How to Approach Renovations?

I'm hoping for some advice on how to approach house renovations! We've lived in our house for ten years, and some renovations are direly needed. There's budgetary flexibility, and we could probably take out a loan, but generally the less money we spend the better.

(I doubt "setting up your budget" is the right sub-forum for this, but none of the others were clearly the right one either.)

A lot of spaces in this old house are oddly shaped and narrow, and we have a contractor who is really honest and diligent, but basically just installs typical home depot generic stuff--not really good at awkward small spaces or aesthetic results.

Here are the goals: 

- be able to do home exchange to save a lot of money on travel

- make home more sellable but also enjoy changes ourselves

- make home more practical for a work-at-home family... and safe

One issue with the last two goals is that we're not completely sure if we're planning to stay here long-term or not. We think it's a little more likely that we will, but we're still not sure. It would be better to know for sure to decide what type of renovation to do, but it's going to take some time. One of the pros for moving is that we could do less renovating here, and also leaving behind the risk of a megaquake, but our social life and many roots are here and we don't know exactly where we'd move to if we go East (we're in Canada)

If we get a larger renovation that has to be registered, then everything will have to be brought to code whether it's important to us or not

Bottom line question is, with a weird small/narrow old house with a lot of issues, when you're not completely sure whether you'll stay or go after about 5 more years, how do you decide what to do? 

Renovations that are needed:

- earthquake proofing

- update electrical, some of which is very old, which will lower our insurance; but it also makes it into more of a whole-house reno

- we have one of those large open showers, which is sort of wonderful and luxurious... but it was tiled by the previous owner and that desperately needs to be redone... and then it's like half of the whole bathroom that is actually tiled.. and then it would be good to get some electrical stuff in there moved around

- really everything else in the bathroom needs to be redone as well, toilet, sink... but that part of the bathroom is quite small with an awkwardly located window, so typical stuff won't fit

- the kitchen... oh man the kitchen... the oven is basically just shoved in not installed properly. The large sink is majorly cracked, it was cracked already then a shelf of vases fell on it. There's no dishwasher. The fridge was a special half-size fridge and we loved it, but then they discontinued that size and the only one that fits in that space is even smaller. It really doesn't work for us anymore. The shelving is basically open shelving but it's totally weird and kinda mismatched and ugly. The lower cabinets are floating above the floor so there's always extra dirt pooling underneath them. It's a narrow room so to have room for a dining area, the kitchen area is really small

- for both the bathroom and kitchen, the previous owner loved, not sure of the technical term, unvarnished marble. 

- there's also just a ton of "old house" small busted up little details in lots of out of the way spots

- the floor is at least 80 year old pine (softwood). There's one board in the hallway that has been putting out splinters since we moved in.

- there's a basement suite which is common in our area; if staying here, we'd have to reincorporate the floors together because we need the extra space for family size and workspaces; if we didn't and we registered the renovation we'd need to create an extra exit for the basement suite anyway... on both floors there's two bedrooms but they're very small and close together with very little soundproofing (one has a weird closet/ladder to attic/no real door area between them)... all not very workable for a family over the long term... we stopped renting out the downstairs suite not only because we needed the workspace, but also because soundproofing is terrible, even though when we first got the place they improved soundproofing as much as they could, but it's just patchy

- the downstairs kitchen is weird, too

- quite a few windows need to be redone

- considering whether we need to change the heating/water/no AC stuff as the climate is changing and for efficiency and space... if we were able to get rid of the ducts, the downstairs would be a lot nicer for tall people like my husband

- there's a large storage space downstairs facing the garden that would bring a lot of light into the "basement" if it was incorporated and nicely done

- oh, I forgot... the outside walls are stucco and apparently were really badly done and need to be redone

- the roof was also badly done as it was double-shingled, but anyway will need to be redone in the next few years too as we've lived here ten years

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  • Such a good question! I don't have any specific tips, as I haven't dove into renovating (much) myself, but I have considered some of the same questions. Right now my budget is named Operation: Love Where You Live, and  I have a category in my budget for these very improvementsThe housing market where I am left us underwater for a very long time, and so I decided to make a concerted effort towards making some of those changes that (a) I'd enjoy and (b) would make my house more sellable.

    The other thing I've thought about, now that the housing market is much different is how much I'd need to spend to buy a different house. It might cause $30,xxx in closing costs, real estate agent fees, etc just to move, plus who knows what amount of money to get into a house that is the same value as money, not to mention improvements of any kind. What would it look like to use the same amount of money towards improving my current residence? 

    Does it make sense to consult with a real estate agent to find where the venn diagram of Improvements for Staying and Improvements for Selling overlap?

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      • Masha
      • masha
      • 5 mths ago
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      Marisa Yes, that's definitely one of the arguments in favor of staying! But then on the other hand, I tend to think that the changes we'd have to make to this house to live here long-long term would add so much to the cost it might more or less be equal to the money we'd save by not moving. So then I get into a different mental ping-pong game on the moving question... cons: leave friends and roots behind, generally difficult ... pros: no megaquake risk, prefer landscape... opportunity to choose a house more wisely... but then there's also the question of living in the Greater Toronto Area or some place we know even less about... or just freakin' move to Europe if we can swing it? So... clearly spinning my mental wheels.

      I think the hardest part is I really need a professional to help me work through what's worth doing based on cost among other things. But that's not how they work... I am supposed to set a budget and say what I want, and they tell me if all that stuff can't be squeezed into the budget. But, the budget isn't hard-set... I can justify spending more if I'm confident the spending is truly high on ROI for both value to us and for the worth of the house. But, not if I'm just getting carried away with house stuff which can increase fast. I also need to find a professional who can make sure things look good, and I'm not even sure what that is called. Interior designer? And meanwhile that will bump up the cost of course. Less so if it's just for kitchen and bathroom though, more so if it's "making this weird old house work for a WAH family of 4 for the next 20 years..." but that would be getting into architectural changes too.

      At least one big advantage we have is that there are places we can stay for free during a renovation, at least after my parents' place has had major water damage from a neighbor's renovation repaired... ah it never ends!

      I can't scroll up so I don't remember if I said this in the first post, but after writing most of it I was thinking we should come up with a 2 (3?) stage plan for renos... ASAP do the absolute essentials/safety stuff and some minor improvements, including kitchen and bathroom... and have a plan for a reno for the long term that we're working around, but aren't absolutely committed to yet. I guess I should ask our contractor exactly what would be involved in updating all the electrical and earthquake-proofing the house, cause if it's a huge disruption then might as well do more big stuff, but otherwise we could keep it a bit more limited.

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  • In my house projects here is how I prioritize:

    1- safety. So, for me, earthquake mitigation would come first. That involves possibly saving lives, your own or someone else's.

    2 - energy efficiency, dealing in a proactive way with reducing emissions. For me, after addressing safety issues in my home I took on insulation , efficient furnace and the like. 

    3 - beauty & functionality. 

    I think it would be really hard or even impossible to figure out how to prioritize in a context where the budget is open ended, & you're not sure if you're staying or going. It's so different to renovate for oneself versus for "the market." 

    If I were in that situation I would take care of safety & efficiency issues, then I'd spend just a little money on some basics (the kitchen being more functional - I think you could replace the sink and get a diswasher and a better fridge / fix shelves etc. for not too much, and a more workable kitchen would probably have the most value in terms of house swapping)  . . . and let the rest slide until you make that more basic decision about where you want to live.

  • Also, in the US at least, right now is a terrible time to do major projects. Materials are backordered, prices are really high, etc. Not a great time for major projects of any kind.

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