Closeup low angle shot of early 30;s man doing some carpentry work in a workshop. He's removing edges on a plank with a lunge router. Wearing protective glass and ear protectors. Tilt shot.

Hiring a knowledgeable contractor can help you save time, money and hassle. (Getty Images)

Spring is a popular time to start planning your home improvement projects for the year. Winter is finally retreating, and you can examine both the damage the cold weather did to your home as well as decide which areas you’d like to see updated.

Whether you’re planning to gut your entire house or simply give a couple of rooms a fresh coat of paint, you’re one of many homeowners with reno plans in mind. LightStream, a division of SunTrust Bank, conducted a survey through Harris Poll of 2,055 adults released in February, and found 58 percent of homeowners plan to spend money on renovations this year. And for many, that means more than one project.

An outdoor deck, patio or landscaping was cited by 43 percent of respondents as a project for the year, while a bathroom remodel is on the list for 31 percent of homeowners, general home repair is planned for 28 percent and a kitchen remodel is in the cards for 26 percent of respondents.

[Read: 10 Home Landscaping Rules You Should Never Break.]

As evidenced by the share of respondents planning each project, many homeowners are preparing to tackle more than one home improvement project this year. For many, the first question that comes up is how to pay to cover all improvements. You can use a home equity line of credit, home improvement loan or even tap into your investments, but the majority of homeowners polled – 62 percent – intend to use their savings.

Especially if you’re basing your budget on what you’ve got saved up, it’s imperative that you spend wisely. When you’ve got more than one project on your to-do list for the year, plan ahead to determine where the bulk of your budget will be most effective.

Here are four things you should do to effectively spread your home improvement budget across more than one project.

Figure out the to-do list. It’s one thing to know you want to update your kitchen and living room this year; it’s another to establish the specific renovations you’re planning to gain a better understanding of the scope of the project. Are you looking to reface the cabinets and paint the walls, or do you plan to knock out a wall, add an island and install new lighting?

Your budget can certainly limit the changes you have planned for your house, but appropriately spreading out your funds can help create a fresher look throughout the house. A kitchen or bathroom may command a larger share of your budget, but don’t neglect adjacent rooms, recommends Dan Tarantin, president and CEO of Harris Research Inc.

“The one area is going to stand out so much that then, by comparison, other rooms might look tired,” he says.

Harris Research Inc. is the parent company of several home improvement companies including Chem-Dry and N-Hance Wood Refinishing, which focus on cleaning and refreshing carpet and wood furnishings, respectively. Tarantin points to those processes, such as refinishing cabinets or a deep clean of carpet as an effective way to provide a new, fresh look to a room without using up the whole budget on new materials.

Give priority to the necessary. One part of any renovation you shouldn’t skimp on is the necessary details to make sure your home is safe and functioning properly, whether that’s structural, electrical or related to plumbing.

Sean LaPointe, franchise owner of Mr. Electric, an electrical service company part of the Neighborly family of companies, in Phoenix, says cutting the budget on needed electrical work isn’t typically an option.

[See: 9 Interior Design Trends to Look Out for in 2018.]

In many cases, electrical wiring, outlets or the main panel need work to ensure the house complies with legal safety requirements. “That particular piece of equipment can be outdated or obsolete, in some cases, and need to be brought up to code,” LaPointe says.

Following your local code requirements for any construction, including electrical or plumbing work, is imperative to be able to sell your house. Even if you’re not planning to sell your house for another 10 years, a home inspector will catch your do-it-yourself mistakes, and that could kill a deal or force you to drop the sale price for what it costs the buyer to fix it.

If you’re working on updating an old house, you’ll likely see the majority of your budget go to work on major safety issues like correcting a cracked foundation, replacing the furnace or updating old wiring. A house that needs completely new wiring and electrical throughout, depending on where you live, is likely somewhere in the five-digit price range, LaPointe says.

“Depending on the size of the house, that could be anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000,” he says. “You’re not only replacing the wiring, but you may need to cut holes in the plaster or dry wall to facilitate the installation.”



Consider where you can save. You may not be able to skimp on wires or pipes, but you can opt for budget-friendly materials and renovation choices outside the walls.

One option to save a lot of money is to avoid changing the layout of a room that requires significant work, especially the kitchen or bathroom. LaPointe says costly electric work is needed if you're relocating the location of major appliances. Adding an island where you want an electrical hookup, for example, requires wiring under the flooring, he says.

When it comes to surfaces, keep an eye on the price point. For example, a granite countertop is attractive and popular and costs significantly less than marble.

Or if a special, high-end cabinet look is what you’re looking for, see if it’s possible to only replace part of the cabinets. As Tarantin suggests, “you can select new doors” and change the look of the kitchen for a smaller price.

[Read: 7 Home Renovations to Consider This Year.]

Bring in someone who knows. Where you can save most on tackling more than one project at once is by hiring a general contractor or superintendent for the work. While paying for an additional person on the job may seem counterintuitive, LaPointe says it reduces the chances that you’ll have to pay for the same work more than once.

