Budget Bangs for Your Buck

Putting money into the curb appeal of your home has a decidedly less glamorous feel than the idea of redoing your bathroom or kitchen. It’s much harder to care about picking out drought resistance ground cover than it is to pick out granite countertops. You know you want to spend your money on something that creates a great impression, transforms your home’s exterior and is a great return on investment, but you also know you don’t want to spend luxury bathroom remodel money on your exterior. It’s not like you can bubble bath in your new sod. Here are some options for a major exterior renovation that doesn’t feel as major to your budget. 

 

Roof, Siding & Gutters

A roof is one of those things that is completely unsexy to buy, but is really important both for your home’s curb appeal and also for its salability. It’s hard to sell a beautiful house with a bad roof—everything is at risk. Fully replacing your roof actually has a little more average return on investment than even a bathroom remodel. It typically costs between $1.50 and $10 per square foot. Even if you can’t replace the roof completely, having a professional look at your roof and suggest options for a refreshment can help get a long life out of your current roof. 

 

New gutters are a much cheaper option—the cost usually lands between $500-$2,000 for replacing your gutters and it’s over in a few days. Gutters are another unsexy exterior component, but gutters do so much heavy lifting to keep your home weatherproof and snug. Also, nothing mars an otherwise pleasant exterior like a broken gutter. 

 

Replacing siding, painting your brick, or adding a veneer, are all options for your exterior that start to get more exciting (colors!) but most options are starting to creep toward more expensive. Replacing siding costs around $10,000, depending on the price of the materials. Painting or refreshing brick costs around $7,000 and adding any kind of veneer interest can run you between $6-9 per square foot. Keep in mind this is another area that recoups value very well. If you see your siding bubbling, blistering, coming loose or otherwise damaged, it’s time to prioritize this upgrade, but a siding professional can help you decide. 

 

Decks & Patio 

Building a deck or patio is another great option for a project with a good return on your investment. People are drawn to homes with those collective spaces where everyone can gather. No matter how simple a project, these spaces are an extension of the spaces inside. A wood deck will cost an average of $7,000 and a stone patio will run between $8-$20 per square foot. A contractor or landscaper is a great person to begin a conversation about creating an outdoor space. 

 

Garage Door

If you’re not ready to change the whole exterior but something has to happen, consider replacing the garage door. The average cost is around $1,000-$1,500 and has an almost 100% return on investment. Replacing the garage door hits a sweet spot between your budget and the need for a visible change in the exterior. 

 

At the end of the day, it’s tough to make decisions about things that don’t have the appeal of something as fun as new kitchen cabinets or a wallpaper in the powder room, but spending some time with a contractor or designer and deciding what investment is needed will go a long way toward picking the right project for your home’s exterior. 

Budget Busters

Ever experience sticker shock in a store? You are just browsing with a sweating Starbucks cup, maybe to get out of the heat for a bit and you see something that looks interesting and reasonable and maybe you know people that have something like it. Reasonable people! You find the little dangly price tag and turn it over and. . . 

Die. 

Okay, you don’t die, but you definitely take a big step back and try to walk away before you accidentally break it. It seemed so reasonable!

When starting on a home renovation, especially with a sizable budget that you’ve spent time preparing, you feel prepared to turn over the price tag. It seems reasonable! But often times, the actual cost gives us the rush of panic as seeing an unexpected price tag in the store. Suddenly, your well-prepared budget can seem small and your dreams still out of reach. 

 

Kitchens

Expect granite, cabinets, and design to be your biggest costs. Hiring a designer can be around half that cost. Something as simple as installing an appliance can be around $200. Installing cabinets will average out to about $5,000. All told, an average kitchen remodel costs a little over $20,000. When you are sitting down to decide your budget, it’s best to keep your kitchen renovation budget between 5-15% of your home’s value. 

 

Bathroom

Hiring a plumber for either kitchen or bathroom starts at $300 and can go from there. If you are installing a shower or bath, especially with tile work, you can expect around $3,000 for an average size project. Most bathroom remodels total around $10,000. A reasonable bathroom remodel budget should be 5-10% of your home value and you can expect around 60% of the value to be retained. 

 

Flooring

Aside from the cost of the actual materials, usually calculated by price per square foot, different materials will have a wide variation of installation costs. Carpets will often be installed for free, but things like hardwood or tile will have higher installation costs and the subfloor may even need preparation before installation can begin. An average flooring remodel will come in around $3,000. 

 

Electrical work 

Needing to run wires, install fixtures, or fix existing problems with a licensed electrician will often start at $400. Expect this to be an additional cost to what you’re expecting to spend on the project. 

 

Overall, materials stay consistent pretty much no matter where you are, but labor prices can fluctuate by 20%. Prepare a budget that can accommodate the known and the unknown, and you’ll be on your way to a smooth renovation project. No surprises needed.

Teamwork Makes The (Home Renovation) Dream Work!

