Real Estate

Home Remodel: What to Upgrade, Where to Start, and How to Save Money on Everything

(8 minute read) — Before we dive into the details, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the home remodel. It’s a process brimming with inspiration: the dreaming, the brainstorming, the idea boards. So many idea boards. It’s a statement, a chance to put your own personal stamp on your space. It’s a source of validation, proof that you have the power to bring your inspired vision to life.

Some love the hands-on work. For you, there’s nothing like the sweet smell of sawdust in the air. Some prefer the designing. For you, the aroma of roasted espresso delights as it wafts over your pencil and sketchbook.

Whoever you are, welcome. If you’re thinking about a house remodel or home renovation, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to get the lay-of-the-land for your home remodel.

Why is a home remodel important?

A home remodel breathes new life into your surroundings, adds value to your home, and builds confidence.

  1. Improved quality of life. Human beings are wired to enjoy novelty. Changing your surroundings can help you feel energized and inspire new ideas. Then there’s the simple increase in standard of living that comes from repairing a roof that leaked, or fixing a thermostat that grew old and unreliable. When things work better, you can find more peace.
  2. Long-term value. Renovating your house is an investment. Yes, you will have some expenses now. But these payments will increase the value of your home. So when it comes time to sell, the investment you made could pay for itself and more.
  3. Personal growth and progress. It’s easy to overlook this benefit. Yes, you are right to focus on all the numbers. (Measure twice, cut once!) But don’t forget: you gain power when you create a vision for your environment and make it real. It can help build confidence, knowing you’ve followed through for yourself and overcome this challenge. Completing a project from start to finish is a skill that serves you through life. A home remodel helps you build that skill.

“Everyone has their own vision. Nobody can answer this question better than you. “Why is a home remodel important to you?” Grab a pen and paper or open your notes app, write this question at the top, and jot down a few answers that come to mind.”

Where should I start my home remodel?

You have plenty of options, depending on how big a project you’re planning. But there are some tried and true remodel areas proven to improve life in the short- and long-term. Here are a few home improvements to consider tackling first.

  1. The Kitchen. It’s the heart of the home. Many don’t realize how much of our lives is spent in and around the kitchen, making this an impactful remodel option. Plus, there are so many wonderful ways to reenvision a kitchen. Use wood cabinets. Upgrade to stainless steel appliances. Install stone floors or countertops. Have fun and get creative with it!
  2. The Bathroom(s). One of the most used rooms in any house. Plus, it’s relatively cheap and easy to transform. A new coat of paint, a new light fixture, and an updated faucet can make your old bathroom unrecognizable. And if your family is growing too big for your one-bathroom home, consider adding a new one in your remodel!
  3. The HVAC System. The unsung hero of your home. Ready to warm you up or cool you down at a moment’s notice. These often provide a great return on investment during a remodel. When you install a more energy-efficient modern system, your heating and cooling bills will decrease years into the future. That means significant savings over time. As a bonus, if you’re selling the home, homebuyers love the peace of mind knowing there’s a modern HVAC system in place.
  4. The Exterior & Front Yard. The first thing anyone sees. There are some great ways to remodel your exterior. Consider a fresh coat of paint to your home’s exterior, with an accent color for the front door to make it pop. Add new siding, which adds resale value and could reduce future maintenance expenses. Add some new plants to your yard. Power wash your driveway and walkway to brighten the ambience. As a bonus, if you’re selling your home, a well kept yard will interest more buyers.

Want to start smaller? A simple accent wall, closet, or patio are great places to start too. This collection of ideas is sure to spruce up your possibilities.

What does a home remodel cost?

It’s always fun to dream up remodeling possibilities. But when it comes time to make them happen, it’s important to get clear on how much your remodel will cost, and how much you have in your budget. Here’s a handy way to build clarity on that.

  1. Estimate costs for your project. Many other homeowners have been in your shoes. Take advantage of their shared knowledge. Once you know what you want to remodel, research online to find out how much it cost for others. Start with a ballpark figure so you have an idea of the costs.
  2. Use online calculators. “Where do you live? How much square footage will you be working with? Are you gutting your home, or renovating a couple rooms?” With so many variables affecting the cost of your home remodel, use online resources like this handy remodel cost calculator. They can help you get specific about your costs.
  3. Get quotes from contractors. Now that you know what you want to renovate and the rough costs, contact a few contractors to get their estimates for the work. To be thorough, get itemized bids from at least three recommended contractors. To find reliable contractors, research their reviews online, and consider using apps like Nextdoor for input from neighbors.

Note: If your project costs are rising too high, you can always reassess your priorities. Focus on what’s most important right now, and handle the rest of your plans later. You are the grand architect. Make it work for you!

