Jason Robie: Rational renovations

By Jason Robie

About a year and a half ago, I talked about looking for a new home and the importance of a "mother-in-law" apartment or living space. Apparently, we were a little ahead of ourselves at the time, but we now find ourselves in the position of selling mom's house. To be fair, we are not worried about the actual sale itself. The house is amazing and could sell tomorrow just as it is. But there are a few items that I'd like to update/renovate before we throw up the sign. If you are thinking of selling in 2017, the following might offer a few tips along your path.

My mother would be the first to tell you that I'm keenly aware (the embodiment?) of the definition of procrastination. I can't think of a single time, especially in college, when the project or paper was completed before the night before it was due. I mean, who has time for that? Today, I'm a little bit better, mostly because after years of "night-before" stress, I've learned to pace myself a bit better. I'd strongly encourage you to do the opposite of me and get started early on your remodeling project.


Selfishly, the first reason for getting started early is you will get to enjoy whatever updates you complete up until the time the house sells. If the update you're doing improves the energy efficiency of the home, you'll get the rest of the winter to enjoy the savings. If the appliances are going to need replacing before listing the home, why shouldn't you enjoy the new stove and fridge (with an ice-maker ... ooooh!) while you're still living there? Chances are you have budgeted for these updates already or have at least planned for them with the sale of the house. Reward yourself a bit and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Seemingly simple projects like swapping out appliances or replacing the kitchen sink still have the potential of stalling. The best laid plans can quickly come crashing down. The sooner you initiate these projects the less chance you will need to pull an all-nighter. Ideally, you will avoid the stress of making sure the kitchen is ready for the agent showing up at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Delays with delivery, plumber schedules and life "stuff" are inevitable. Don't get caught unnecessarily when an early start could have prevented it.

And delivery delays are not the only hiccups that extend a project. Unless you built your home with your own two hands, there is a very good chance you will discover something, while you are renovating, that you did not expect. Last week, I mentioned the eight layers of linoleum I found under a layer of carpet in the living room of a duplex I was remodeling. What should have been a relatively quick ripping up of a carpet turned into a two-day project filled with cracking linoleum, layers upon layers of newspapers and countless trips to the dump. Getting started early won't prevent those bumps in the road, but it will prevent the stress of inevitable time delays encroaching on your deadlines.

It is important to remember that the projects you choose do not have to be massive. Nobody is suggesting you strip the house down to the studs and start over. Take a look at the cost vs. value report put out by remodeling.hw.net. They already have the 2017 report in place but you can look back at 2016 for more data. Even small upgrades such as a new front door or painting the kitchen cabinets make a significant impact on the curb appeal of your home. There are dozens of projects you can tackle in a weekend that won't break the bank and will increase your home's appeal for those prospective buyers.

Some other great "small" projects include putting a frame around your bathroom mirror, changing out your chandelier and replacing the ceiling fans in the home. If you are honest with yourself, those three things should have been replaced or updated years ago. When you are shopping; think simplicity and keep it understated.

Normally, this also translates to "under budget" and you can update these items for very little investment.

"Simply updating the chandelier in a home, which buyers always seem to notice, can go a long way towards removing those stumbling blocks during the showing," Badger Realty agent Maureen Garrette said. "The fewer items a buyer sees as future projects and more investment, the more attractive the home feels."

Lastly, getting back to that mother-in-law apartment, one of the more prominent trends of 2017 is going to be creating a home in which people could retire. This includes widening doorways, reinforcing walls for grab-bars, making the shower a walk-in and replacing the bathroom fixtures with more height-appropriate and accessible versions. Let's face it, we're all heading in that direction. Why not remove those projects for your potential buyers and make the decision to buy your home that much easier. Plus, having a walk-in shower is just cool.

Remodeling a home is almost never without hiccups and issues along the way. By starting early, planning small and focusing on those items that will give you the most return, you can make this spring a productive and profitable time. When you're ready to put up that for sale sign, your house will be ready, too.