In a home renovation, the contractor is like the lead actor in a play. Your contractor is Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Your contractor is Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. They’re the star power. The one you are oh-so-careful to choose. But just as in a classic musical, a home renovation requires some great supporting cast members. A dazzling general contractor will make everyone they bring on stage look good.

 

Insurance Agent 

A surprising cast member is your insurance agent!  It’s important to talk to your agent when starting a home renovation, because your insurance policy is current for the state of your home when you enacted the policy. Once you begin changing the house, you run the risk of gaps in policy coverage. Another thing to talk with your agent about while you’re on the phone is any policy requirements during the remodel, such as hiring licensed tradesmen or having an agent inspect the home. Staying in conversation with your insurance agent ensures there are no surprises, from start to finish. 

 

Tradesmen 

Tradesmen include jobs such as plumbers, electricians, or plaster specialists. Even if your renovation doesn’t include huge electrical revamps or plumbing lines, it’s important to check in with these professionals to avoid major pitfalls. Your contractor likely has relationships with these sub-contractors, but it’s important to check-in in such critical areas of your home. 

 

Interior Designer

In a home renovation with a limited budget, it might be easy to eliminate an interior designer, but consulting with one, even on a limited basis, will go a long way toward making sure the changes you are making really, truly work—both for the space and your life. There are many affordable options for interior designers, so don’t automatically rule it out of your budget. 

 

Architect/Structural Engineer

An open floor plan is a great idea, until someone rips down the load bearing wall and you hear your ceiling creaking.  Even your contractor doesn’t always know what’s inside the walls. It’s important, when making major changes, to consult with a structural engineer. This will prevent any costly, unnecessary repairs. 

 

Insulation Professional

Not something you might think about, but anytime you open walls or move things around is a great time to reassess your insulation needs. Just a few extra dollars of insulation while the walls are open go a long way toward your overall energy savings. Consulting with a professional before you begin the project can make it part of your plan and part of your budget. 

 

Home Inspector

If you only think of a home inspector when buying or selling a home, you’re missing out on an important function. Having a home inspector come in before the project is finished makes sure that everything has been done correctly, the permits were pulled in order, and there are no issues your contractor has missed. A home inspector has your back. 

 

If you’re looking at this list and feeling overwhelmed, don’t. Making sure your project goes smoothly is just a few extra phone calls or conversations with your general contractor. It’s your show and you have your star, just don’t forget about all the parts that make up the rest of the experience.

Where to Save on Home Improvement

 

Blame it on Fixer Upper (a licensed and experienced contractor, mind you), but just because they make it look easy on TV, doesn’t mean it’s easy in real life. Cutting corners or trying to DIY projects for home improvement you have no experience in can cost you in the long run. But we all want to save money, especially when talking about the significant cost of home improvement. Here’s where you can responsibly save money in a home improvement project.

 

Purchasing your own materials. Taking the time to research products and go out of your way to purchase them (after speaking with your contractor about these options) can often save you a significant portion of money. This works for things like paint, appliances, cabinetry, fixtures, bathroom tile or other flooring, but not for things like roofing, siding, and HVAC, which are best purchased by your specialized licensed contractor.

 

Haggle with your contractor. Be open about your budget and discuss ways to work with your contractor about the areas where you can save money. If your contractor’s timeline is flexible, ask about DIY options within your plan. Your contractor could potentially move to a different project while you complete tasks such as painting. Another way to save is to be responsible for cleaning up the site at the end of every day. And make sure to check your contractor’s website for possible coupons or rebates.

 

The Most Expensive Contractor is Often the Cheapest. Beware of super low bids and get references. Nothing is more expensive than hiring the wrong contractor, who then abandons your project with your money.

 

Doing it Wrong is also Expensive. Even if it seems right, a poorly done project will just need redone in a few years, causing you twice the expense, at least. Be smart and talk to a contractor before embarking on home improvement.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Road Map to Renovation

 

Knowing you want to renovate is often the easiest step of the home improvement process. Deciding what to renovate, where to spend your money, and whether or not to do it yourself are more complex parts of the process. Here are other things to consider as you begin to make your home improvement plan.  

 

Determine your end goal. What do you envision for your end space? What are your long-term plans for your home? Take measurements, collect images and refine your idea so that regardless if you are doing it yourself or hiring someone there is a clear vision to follow. 

 

What tools will you need? If you are planning to DIY any portion of your project, consider the tools you may need beyond just materials and time. For example, if you are going to lay a tile floor, do you have a wet saw? If you do not, would you buy or can you rent?  

 

How much plumbing and electricity are involved? Anytime you start moving pipes or wires, things can get dicey. It’s best to leave these parts of a home improvement project to a professional and get a consultation in advance. Contrary to what often happens on television, it can be very expensive or impossible to move some plumbing or wires. Your project may also need a permit, depending on the scale—something a licensed contractor needs to obtain.  