How can I save on home remodel costs?

What are some classic ways to stretch your home renovation dollar? Adding a fresh coat of paint, or updating simple hardware or fixtures are good places to start. If you’re remodeling on a budget, here are some specific money-saving tips for remodeling the areas we mentioned above: your kitchen, bathroom, HVAC, and front yard.

  1. How to save on kitchen costs: As an alternative to slab granite countertops, consider granite tile. It’s much less expensive per square foot, and you can even install it yourself. Before you buy new cabinets from a big box store, consider resurfacing and painting your existing wood cabinets. A new coat of paint and updated fixtures will provide a totally updated look while saving you lots of money.
  2. How to save on bathroom costs: Before you replace that old bathtub, considering having it professionally resurfaced to get that new feel for much cheaper. To spruce up the floor, replace the old linoleum with inexpensive tile. You’ll be amazed how a new faucet, light fixture, and coat of paint can transform a bathroom.
  3. How to save on HVAC system costs: Consider installing a system that is 96%+ efficient. While this will be a slightly higher investment, your energy costs should go down significantly over time.
  4. How to save on front yard costs: Before you splurge on cut stone pavers in your walkway or driveway, consider using gravel, or a combination of gravel and concrete. Then accent that with pavers to get that chic look for much less. Next, add some lighting to your walkway. Lawn lights are relatively inexpensive, but add a delightfully warm feeling. Lastly, if your fence or garage door look dated, it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do.

Remember, the savings don’t stop there: A significant remodel can help save you money when you sell your home. Renovating your home increases your “basis,” (which really means the money you’ve invested into the property). Having a higher basis means a lower “capital gain” tax when you sell your home, which means you could get more money back upon the sale of your house.

Are home remodel expenses tax deductible?

As with most tax questions, the answer is complicated and depends on the details of your specific situation.* That said, here’s a quick overview to get you situated.

  1. If you only use your home as a personal residence: No, your home remodel expenses are not tax deductible. They are considered a personal expense.
  2. If you use all or part of the home regularly to conduct a legitimate business: Yes, you can deduct improvements to that area as a business expense.
  3. If you rent out part of your home: Yes, you can deduct improvements to that rental area.

No matter your tax situation: Be sure to hold onto all invoices and receipts from your home improvements and repairs. This is always a good practice, and will help you ensure you get the tax deductions you deserve.

*This information is offered only for educational purposes and should not be used to make tax decisions. Please consult a certified tax professional for advice before making decisions.

How do I finance a home remodel?

You’ve got options, but one of the best remains the home equity line. Many know about home equity lines, but how do they actually work?

The best place to start – and a step many homeowners overlook – is the pre-approval. Simply put: getting pre-approved makes your home remodel much easier. Among other things, it tells you how much you can borrow, so you can match your vision to exactly what’s possible.

  1. If you have some equity in your home: use that to your advantage with a home equity line. Equity Line Plus is a good example that gives you freedom to use your funds when and how you need.
  2. If you’re considering a refinance: you can hit two of your goals at the same time with a cash-out refinance. Depending on your specifics, a cash-out refinance could net you an influx of cash to fund your remodel in the short-term, while you save money thanks to low interest rates in the long-term. To figure out the best option for you, talk to one of Unitus’ experts. Find your local expert and reach out.
  3. If you don’t have much equity in your home yet: you might find help through a personal loan. This is most effective if you have excellent credit. As a bonus, it’s a form of unsecured debt. That means if you default due to a financial emergency, your house or other property won’t be at risk. View Unitus’ personal loan options.

Click here to apply for Equity Line Plus

Congratulations, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get started.

Here’s a recap of how to kick off your own inspired home renovation project:

  • Ask yourself why this is important to you. Set out specific goals for your remodel. (Example: “I want my bathroom to make me feel like I’m in Seaside, just feet away from the ocean.”)
  • Write down the specific parts of the house you want to renovate or improve.
  • Forecast the costs of your project. If it’s high, reassess your priorities and start smaller.
  • Use tips from other homeowners to save money while still upgrading your lifestyle.
  • Do some research, and ask an expert how the remodel will affect your taxes this year.
  • Get pre-approved for an equity line so you know exactly how much money is available to you. Alternatively, reach out about a cash-out refinance or consider a personal loan.

It’s in your hands now: what will you dream up?

About the author: Brad Goodenough

Brad joined Unitus Mortgage in November of 2013. He began as a dedicated mortgage originator and has developed into a results-oriented sales manager focused on maintaining a high level of service and integrity across the Unitus Mortgage team.

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