Are you thinking of making some home improvements? Great! But before you start shopping around for contractors or DIY supplies, there are a few things you should consider. Home improvements can either be one of the best uses of your time, money and effort, or they can be a disastrous waste of all of the above.
Why are you doing it?
That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. Sometimes home improvements are a necessity – for instance, when your house has suffered winter weather damage. Sometimes improvements are simply an effort to improve the value of the property, such as by making it more energy-efficient (which, if the Policy Exchange thinktank has its way, can ultimately earn homeowners a big discount on stamp duty).
The program devised by the thinktank, and under consideration by the government, would include houses’ energy efficiency in the calculation of property values, potentially saving the owners of energy-efficient homes up to £5,000 in stamp duty compared to less energy-efficient homes. Naturally, the increased efficiency would also serve to lower monthly energy costs significantly, especially during the coldest months. Beyond the economic advantages for property owners, implementation of the program “could kickstart an energy efficiency revolution in this country,” according to the report which states that at present, “The UK still has among the least efficient housing stock and highest rates of fuel poverty in Europe.”
Other improvement projects that have shown good returns on investment, particularly at resale time, involve the expansion or aesthetic enhancement of common-use spaces, particularly kitchens and family rooms. The homeowner should exercise restraint in these types of projects, however, as it is easy to go overboard and spend far more than it would be reasonable to expect at resale or overspend in relation to the additional enjoyment of the space.
On the other hand, if you’re simply bored with the appearance of the front loo or you wish your living room were a little bigger so it could accommodate your train set (which it very well could if you just knocked out a wall or two), you might want to reconsider.
How will you fund your project?
After deciding that your improvements are indeed necessary or at least are a very good idea, the first thing you need to do is make a budget and make up your mind to stick to it. Home improvements can be very expensive even under the best of circumstances, but there are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners.
If you don’t have the money to embark upon your project but you really need to make the improvement, consider taking out a home improvement loan. If you cannot qualify for a conventional loan, you might consider a guarantor loan. There are a couple of caveats to consider when considering a guarantor loan. For one thing, interest rate on a guarantor loan is considerably higher than the rate applied to a more conventional loan. In addition, you will have to convince someone with sterling credit to agree to assume responsibility for paying off the loan should you default. This brings up the potential for strained relations with the guarantor, should circumstances or poor money management leave you unable to repay the loan according to the agreement’s terms.
How much (if any) should you do yourself?
There are a number of home repairs and improvements that someone with even modest handyman skills can undertake successfully. Avoid undertaking any project that impacts the structure of the house, the wiring or plumbing lines, or virtually anything that initially required the efforts of a licensed contractor. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a Los Angeles-based plumber (depending on where you live) to handle the dirty work for you. Taking on a project that requires skills you aren’t absolutely certain you possess could prove costly, should you find yourself in over your head midway through the project.
That said, there are many projects that you can take on that require more patience than technical skill, and on which you can save a considerable amount of money by performing the labor yourself rather than hiring a tradesman. Here are a few examples.
Painting – You will be considerably slower than a professional painter, and you will make a bigger mess of your clothing as well as the work space, but by taking your time and using an abundant supply of drop cloths and masking tape on indoor jobs, you should be able to complete a job in which you can take real pride.
Sealing droughts – There are numerous products available that are absolutely simple to use to seal off droughts around windows, doors, and even at electrical sockets in exterior walls. Better still, these products are relatively inexpensive, and you can tackle them at your leisure, rather than having to complete a major task all at once.
Clear slow or blocked drains – A sink or tub that is slow to drain is usually easy to remedy, often without disassembling anything or even getting the disgusting debris that blocks the drain on your hands. Every home should have at least one plunger for stubborn sinks and tubs, and another for toilets. Chemical drain cleaners or household drain snakes can be purchased cheaply, and will take care of more stubborn clogs, but if these don’t work, ring up a competent plumber.
By using common sense and being at least marginally aware of your own financial and mechanical limitations, you can make significant improvements to your house. And by looking at the bigger picture of how your home affects your overall finances over the longer term, you could spend a significant amount, but save far more in the future.