 

How much time will your project take? Are you looking at a five-year plan, broken down into stages? Or is this something that could be done in a long weekend? Setting a realistic expectation now can help prevent undue stress later on. Generally, everything takes longer than you anticipate.  

 

Does this make financial sense outside of your budget? A common pitfall of home improvement is putting more money into your home than you are able to get out of it.  If you are spending less than five years in this current home, you should consider smaller projects. Have a real estate agent check comps in your area to make sure your plan doesn’t outpace your home value.  

 

Do your contractor homework. Ask specific questions and expect specific answers. Check their references. Ask for pictures of previous projects. Ask friends and family for recommendations. Take your time to compile estimates in order to feel comfortable that the person you hire is both reputable and understands what you are trying to achieve.  

 

Sign a contract. Don’t do work without a contract as it protects both you and your contractor and lays out the expectations. The contract should include a detailed project description, required permits, license and inspections, and insurance or property damage liability. It will state warranties, lien waivers and a clear timeline plus allowances, as well as the ways and circumstances you would receive any money back for unfinished work.  

 

Will my insurance be affected? Check in with your insurance agent to determine if any changes you’ve made to the house affect your policy. You don’t want to get caught being underinsured.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Healthy Gutters, Healthy Home

 

Gutters are the teeth of the house. When they start to go, everything else does to. (Or is it the feet?) Whatever the terrible analogy, healthy gutters are key to keeping your home healthy. They are designed to keep your home free from water damage. When they start to fail, the leaks can damage the fascia board, siding and, quickly, the foundation itself. Here’s what to look for to diagnose a vulnerable gutter system.  

 

Paint is peeling and/or there are signs of rust beginning. Gutter paint is designed to withstand moisture, but not continuous moisture or standing water. When the paint begins to peel or you notice red spots on the paint, it’s a sign the water isn’t flowing away naturally and something is wrong.  

 

Water marks below your gutters. Look at the grass and flower beds after a heavy rain and see if there are any marks in the earth or flattened grass or plants from where water poured directly over/through the gutter rather than being siphoned away appropriately into a downspout. Seeing signs of water where it shouldn’t be, is another indication of a failing gutter system.  

 

Gutters are sagging. Anytime your gutters are sagging it indicates sitting water or a clogged gutter pulling the gutter away from the house. It might be something as simple as a pile of leaves weighing it down, but you anytime you see this is an indication you need to keep a closer eye on the gutters.  

 

Cracks in the gutter or downspoutCracks occur most frequently during the winter, from sitting water melting and refreezing.  

 

In order to prevent problems, you should clean out your gutters every spring and fall at the least. But checking your gutters before a big rainstorm will make sure that there are no accidental leaks or damage that goes unnoticed.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

The Countertop Crossroads

 

You’re done. Done “decorating” with a carefully positioned pot-holder or vase. Done apologizing for your mauve countertop circa The Golden Girls. You just want your scratched, gouged, burnt, or simply hideous countertop to be new. Unfortunately, your budget has other ideas. Don’t lose hope just yet! There may be an option you haven’t considered. You may be able to repair your old or damaged countertop.  

 

What Can Be Repaired? Solid surfaces, laminate and tile.  

 

What Are the Repair Options? Solid surfaces were popular in the eighties and are extremely durable and seamless, they are the easiest to repair because of how durable they are. Laminate, solid surface or tile can also be re-covered with a composite material. The material goes on as a liquid and dries into a hard, new surface.  

 

Can I Choose Different Colors? It’s all well and good to repair a mauve countertop from 1992, but you’re still left with the same countertop. Don’t worry! If you choose the composite material, you can choose both different colors and finishes—from something resembling granite to something as simple as a different color solid surface.  

 

Will I have To Remove My Cabinets or Sink? Typically, no.  

 

How Long Does It Take? Anywhere from one to three days.  

 

What does it cost? Solid surface repair can run between $200-600, depending on the problems. Composite material will run around $1200.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Cotswold

Cotswold is the nice guy of Charlotte’s neighborhoods. It was developed around the shopping center after the same name, a hybrid mall that opened in 1963, and borders some of the best neighborhoods and schools. Cotswold will always help you move furniture or pick you up from the airport. It may be easy to overlook, but don’t sleep on the nice guy.

Name: Cotswold
In a Word: Friendly
Location: South East, near Uptown
School district:

  • Elementary: Billingsville, Cotswold, Eastover, Lansdowne, Rama Road
  • Middle: Alaxender Graham, McClintock
  • High: East Mecklenburg, Myers Park
  • Private: Adventist Christian Academy, Alexander Children’s Center, Phillips Academy, St. Gabriel Catholic School.

Average home price: $100-160/ square foot

Types of homes: Brick ranches and split-levels, built on big lots and often recently renovated and updated.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Houses can require renovation

Representative Sample:

Best for: Families who aren’t ready to give up downtown living.

This is just a general glimpse into Cotswold, for more information or specifics please contact