Renovation costs aren’t only an investment in your home – they’re a necessary part of making it a more enjoyable place to live. If you’re like most people, you consider your home to be your biggest financial asset, and an expression of your values and taste. So, when it’s time to do some serious work, you want to focus on the joy of bringing new life to the old homestead. The renovation costs, handled properly, don’t need to be a source of stress that spoils the fun – here are some ideas for how to make the most of your time and money when you produce your own “home makeover” show.

1. What is a good budget for home renovation?

You’ve heard the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once?” Well, that applies to major renovations as much as it does to a simple task. Whether you’re redoing one room or going far beyond that, it pays – literally – to think ahead.

Define what it is you want to accomplish. Decide whether you can do any, or all of the work yourself. If not, think about who you would hire. Do you need help from an architect or designer? Will a trip to the local kitchen and bath shop be enough? Will you need any building permits? How long with that take, and how much will it cost? Plot out how long you expect the project to take. Think, too, about what the next project will be, and the one after that.

Research the new trends and the traditional styles. Think about the looks, textures and colors that will make you smile when you enter the room. The further ahead you get on this, the better your chances of spotting the “just right” thing at one of your trips to a thrift store or local sale.

Come up with a detailed budget as you come up with your plan. Winging it gets expensive. It leads to wasted time returning items that don’t work out, or not being able to afford the show-stopper you really wanted because you spent all your money on mundane items. Many websites provide calculators to give you the average cost of various projects – try starting there first.

One big advantage of thinking ahead is that it gives you time to save up money for the project. If possible, pay in cash for as much as you can to avoid paying interest on your credit card. Every dollar you pay in interest is a dollar that could have gone to your next project.

At the same time, judicious use of a 0% interest introductory credit card from a lender or a store could save a lot of money. Stores often give a significant discount to people on their first purchase with a new credit card, and good planning could help you take maximum advantage of this. Developing a renovation budget will also clue you in early as to whether you will need to finance some of the work. If it turns out that you do, you’ll then have plenty of time to shop for a personal loan or other financing. Budget twice, pay once. And pay less.

2. Shop outside the box

When it’s time to put those plans into action, take advantage of the incredibly wide range of outlets at your disposal. Besides the regular stores, check out resale venues, like Diggers List and Habitat for Humanity ReStores. They sell used building materials for much less than you would spend for new stuff. One note of caution, however – some contractors may not work with this kind of material because they don’t want to warranty it.

See if any building supply auctions are held nearby, and don’t forget about Craigslist, eBay or Freecycle.

By the same token, before you begin your job, ask the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to come by and take any materials and fixtures they might want to resell. You’ll get your stuff hauled away at no cost and gain a possible tax deduction.

3. To save big bucks, don’t move the plumbing

Renovation means fixing up what you have in place, while a remodeling project involves reshaping rooms to give them new purpose and create additional space. Either way, avoid moving sinks, toilets and faucets if possible – plumbing costs add up very quickly. Think hard about moving electric and gas lines and removing walls, too. These major expenses and will pile on additional costs compared to renovating around your fixtures.

4. Retail price is not the only price

The internet puts a great deal of information at our fingertips, making shopping online incredibly easy. But don’t forget your local merchants – they’re a part of your community, and you can combine these two elements to your advantage by asking local retailers if they’ll match online prices. If you own a home, building a good relationship with local businesses is a solid investment. Also, if you’ve hired contractors or sub-contractors to do work for you, give their names and see if you can get a discount.

5. Put the money where it counts

When you plan your project, think about what the centerpiece will be, and what parts of the room will suffer the most wear and tear. Those are the places to splurge.

Whether it’s the kitchen countertops you love, an island, or a fancy gas stove, get the best you can comfortably afford. Then, spend less on the rest of the room. Use a coat of paint instead of tile in other parts of the kitchen, choose laminate instead of hardwood floors, the money-saving options are limitless. For bathroom renovations, you could focus on the sink, countertop, mirror, and lighting, while going with sturdy-but-plain everywhere else.

