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12 months to an upgraded home

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | January 28, 2016

rustic-modern living roomYou've been in your house long enough that it feels as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Unfortunately, it's also a little worn down at the heels -- more shabby than chic.

Whether you expect to stay or sell, you're at a point where you want to breathe new life into your home's old (but good) bones without making major renovations.

Set a budget, make a plan and give yourself a realistic time frame. If you haven't done any work on your home in years, 12 months should give you a reasonable amount of time to update inside and out.

A year of home renovations start to finish

Month 1. Set a budget. Before you can decide the scope of work, you need to know how much you can spend or what you are able and willing to borrow. Consider your home improvement financing options: savings; home equity loan or line of credit; credit cards.

Month 2. Take inventory. Grab your tablet and open your favorite note-taking app. The nice thing about making your lists in an app on a mobile device is that you can carry it with you through the house and yard as you go, and you can rearrange priorities with the slip of a finger. Go room to room giving each a critical appraisal, taking 'before' photos that illustrate issues. What glaring eyesores stand out? What projects have you put off or thought you'd do as part of a major home improvement that you feared you could never afford? Don't forget the outside of the house.

Month 3. Prioritize lists. Make one list for each room or area of your home. Then make a master list and arrange all concerns by priority. Broken, damaged, or worn out components get top priority for repair or replacement. You can take inventory and prioritize tasks in a weekend or two. Call inspectors for things like roofing or plumbing leaks and get at least three estimates for any work they recommend. For DIY tasks, price out the cost of supplies and equipment you may need to rent or buy.

Month 4. Declutter. While you are taking inventory, begin a list for areas you need to declutter, things you know you need to get rid of and storage areas like closets and shelving that need purging. Being able to see the floor, walls and dark corners helps uncover problem spots you might otherwise miss like a lack of efficient storage space, hidden leaks or mold where things have been piled up. For the first decluttering pass, throw out all expired items and anything you never use, wear or look at. Then, give each room a thorough cleaning. Now, take a second look and revise your lists if needed. Would a custom closet make life easier for you and your family, or thrill a potential buyer? Or do you need to repair wet or stained drywall that's been covered behind a pile of unused sporting gear?

Month 5. Plan your projects. Make a plan for each area of the house starting from design inspirations, products you're interested in, and the specific features you like about these products and designs, as well as approximately what they cost. Add all of this information to the room/area lists or create a separate note for each area. Choose the projects at the top of your priority list. Price everything out or get estimates for professionals to do the work. You may have to re-prioritize and drop some projects at this point.

Executing the work: by room or by project?

You can follow these steps for each indoor space or room -- or you can go through the whole house and do each of these projects in one fell swoop in all rooms to which they apply. You may find that it just makes sense to do all the house painting, all the appliances, all the flooring, and all the finishing touches at the same time. If your renovations are confined to just a few rooms, however, the first strategy might work just as well.

Month 6. Dirty work first. Demo drywall to make repairs or improvements to walls, plumbing, and wiring; build in custom storage and closet shelving. Re-texture walls and paint before you do anything else. If you're going to reface or paint the kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities, paint them after the wall paint has had a chance to cure so you can mask the walls without pulling off the new paint. If you are changing out sinks and countertops in the kitchen, complete those tasks next.

Month 7. New appliances, kitchen, and laundry room storage. Install new kitchen and laundry room appliances after walls are done but before you put in new flooring. DIY off-the-shelf cabinet organizers to make these rooms easier to navigate and to multiply your storage options.

Month 8. New windows, doors, garage doors, or siding. Any time of year the weather cooperates, you can upgrade your home's envelope. Enhance not only its appearance but its energy efficiency for your own comfort or to impress potential buyers.

Month 9. Landscaping, decking/patio, outdoor masonry. If the outside of your home is worse than the inside, you can give it some love with a new deck or pavers. Cut back overgrown shrubbery and trees, add a walkway, or some dramatically placed lighting.

Month 10. Lighting and window treatments. Lighting fixtures can call attention to themselves or disappear and do their job. Window covering can enhance natural light options, retain warm air in winter or cool air-conditioned air in summer. They can also give your rooms a splash of color and amp up the decor.

Month 11. Flooring. After all the messy work is done, put in some new flooring. Today's choices offer something for every budget and lifestyle. Today's popular tile choices come in vertical and large 20-by-20-inch formats as well as wood-look porcelain. Bamboo, cork, and linoleum provide green choices.

Month 12. Finishing touches. Install new door knobs or levers and cabinet and drawer pulls. Hang decorative shelving and wall art to complete your 12-month home upgrade plan. Take and share the 'after' photos.

Congratulate yourself on accomplishing the most critical and/or most wished-for items on your home upgrade lists. Now sit back and enjoy them or put out the "For Sale" sign. Someone's going to love living here.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.