If you’re embarking on renovations on a tight budget, it can be hard to decide what to do first. We asked experts to identify the best projects for your wallet and your home.
Updated on August 30, 2022
Most people who purchase fixer-upper homes generally do so because they can’t afford a turnkey property that meets their needs. A recent report from Buildworld, a UK company that connects buyers with building materials, reveals that 73% of people who buy fixer-uppers do so because of money issues. However, financial reality can be challenging when moving into a home that needs a little (or a lot) of TLC. Homeowners often wonder which renovation projects they should focus on first if the budget is tight. And why?
According to Buildworld, the average spend on “necessary repairs” is about $13,000, and “practical upgrades” cost about $6,000. So we asked experts to help identify the fixer-upper projects that make the most sense right out of the gate and give you the most bang for your buck. Here’s what the industry insiders had to say, along with a few fixer-upper tips on how to get organized as you embark on your fixer-upper facelift.
You Bought a Fixer-Upper—Now What?
First things first: It’s essential to understand what work should be done for safety reasons and to prevent costly challenges down the road. The best way to do this is to have a professional assess your newly purchased home and use that insight to develop a game plan.
“Create a priority list and start with what must be fixed,” says Robbie Maynard, San Diego-based interior designer and owner of Robbie Interiors. “Hire an inspector to look for potential issues or hazards with electrical, plumbing, and the roof. It’s a good idea to start with the structure and take care of items like electrical, which can be a potential fire hazard, as well as plumbing issues so that you don’t end up with major problems or damage in the future. You will not see a great transformation, but it brings peace of mind.”
Getting a renovation cost estimate from an expert can give you a realistic idea of how much money you’ll need to accomplish each item on the list. Then you can decide what you can afford to do first. And remember, while safety repairs are likely among the most expensive, they’re critical to laying the proper groundwork for subsequent projects.
“Upgrading plumbing and electrical is always expensive,” says AmyLynn Schwartzbard, owner of New York City-based Life Designs Group. “A two-bedroom, two-bath home could run $25,000-plus for all new electrical wiring and outlets. Plumbing could run $15,000-plus. But the additional work isn’t worth doing if the inner runnings of the home are in disarray.”
- Refresh Rooms with Paint
Once you’ve addressed safety matters, you can focus on aesthetic renovation projects and upgrades. Adding a new coat of paint throughout your home can make a big difference without a big investment, says Stephanie Lindsey, principal designer with Texas-based Etch Design Group.
“A fresh coat of paint on walls goes a long way for our mental health,” says Lindsey. “We feel rejuvenated and like we have a clean slate to start a new chapter. You can paint walls, cabinets, or even your front door for a fresh new look.”
The best part: a paint project can cost as little as $50, depending on the scope. Maynard also notes that paint almost always needs a refresh when a home transitions from one owner to the next. “New paint is the first thing that makes a huge impact,” says Maynard. “The great thing is you can paint yourself and save on this one.”
For an added style boost, consider painting an accent or focal wall, generally the wall you first see when entering a room. It might also be the wall where your sofa or bed is located. “Dark gray or smoky green or blue are all popular colors,” says Maynard.
- Install New Flooring
Another project that can make a tremendous and immediate difference in a fixer-upper is flooring. Maynard recommends luxury vinyl plank flooring to save money, which runs about $5 a square foot.
“It’s the best thing since sliced bread,” says Maynard. “It looks like real wood for a fraction of the cost. I love the chevron or herringbone patterns, which I have been specifying in many of my projects. Luxury vinyl plank is also water-resistant and can be used in bathrooms. New flooring and paint will transform your fixer-upper right before your eyes.”
Not only will new flooring brighten a fixer-upper visually, but tackling this type of change early on can be much easier logistically. Once you’ve moved in, and your furniture and personal belongings fill every room, redoing flooring can be challenging at best.
One additional fixer-upper tip: the color you select for your vinyl flooring or floor stain will also help set the stage for future updates in your home.
- Upgrade the Exterior
Exterior upgrades are also an important consideration for fixer-uppers. They can be more affordable than interior changes, which often require plumbing and other system improvements. The 2020 US Houzz & Home Study found that 21% of renovating homeowners tackled roofing, windows and skylights, and exterior paint projects at a median spend of $8,000, $3,900, and $1,000, respectively. Realtor Jennifer Thomson says that outdoor yard and landscaping projects are also a good idea.
“Don’t forget about your fixer-upper’s curb appeal; the neighbors will thank you and you will be able to enjoy your yard in the summer months,” says Thomson, who recommends adding grass for starters. “If you use fast-growing grass seed, you will have a lush lawn surrounding your home in no time. Most homeowners spend between $450 and $900 on lawn seeding a 5,000-square-foot lawn. When it comes time to sell your fixer-upper, the curb appeal will add thousands to the value of your home.”
- Remodel Your Kitchen
It’s no secret that kitchens are among the priciest renovations homeowners embark upon—because who doesn’t want a dream kitchen with all of the bells and whistles, right? The good news is that a kitchen renovation doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. And furthermore, you might want to prioritize your spending on this space, given just how big of a role kitchens play in everyday life. (Not to mention the solid return on investment you’re likely to get.)
“The kitchen is one of the most used and important spaces in the home,” says Maynard. She notes that one way to save costs on improvements in this room is by simply painting or refinishing your cabinets if they’re in good shape. Taking this approach could cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500, Maynard estimates.
If the doors aren’t in good shape and won’t be much improved with paint, refacing (replacing the doors) can be another budget-friendly cabinet upgrade option. Costs range from $5,000 to $7,000, says Maynard. Bottom line: kitchen renovations don’t have to cost more than $15,000 or $20,000.
- Replace Windows
Installing new windows might not be the cheapest project to tackle initially, depending on who you buy them from (and you should definitely shop around.) But this improvement can pay for itself over the long run by saving you money on utility bills.
“Old windows might have air leaks, which can cause your furnace or HVAC system to work overtime and increase your bills,” says Andrew Wilson, a home improvement contractor based in Madison, Wisconsin. “Plus, it also makes living in the home comfier when you don’t have to worry about the cold breeze or warm summer heat entering through the windows seasonally.”
- Repair Drywall and Ceilings
Yet another fixer-upper tip is to do significant drywall or ceiling repairs for logistical reasons, including moving walls. Like flooring, this type of work is best tackled before moving in.
“Removing popcorn ceiling texture? It’s a messy job and much easier to do when you don’t have to worry about getting furniture or floors wet and dirty,” says Robert Taylor, a rehabber based in Sacramento, California. He’s been fixing and flipping homes for more than 15 years.
Most homeowners can remove the popcorn ceiling on their own. Still, you’ll need someone to come through to retape and texture the ceiling, says Taylor, owner of The Real Estate Solutions Guy. Expect removal of acoustic ceiling texture and retexturing to cost around $2 to $3 per square foot, says Taylor.
Matney Construction, located in Mount Airy, Maryland, specializes in building new homes and residential remodeling. We know that the decision to build or remodel a home is no easy thing. As a family owned and operated business, we work closely with our clients to create their dream home, from custom floor plans and options, to bath and kitchen remodels. Whether it’s a single room or an entire home, we pride ourselves on meeting your quality standards, timeline and budget. Contact us today to have our professional design experts help you make your home unique, stylish, and in-tune with your personality. (410) 635-2500 firstname.lastname@example.org