cabinets/vanities: ceramic tile must be done before setting cabinets/vanities because the cabinets sit on top of the tile.

Phase 6:

  • Appliances: once cabinets are set, appliances can be installed.
  • Granite: once cabinets are set, granite tops can be installed.
  • Final plumbing: install all of the fixtures.

Phase 7:

  • Wood Floors: once wood floors are finished, they are covered with paper and plastic for protection.
  • Base trim.

Phase 8:

  • Interior paint.
  • Landscaping.

Phase 9:

  • Carpet: carpet is after paint so as not to get paint on the carpet.
  • Final electrical: Install all the light and other electrical fixtures. This is done after painting so as not to get paint on the fixtures.
  • Final mechanical.

Phase 10:

  • Punch list.

Phase 11:

  • Final cleaning.

This is just an example. With each project, constantly ask yourself, “What else can be going on right now?” Building a timeline upfront involves planning the sequence of work and then scheduling the contractors. This means that you need to be highly organized with your contractors. It means you need to constantly think ahead about what’s going to be next.

Carol, I wish you the best as you make this major modernization to start a new life and hope your rehab turns out to be everything that you want.

What rehabbing tips can you offer? Please leave your 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 [email protected].

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