Top 10 RenoFi lessons on renovating
Ten things you really need to know before you start a major home renovation.Dec 1, 2021 • Kira Barrett
So you’re thinking about a home remodeling project and you want to be prepared and informed.
You’re on the right track!
Taking on a home remodeling project is almost like a part-time job, even when you’re not the one doing the work.
From finding a contractor to getting permits to picking out finishes, you’ll be in charge of a lot of different decisions that you might be unfamiliar with.
Not to worry! RenoFi has lots of info on everything you need to know about the renovation process on our blog.
But if you’re looking for a cheat sheet - here are the top ten lessons we’ve gained from working with hundreds of homeowners on funding their renovation projects.
1. Start planning one year in advance
We’re not exaggerating! For a MAJOR renovation project, you should start planning one year in advance.
It takes a long time to find a contractor and they might have a waiting list. It takes a long time to research the right loan to fund the project, and then you still need to apply and get approved.
You’ll also have to pick out all of your finishes, and some of your dream pieces might be on backorder. While it is certainly possible to start planning three months in advance, you’ll have to make decisions quickly and it will be stressful.
Save yourself the hurrying and start your research early.
2. Choose a contractor recommended by friends or family
You can find anything online these days with a quick Google search, but that doesn’t mean you should.
We’ve found that the majority of homeowners that have bad experiences with their contractors have found them online or don’t have any references from people they know in real life.
You may have found your favorite Chinese food from Google, but you really need more information before you find a contractor.
Some homeowners have gotten into ugly situations with unfinished projects, debt or shoddy workmanship because they were fooled by a good-looking website and empty promises.
3. Do not attempt to DIY unless you’re an expert
After you get an estimate for your remodeling project, you might be tempted to go down the DIY route. We get it - that sticker shock can cause heart attacks!
But just because you’re a handy person and you have access to Youtube, that doesn’t mean you should DIY a full renovation.
DIY can easily be more expensive for you in the long term because you’ll need to spend weeks researching, and because you may need a professional to come in and clean up your mistakes.
Never DIY a project unless you’re a professional or it’s something really simple.
4. Leave 3-5% of your budget for wiggle room
You’ve saved up $15,000 for your renovation, and your contractor’s estimate came back at $14,500.
Perfect, right? Wrong.
That project will end up costing you $17,000 and you’ll be left scrambling to cover the difference. Again, we don’t mean to be negative Nellies! We just want to set expectations.
For example, your contractor may have the perfect designs and budget down to the dollar, but once they actually start working, they realize they need to try a different method for installing the pipes.
Or maybe you realize that part of the design doesn’t look how you expected, or you’d like to add on another project. It’s too late to turn back now, and it’s easier to have a little wiggle room than to borrow money or break into your 401k.
Here’s a recommended budget for a major renovation project, and how the costs will break down:
5. Do not use a credit card to fund a major project
When we see homeowners putting renovations onto their credit cards we wish we could yell, “Don’t do it!” But alas, all we can do is write this article and hope you’ll take our advice.
We sometimes see homeowners with a $20,000 credit limit and a 0% intro APR try to put their project on a credit card, thinking they’ll pay it off within the year or soon after.
That’s wishful thinking and it’s unlikely you can predict what your financial situation will be six months from now.
You may think you’re saving yourself the hassle of applying for a loan by just hacking the credit card system, but credit card companies want you to do this because they know you’ll get stuck paying that 25% interest rate and it will take much longer to pay off your debt.
6. Prepare for hiccups with older homes
Older homes are amazing for so many reasons: a touch of history, lots of charm, and beautiful artistic design.
Unfortunately, they’re not always the easiest to renovate because they can contain lots of hidden surprises. From tile on top of wood on top of tile, to moldy pipes, to unexpected double walls, your contractor may be in for a treat.
Be open to bumps along the road if your house is pre-1950, and make sure you choose a contractor that’s ready for the challenge and has experience with older homes.
7. Update your homeowner’s insurance beforehand
Yup, your insurance company needs to know about your home renovation because your payments might change. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to pay more money, it’s just important that your policy reflects any changes made to your home in the event of an accident.
The last thing you want is potential damage during or after the renovation that isn’t covered by the insurance plan you’ve had for years.
8. Put money aside for permitting
Not every renovation project will require a building permit, but if you’re doing a major remodel like an addition, it probably does. You’ll want to apply for a permit through your local municipality, or in many cases, you’ll want your contractor to do this for you. Get your permit in advance of your start date so you’re not delayed in any way while you’re waiting to get approved.
Permits can cost anywhere from $200 to $5,000 dollars. Ask your contractor how much a permit will cost and make sure you have that money ready and included in your budget or the contractor’s estimate.
9. Take your timeline and double it
Renovation projects are known for taking longer than expected. In fact, the rule of thumb is your project will cost 50% more and take 50% longer than you think. Yowza!
But hey, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re prepared. If your project is running behind, don’t expect your contractor to start working 24/7 to get it done, like they do on HGTV. They have a life and other clients, too.
You’ll just have to wait. Fire up the Doordash app and stay positive!
10. Start thinking about materials and finishes before your contractor asks
After you sign your renovation contract and get your start date, you’ll probably be twiddling your thumbs daydreaming about your new kitchen island.
You should ALSO be using this time to pick out your finishes. This means your flooring, your paint colors, your countertop materials, etc.
While your Pinterest inspiration may have sufficed to create your budget, when it comes down to it, you can’t just choose “hardwood." You’ll have to pick between 20 near-identical shades of brown gloss.
Make sure you’re clear on what you want so you’re not rushed at the last minute to decide.
11. Bonus tip: Use a RenoFi Loan
Okay, we have to say it: use a RenoFi Loan to fund your renovation. Not only is it a secure, trustworthy way to pay for your project, it’s a way to vet your contractor, vet your budget and get someone else (RenoFi) to shop around for the best lender.
The RenoFi team will compare your project to the hundreds of others we’ve funded over the years, and we’ll use our strict methodology to make sure that your plan is up to snuff.
We ask your contractor to provide references and we call them. We get a line-item breakdown of your budget, and we make sure it’s commensurate with industry prices.
We help you order your appraisal that officially determines what your home will be worth after the project, so you’re not guessing.
And most importantly, you don’t have to call 10 banks to compare options. We do that for you.
So now that you know all of our renovation secrets, let’s get started. If you’re one year away from renovating, hit that big red button below to get a RenoFi Loan estimate.