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Home Improvement & Renovating

The Good and the Bad of a Fixer Upper

The Good and the Bad of a Fixer Upper

You have finally found the perfect fixer-upper! Are you up for the challenge?

Your fixer-upper has good “bones” and you see its potential. All you need is a bit of remodeling, paint, and a few new appliances to create the home of your dreams. You’re an avid do-it-yourselfer and you thrive on seeing the results of your hard work while saving money.

Having the energy and the ability to visualize beyond the dwelling’s current state is only the beginning. You’ll need buckets of patience, resources, and some DIY skills to transform your fixer-upper.

Before taking on a fixer-upper, know your budget, and be realistic about how much noise, dust and inconvenience you can tolerate.

Here are a few key tips to help your fixer-upper project go as smoothly as possible and give you the results you are aiming for.

Location Location Location

“Location is still the key factor for anyone wanting to buy,” says Robert Ward, experienced home renovator and owner of an award-winning heritage home in a Kitchener, Ontario neighborhood. “No sense finding a property thought to be undervalued (lower cost) if you are not going to be happy in the location.”

Ward cautions to make sure that your investment of time, energy and money will result in a property that the neighborhood’s housing market will support if you need to sell.

Budget Carefully

A well-researched, accurate and detailed budget is necessary so you know in advance exactly how much money you will need for planned and unexpected improvements.
Ward emphasizes the importance of establishing a working budget at the beginning and assessing it often and realistically so the project does not get out of control.

Look ahead to anticipate changes in interest rates and the marketplace, factors that can greatly impact mortgage rates, costs and resale value.

Keep in mind that your project may take longer and costs can go higher than you anticipate. Always add at least another 10% to 20% for unplanned expenses.

During times of rapidly increasing real estate prices, take care not to pay a higher price for your fixer-upper than is feasible for a good return on your investment. It can take a long time to finish the renovation, so you are vulnerable to fluctuations in the real estate market. Focus on the types of improvements and rooms that will be most profitable for resale; for example, a new bathroom will add value to your fixer-upper. Avoid making improvements that will result in exceeding 10% to 15% of your neighborhood’s median selling price.

Plan and be Flexible

Try to plan ahead as much as possible but be prepared to make changes along the way.

When tackling a fixer-upper, it goes without saying that one planned improvement will often lead to another unplanned improvement. For example, finding an unstable foundation under a porch when installing new siding.

If you are making structural changes, you may need approvals from the municipality. Include the time needed for permit applications in your planning timeline and budget for the additional costs of licenses and permits.

Live in or Move out?

You may be able to save discomfort, inconvenience and money by doing a lot of the work before you move in, if you have somewhere else to live. If you have young children and pets underfoot, you’ll need to put extra thought into living arrangements during the renovation. “Timing for the project can also be negatively impacted. There may be a need to stage the project to allow one to live in a portion of the facility while another area is worked on,” says Ward.

DIY or Hire a Contractor?

If you enjoy working on do-it-yourself projects, then you will be able to keep your costs down. Know when to do it yourself, and when to hire a professional.

There are certain jobs that should not be done by a do-it-yourselfer. It’s always best to hire licensed and insured plumbers and electricians for certain jobs to ensure the work is done to code for safety.

If you decide to work with a contractor on some parts of your renovation, do your homework – check their references and have a look at their past projects. It’s advisable to get three quotes in writing and to meet and discuss in detail every task and the cost. For example, who will be buying which supplies – you or the contractor.

Communication is Key

Have regular meetings with your contractor and trades people, and put every detail in writing. If you don’t understand how something will be done, ask questions! Ask your contractor to prepare a timeline that shows the steps required to reach the planned completion date. Keep your contractor up to date of any changes you may want, to avoid errors or misunderstandings.

Your contractor needs to inform you of anything that will affect the timing and cost of the work.

Sourcing Materials

Supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic have resulted in shortages of a wide range of building materials. It’s a good idea to do some research to know what is in stock, and the range of price and quality options. Take care to order enough building supplies to avoid running out in the middle of a project and having time lags in your project.

“Build a rapport with the technical folks at the hardware store; they are an invaluable source of information and can give some guidance for alternate materials to improve cost effectiveness,” says Ward.

Be prepared for conditions that require more work:

  • Wet basement needs waterproofing
  • Discovering wildlife in your attic
  • Plumbing and electricity may be outdated
  • Extensive foundation upgrades, roof and wall work are required
  • Thick layers of wallpaper
  • Previous renovations that make improvements more challenging
  • For heritage homes, some construction may require approval from your municipal heritage department

We hope these tips help you! You can check out a plethora of DIY fixer-upper videos to gain inspiration and knowledge from others who have already made refreshing improvements to a tired, dated or even rundown home.


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