And don’t skimp on things that will get a lot of wear and tear in your house – if you don’t buy quality material, you’ll be paying repair costs or replacing the cheap stuff before long. (This is another category where planning and a realistic budget can make a big difference.)

6. How do I cut renovation costs? DIY.

While keeping in mind your limitations, DIY projects may save a great deal of money as part of a bigger renovation or remodeling job. Painting, putting up a tile backsplash and installing laminate flooring are frequently cited as “doable” DIY projects. With that said, there are other ways to apply a little elbow grease and save money.

You can save money by being your own delivery service. Rent a truck from a home improvement store, or rent a trailer, to haul your own materials and save on delivery costs. If you’re hiring a contractor, ask how much he’ll trim your bill if you reduce the number of hours he spends on tear down, prep work or cleanup.

7. Kitchen cabinets

You can replace your kitchen cabinets with gorgeous, custom cabinets with soft-closing doors and lots of specialty slide-out drawers. But what else could you do with that money if you went a different way?

According to HomeAdvisor.com, kitchen cabinets range from $100 to $1,200 per linear foot, so a typical 10-by-10-foot kitchen would run anywhere from $2,000 to $24,000. And when we check in with Remodeling Magazine, we find that the No. 3 home project for return on investment, at 72%, is “minor kitchen remodel – midrange” that includes replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. The cost estimated is $26,214 for the entire project.

A “major kitchen remodel – upscale” ranks at No. 19 for return on investment, which is 54%. That project includes “30 linear feet of top-of-the-line custom white cabinets with built-in sliding shelves and other interior accessories.” The estimate cost for the entire project is $149,079.

You can keep the cost of kitchen cabinets down by shopping for old showroom models, painting or refinishing your old cabinets, and replacing only the doors and drawer fronts. Another possibility: Remove some of the cabinets to create more open space or replace them with open shelves.

8. Appliances

The cost of new appliances adds up fast. There are ways, however, to keep the expenses down. Look for floor models that your favorite retailers are ready to let go of. Keep an eye out for scratch and dent models. Who cares if there is a little dent in the side of the refrigerator that nobody sees?

When the checkout clerk asks if you want to buy the extended warranty, consider just saying no. Instant savings, and they’re rarely needed. If you’re worried about getting appliances repaired, put that money into a savings account for just that purpose.

9. Put a lid on it

A bathroom remodel can be costly, especially when you consider the relatively small square footage. Here’s an easy, DIY renovation project: Install a new toilet lid and toilet seat instead of replacing the toilet. Who can tell the difference between a new toilet and the one you already have? No one. And you save hundreds of dollars on a new toilet and the plumbing costs.

10. Vet your contractor

This last item might give you the most savings or save you from the most heartburn.

First, get three contractors to give you cost estimates written up after in-person visits. The best one might not be the one with the lowest price. Notice whether the person is organized and arrived on time. Is it someone you want to work with and trust being in your home? Ask for references and check them.

The bigger the project, the more important it is to get things – all the things – in writing. Come up with a punch list so that you can check through it to make sure everything is done before you pay.

Make it clear that you will want a signed contract that includes these points:

  • When is the project expected to be finished? What happens if the project extends beyond that date?
  • What will the cost of materials be?
  • Who will be doing the work?
  • How will cost overruns be handled? You could agree to a fixed price, which might be more expensive but would relieve you of any responsibility for overruns. Otherwise, you could agree to pay for materials and labor as needed beyond the original estimate, hoping that there won’t be any need to. Ask to see receipts.
  • When is money owed, and what percentage of the project must be completed before the next payment is made? When is the final payment due?
  • What kind of warranty does the contractor give for his work?

Also, consider the timing of your project. Some contractors charge less during down times, which generally is in the winter after Christmas break.

You’ve got this!

For a little inconvenience, some hard work and an infusion of money, you can take your home to the next level. Whether you can cover the cost from savings or need a personal loan to make it happen, you can do it!