BuildDirect Blog: Life at Home

7 Things To Do Before Your Home Remodeling Project

I am a remodeling junkie. You should all know that by now! To take an existing space and make it better is challenging and rewarding, and it satisfies my need to take on large creative projects. I also believe we should work with what we have instead of constantly building new on raw land.

Land is finite, and once we use it up, there is no turning back. You can never restore a piece of land to its original condition. Mother Nature will do that, but it will take thousands of years. So my advice it to remodel.

Home remodeling is more than just painting the walls and replacing drapes and appliances. Some call it home renovation, and it can include:

  • tearing down walls and moving them over
  • changing traffic patterns for better flow
  • tearing out old carpet to replace with hardwood flooring or tile
  • raising the ceiling for the illusion of more space
  • replacing old windows and doors for energy efficiency or to bring in or block views
  • tying the interior of the home to a vast outdoor living space
  • adding renewable energy
  • upgrading infrastructure

I have done all of these, and yes, my creative urges have been satisfied. But I also built according to what the neighborhood dictated. For any return on your investment, you have to research area homes and their values first.

I’ll give you an example of what happens if you don’t.

Do Your Market Research

My next-door neighbor died about six years ago. She was a reclusive hoarder with 16 cats, three dogs and several birds. Of course, we didn’t know any of this until we found her one June morning. That’s another story.

I listed the house for her out-of-state family and sold it ‘as-is’ (a fixer upper) for $199,000. A fellow with naive intentions of a fix-up and a flip home remodeling project bought it and began work right away. Six months later, he put it on the market for $499,000. It was beautiful inside. with a new kitchen, new master bath, new heating systems, and more.

But, the electrical and septic had to be brought up to code, and they were not expenses he was expecting. The heating system was another expense he hadn’t considered. Despite the cost of upgrading the infrastructure, he continued with major work and high end finishes for the interior. He ultimately ‘invested’ another $200,000.

Big mistake. He will never recover his investment. Here’s why.

There is not a single $499,000 home in our neighborhood. The nicest home in the neighborhood sold a few years ago for $350,000. It was a brand new 3 bedroom/2 bath adobe with a 2 car garage on over an acre of land.

This renovation was a 3 bedroom/2 bath older frame home from the 70s with a funky 2 car garage on less than an acre. The second floor wood deck is old and its safety questionable, and the fencing is falling down all around it. (Thankfully, it falls into his yard and not mine!)

If he had done some research, he would have kept his repairs to the superficial after upgrading the infrastructure.

Refinishing Is Better Than Replacing

My own ideas were to replace the sheetrock that had taken on the smell of the animals, replace some of the flooring, and do a lot of scrubbing otherwise. For example, the kitchen cabinets were perfect and included a huge pantry-type closet. They just needed cleaning, not replacing.

The fireplaces and chimney in two of the bedrooms could have been upgraded for safety, but he put in two new gas fireplaces instead, having to rework the gas lines. The downstairs bathrooms just needed new fixtures, but he did away with one, and put in a huge master bath upstairs, having to bring in all the plumbing.

It would have been a good purchase for a family that wanted to moderately fix it up and live in it for ten years or so to recoup the investment. It was not good investment property. It sat on the market for a couple of years, and he repeatedly dropped the price. It was down to $300,000 when he finally withdrew the listing and rented it two years ago.

7 Things To Do To Find Out What Will Best Maximize Your Return

Before you buy a home to remodel, or if you want to remodel your own, do some research before you begin designing. You want a decent return on your investment, right?

  1. Call a local Realtor® or two. Ask for detailed comps (comparable sales) and active listings for your area. Be sure to find out the Days on Market (DOM) if you plan to resell. Once you know the prices of similar area homes, you can design and renovate without overbuilding, like my new neighbor did.
  2. Go visit your neighbors. Find out what their houses are like. How many bedrooms are there? What is the square footage? Is there a garage? How much acreage is there? What are the finishes like? If there are homes for sale, ask the Realtor® to show them to you.
  3. Call a few contractors for ideas. Find out what they are doing, and get some advice. What’s common? What’s working? What’s not working? Ask about costs involved in infrastructure upgrades.
  4. Call wind and solar installers. Get estimates for adding renewable energy. Find out your ROI and energy savings. Installers have software to make this easy once you provide them with your energy use info.
  5. Get an energy audit. To remodel without improving the energy efficiency of the home is a waste. An audit will tell you exactly what upgrades to do and which ones have the highest ROI.
  6. Call an appraiser or two. Ask them about the neighborhood. Find out if the area is growing or stagnant. Find out what you can do to make improvements in line with area homes. Then, get an appraisal. This is vital information, especially if you want to remodel your own home. Armed with its current value and knowledge of comps (remember when you called that Realtor®?), you can design and renovate according to what’s in your neighborhood without overbuilding.
  7. Guestimate how long you plan to stay in the house. If you want to stay there for 20+ years, you can do a bit more than if you plan to flip or sell the home. Take into consideration that the home will increase in value over time, and that information will help drive your design decisions.

The main point is – Do not overbuild for the neighborhood! You will never realize a return on your investment, since the home will never sell for what you put into it. Do your homework, and build wisely!

Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.


  1. Those are some useful tips, im busy with my kitchen remodeling project at the moment and still trying to figure out the final layout, I got some great kitchen renovation tips that seemed to help as well. thanks!

  2. If you need some help with a final design, send me an email. I’ll see what I can do for you. Aside from a lot of personal experience in building and remodeling, I’m studying Space Planning right now at the Art Institute. We can do some brainstorming, if you like. Nan

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