How to Renovate Your Whole House When You’re on a Budget

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When Lauren Hamilton and her husband bought their house in 2014, they were excited to find the kitchen and bathrooms had recently been updated.

But other details were more than 20 years old, so Hamilton looked for budget-friendly ways to make upgrades. By thinking creatively and taking a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) approach, Hamilton made small changes that had a big impact.

I spoke with the lifestyle blogger behind about her tips for renovating on the cheap. Plus, Lucas Machado, president of real estate company House Heroes, weighs in with his best advice on home improvement projects.

Here’s the unique advice Hamilton and Machado have for renovating your home on a budget.

Small cosmetic changes can go a long way

Hamilton and her husband didn’t have the budget for a total house makeover. So Hamilton looked for small changes that would make the space prettier and more modern.

“We chose home upgrades that would be inexpensive, yet have a big impact,” Hamilton said. “Some of the original details aged the place … and we wanted to do updates that would make the space feel newer.”

She started by replacing the doors in her home. This fix was the most expensive, with a total price tag of about $450. But they were able to save money by installing the doors themselves rather than hiring a contractor.

When it came to updating the hinges and doorknobs, Hamilton didn’t buy new. Instead, she and her husband spray-painted the original doorknobs oil-rubbed bronze.

This clever trick gave her doors a makeover, and the spray paint cost only $6. She used a similar trick on outdated oak kitchen cabinets, opting to paint them white rather than replace them altogether.

“It made an enormous difference in terms of brightening and renewing the space,” she said. “A couple paint cans later, our kitchen cabinet update only cost about $40.”

Once she saw what a difference paint made in her kitchen, Hamilton’s next step was to repaint each room in her house.

“You’d be surprised what modern wall colors can do for a home,” Hamilton said.

Although they spent a good amount of time making these updates, Hamilton and her husband didn’t spend much money.

Overall, replacing the doors (about $450), repainting the walls and kitchen cabinets (about $400 for paint and materials), and doing outdoor landscaping (about $300) set them back about $1,150.

“Our cheap reno came down to three elements: only replacing things that couldn’t be cosmetically upgraded, using new paint to make original pieces feel modern, and making what was already there prettier,” she said.

renovate home

Image credit: Lauren Hamilton

Invest in home fixes with long-term value

Hamilton focused on cosmetic upgrades that would turn her living space into her dream home. Not only does she love the results, but the modern look might impress future homebuyers, should she ever decide to sell her house.

Machado, who regularly renovates homes and resells them to new buyers, said increasing the value of your home should be a key goal of any renovation project.

“When renovating on a budget, you need to know where to spend your cash to have maximum return,” said Machado. “The goal is to spend on renovations that have a return on investment.”

One way to figure out which projects have a high return on investment (ROI) is to research comparable listings.

“Determine the differences in sale prices between houses with and without upgrades you are considering and then get quotes for making those repairs,” suggested Machado. “It’s easy at that point to tell if it’s worth it to spend your budget on the repairs.”

But Machado said there are two upgrades that are almost always worth the expenditure.

First, he said modern homebuyers don’t like carpeting.

“Laying down a shiny new wood floor across easily pays for itself several times over,” advised Machado.

Second, he says resurfacing old floors, cabinets, and appliances can go a long way.

You could apply wood veneer over old cabinets, for instance, to make them look as if they’re made of solid wood all the way through. This project could cost at least $2,500, according to HouseLogic, and more if you go with high-quality veneer.

Compared to the $15,000 or more you could pay for new cabinets, though, resurfacing is a lot more cost-effective.

According to Machado, the final result is worth the effort. “Resurfacing adds considerable market value — without breaking the bank,” he said.

If you’re considering whether a home renovation project is worth the cost, consider its long-term ROI. Even though you’ll be spending money today, you could make it back when you sell in the future. And in the meantime, you’ll get to enjoy a more beautiful home.

Be strategic about saving money on home upgrades

When it comes to saving money on home renovations, there are a few tried-and-true techniques.

  1. Take a DIY approach where you can. That doesn’t mean you should wire electricity if that’s not in your skill set. But if you can do certain construction projects on your own, it could cost less than hiring a contractor.
  2. Use creative approaches to make your space more beautiful. You could follow Hamilton’s lead, for instance, and use spray paint to beautify doorknobs rather than paying for new replacements.
  3. Look for recycled materials. Habitat for Humanity ReStore, for instance, sells surplus building materials donated by contractors, as well as gently used furniture and appliances.
  4. Check the ROI of your home renovation projects. Consider whether the expenditure is worth it, particularly if it increases the value of your home.
  5. Plan for home improvement expenses. Save up money so you can pay for some projects out of pocket. If you’re undertaking a big renovation, a second option is to cover costs with a personal loan. Lenders such as Upstart and SoFi, for example, offer personal loans for home improvement projects. Make sure you understand the interest rates and repayment terms, so you’re not taking on debt that could become burdensome.

As long as you’re strategic about your renovation and how you’ll pay for it, your efforts could pay off in a major way. Hopefully, you will end up with a more beautiful home that increases in value thanks to your smart upgrades.

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