“We’ve seen this a lot where a homeowner could take this upon themselves, not knowing the proper order of which contractor [should go first] in the grand scheme of the job,” LaPointe says. “And you could get one contractor in too early, and the next contractor ruins the jobs [the first] did to do what they needed to do.”

With a professional on your team who knows how to manage the order of work, you’ll likely also be able to gain expert insight into how your budget choices will affect the outcome for each space. Rather than installing new, cheaper cabinets in the kitchen, refinishing the existing ones may be a more cost-effective option, while still freeing up money to purchase a new vanity for the bathroom.


7 Home Design Rules to Break

Go ahead, think outside the box.

Modern interior of living room with sofa, armchairs, scandinavian style

(Getty Images)

When it comes to interior design for your home, some rules are made to be broken. Whether it’s mixing fabrics or introducing an oversized piece of furniture, it’s possible to achieve a good look when you’re not following all the classic rules of interior design. Thinking outside the box is becoming even more accepted in home design: “Overall, I think there’s just less rules,” says Lee Crowder, design gallery and model branding manager for Darling Homes, a subsidiary of homebuilder Taylor Morrison Inc., based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Here are seven home design rules you can feel empowered to break.

Furniture has a specific place in each room.

Furniture has a specific place in each room.

White luxury bedroom interior

(Getty Images)

Traditional design and the rules of feng shui may tell you to create a U-shape with living room seating or place your bed on a wall opposite the door, but not every space makes following the rules so easy. "Don’t be afraid to break tradition in order to make the most out of what you have,” says Lauren Makk, home editor for Yelp. “Measure the length and height of each wall, and take note of windows, plugs, air ducts and any unusual architectural feature so these features accentuate the furniture you have and vice versa.”

Keep the room looking uniform.

Keep the room looking uniform.

Contemporary  lounge / living room with sofa and ornaments in front of large window with curtains

(Getty Images)

There are those who dislike mixing furniture styles from different decades, but an entire room of midcentury modern can also make it look like you’ve transported back to the 1960s. Don’t be afraid to put a more modern side table next to a traditional armchair, especially if you’re showcasing unique pieces. An antique chair or a coffee table made by a local carpenter may not fit with a uniform design aesthetic, but these pieces offer variety and invite conversation. A survey commissioned by high-end goods online marketplace 1stdibs, released in January, asked 630 interior designers about trends and expectations for 2018. Forty-six percent of respondents said they plan to buy more furniture from artisan craftsmen rather than big-name furniture designers.

Every home needs a dining room.

Every home needs a dining room.

Apartment with white brick wall, sofa, table and pattern rug

(Getty Images)

Even in the age of the open floor plan, many people assume they need to make room for all the traditional spaces on the main floor of a home: living room, dining room and kitchen. But Crowder says in new home construction, builders are encouraging homebuyers to choose a layout based on their preferences and needs. If you never entertain and typically eat in the kitchen, why waste space with a dining table for eight? Instead, that space can fit your interests and needs, whether that’s a home office or study area, a reading nook or spillover seating when you have people over for casual get-togethers.

Keep most walls neutral, but add an accent wall for a splash of color.

Keep most walls neutral, but add an accent wall for a splash of color.

modern living room interior design. 3D rendering concept

(Getty Images)

Longstanding practices often tell homeowners to stick to a neutral wall color, then introduce a fun pop of color on just one wall. While neutral walls may be best for a house on the market, it’s not something you have to stick to while you’re happily living there. “Painting is the quickest and most affordable thing you can do to change your space, but it takes guts to commit to an exciting new shade,” Makk says. “I say take the leap and commit to painting all [four] walls of your space.”

Fixtures and finishes should match.

Fixtures and finishes should match.

Monochrome kitchen detail of black gooseneck tap set in a white marble counter top

(Getty Images)

The trends for metallic lighting fixtures and plumbing hardware throughout the home change every few years, just like preferred color palettes. One year brass is out of style and the next it’s in, but you can’t reasonably be expected to change out all your fixtures to keep up with the times. Instead, embrace the mixed-metal look. “People can step out and do a few more eclectic things than they felt comfortable doing before,” Crowder says. Black or nickel plumbing combined with chrome lighting fixtures work well together, she says.

Don't mix patterns.

Don't mix patterns.

White interior of living room with colorful pillows

(Getty Images)

A decades-old rule that can still be hard to break today is mixing patterns, which some people think looks too busy, particularly when textiles are mixed. But when paired with complementary colors or similar styles, multiple patterns can actually result in a more dynamic look. Mismatched pillows of different patterns that go together can be a simple way to incorporate more than one print into a space, or you can make a bigger statement with printed fabric on a chair or couch, rugs or wall art.

Keep current with trends.

Keep current with trends.

sofa of tissue in a modern living room. 3d rendering

(Getty Images)

While you may be in love with the current design trends you see on HGTV, embracing a style that's uniquely yours will have more longevity with your home design. Designers who responded to the 1stdibs survey reported that clients too often try to follow trends and would be better off diverting from whatever rules are currently en vogue. Makk agrees, noting that “good design is about curating a timeless space that transcends trends and truly reflects your personal aesthetic.”

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Tags: real estate, housing, home improvements, personal finance


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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