10 Things You Should Do Before You Renovate

I don’t know about you, but some people are obsessed with home improvement. Frankly it’s one of the most exciting things about becoming an official homeowner: you can do anything you want with your house. Paint the walls, add permanent shelving, swap out the kitchen cabinets—if you can imagine it, it’s probably within your reach. But before you dive into that project you’ve been dreaming of, it might be time to slow down and think for a minute.

Renovation projects are a big deal. Let’s not try to pretend like they’re not. So before you start tearing your house apart, here are 10 things you should probably do first:

1. Be realistic—Yes, yes, this one already has you rolling your eyes, but this should be the first and most important step in your renovation. Decide what you want to do and ask yourself if this project is really something you can take on. How much is it going to cost? Will it fit in with the rest of your home? Is it something you have the time and the money to do? Just pause and think for a moment before you commit and start knocking down walls.

2. Research, research, research—This step goes along with the previous one. While you’re being realistic, now is the time to figure out the answers to all your questions—and figure out if this is a job you can realistically do yourself. Browse the Internet and home improvement magazines for tips, tricks, and pictures of how you want your space to look. This is also the absolute best time to talk to neighbors, friends, and family about renovating and see who has experience in what you’re doing.

3. Find a good contractor—Depending on the size and complexity of your project, enlisting a professional to help you out may not be such a bad idea. You’ll find the best contractors through word of mouth generally, so ask around to find a good referral. If your personal network turns up empty, you can also turn to the Internet. Check sites like homeadvisor.com and homerenovationguide.com. Look around and talk to multiple options before you sign any agreements.

4. Budget like there’s no tomorrow—Sometimes you’re so excited to get started, you forget that renovation jobs take supplies. And supplies cost money as much as we like to pretend they don’t. Even a simple paint job requires a can or two of paint. And rollers. And probably a tray for the paint. And probably an edging brush too, but you get the idea. Plan out exactly what you need and how much it’s going to cost. Bonus points if you can cut down on costs by borrowing supplies from friends.

5. Invest in high-quality materials—As you’re budgeting, plan to use good materials, not the cheapest stuff you can get your hands on. When it comes to renovation, you generally get what you pay for, so choose materials that are built to last. If you can’t afford the higher quality, then I would seriously consider waiting. You don’t want to go through all the work and effort of a renovation if it’s not going to look amazing and last for many years to come.

6. Stick to classic designs when you renovate—The last thing you want is to invest all your money into a project that will look dated in a couple years. Trends are always temporary and better used for decorating and accessories. But when renovating, make sure permanent changes look classic, beautiful, and open. If you’re really in doubt about what “classic” means, talk to a designer or consult Google.

7. Don’t skip the details—Grasping the big picture is important, but keep in mind that the details are what will make or break your renovation. Confirm and reconfirm all your appointments and deliveries. Make sure you’re not overlooking critical pieces that you can’t move forward without. Definitely make sure you’re using the right tools for every task. And before you do anything, always double check all your measurements. Miscalculating even by half an inch will throw off your entire project.

8. Plan to check in on your project every day—If you’re working with a contractor, plan to keep a close eye on the project. Most contractors will tell you to check in once a week, but you honestly should be swinging by the house every single day to be monitoring progress, answering questions, and reacting to potential mistakes. This will save you a ton of money and headaches in the long run, so if you’re planning to be out of town during your renovation, ask a trusted friend to do the checking for you.

9. Set aside money for extra costs—Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, projects end up being more expensive than anticipated. Like if you make a mistake while you’re renovating. Or if you tear apart that old bathroom and find faulty plumbing you weren’t planning to replace. Or if you decide to renovate more right in the midst of your project. Food for thought: you might also want to budget how much your family will spend on takeout while your kitchen is unusable.

10. Get started—and have fun!—Transforming a tired old space into something new and exciting is the most rewarding part of renovating, so don’t get scared off from a project that you really, truly want to do. Once you’ve done everything to prepare, dive in and have a great time watching the magic happen. And if you’re into social media, be sure to document your renovation with pictures, video, or both. All your friends will want to watch your project come together too.