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Fix It In the Mix: Should I Renovate Before Moving Into a New Home?

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(guest post by Chan Plett)

It’s a familiar situation: you’re browsing your real estate app and up pops the perfect home in the perfect location. The big windows with a nice view, the quiet street, and all the space you need. And—you can’t believe your eyes—it’s an absolute bargain! So you check it out one Saturday and it all looks good. The only catch is, it needs a little work.

Okay…when you’re being totally honest with yourself, you admit that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps it’s not as perfect as you first thought. But you can make it perfect, right?

So you buy it.

The ink is barely dry on the contract but already you have visions and plans to turn this into your dream home. A little expansion here, add a new bathroom there, knock out a wall, and voila!

But stop right there.

Before you hit the hardware store or go crazy with the sledgehammer, take a few deep breaths. Maybe you’re not quite ready to make any big calls on your new place.

Under Pressure

The first thing to consider is how long you have to move into your new place. Are you currently paying rent, or selling your home? You’ll need to consider any rental costs or deadlines. Building projects almost always take longer than planned, so make sure you factor in a little buffer time. There are plenty of wild-card scenarios that can blow out your project timeline from unexpected weather, to unprofessional contractors, to unforeseen problems discovered during the project (termites, hidden asbestos, rotten timber, old wiring, the list goes on…). If your moving window is tight, you might want to consider holding off until after your move.    

Live (In) and Learn

In fact, it’s a good idea not to get too excited just yet. Often it’s better to live in your place to get a feel for the flow of the house, and how your family uses it. As a rule of thumb, you’ll probably need 6-12 months. Do your kids spread out in the living room? Do guests tend to hang out and chat in the kitchen when you entertain, or do they head for the backyard? There are many things you just won’t know until you live in your place for an extended period. I even know one couple who designed and built a brand new house—only to decide a year later that they needed to do major renovations because it didn’t suit their needs!

Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

Any serious renovation or remodeling project should be carefully planned. This means possibly talking to contractors, specialists, architects and designers; getting advice, budgeting properly and carefully considering the amount of time that your project is going to take, including any contingencies. A short conversation with a professional can open up a goldmine of ideas that may save time, money and hassle—ideas that someone with less experience may never have considered. For example, glass doors on your shower might look great now, but they can be expensive and you’ll have to spend a lot of time cleaning. Why not go with a shower curtain? It’s cheap, it’ll save you hours of cleaning and you can change it whenever you feel like a new look in the bathroom.

On the Flipside…

Of course there are times when living in your home may just be too dangerous or logistically impossible. For example if you have young children or toddlers you may not want the risk of having them around construction. Similarly, if you uncover asbestos in your home you should not be present until it has been professionally removed. Living with construction can also have a negative impact on your relationship—maybe you don’t want to go through a divorce over more spacious kitchen cabinets!

A Local Holiday

In these cases you can always move out while the renovations happen. If you don’t have friendly in-laws, make sure you plan your project and budget carefully—you don’t want to be living in a motel for months on end. However, getting out of the house could be a fun adventure, a holiday in your own town. If you’re on a budget, there are a few quirky ways you can save money. Some friends of mine lived in a tent in their yard (though they did hire a porta-potty and solar shower!). If you need to move your furniture out of the house, there are plenty of online moving tools that will give you a free moving quote, or help you do a local move on a budget. Creative thinking can save you money and inconvenience.

Take Your Time

Everyone wants their house to look its best when they show it off to friends and family, but don’t stress if you don’t get everything done as quickly as you would like. Most homes are going to require some work, it’s just the nature of home buying. If you can, get to know your home and give it the attention it needs to really make it yours.

Making your house a home is a labor of love, so take your time and enjoy it!

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