I thought I was well-prepared to make 'minor' renovations to my first home, but 2 surprises blindsided me

I thought I was well-prepared to make 'minor' renovations to my first home, but 2 surprises blindsided me

February 2, 2021
  • My husband and I bought our first home in 2020 and thought we were prepared to take on a few home renovations.
  • We didn’t realize how long they would take, and how expensive they would be despite being DIY.
  • To other homeowners, I recommend building in extra time for renos and saving more money than you think you’ll need.
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When my husband and I bought our first home last year, we were excited to start a new chapter of our life. Neither one of us had owned a home before, so the entire process was new to us. And though I’m glad we made the decision to move forward with our home purchase, I’ve definitely learned some lessons along the way. 

After an extensive home search, we decided on a small three-bedroom house with one bathroom. With historically low interest rates, stable employment, and more time to spend in a house due to the pandemic, it was the right time for us to purchase a home. But there were definitely a few things I wish I’d known before we closed on the house.

Home-improvement projects can be more complicated than they look

When we closed on the house, everything major was in pretty good shape. The structure, roof, and foundation were all perfectly sound. But there were some cosmetic features that we wanted to change. We had a two-month overlap with the lease on our last place, so we decided to tackle “easy” home-improvement projects before moving in. 

We planned to replace the stained carpet with laminate floors, remove the popcorn ceilings, repaint the interior walls, replace the bathroom tile, and update the kitchen by painting the cabinets and replacing the countertops. 

My husband took the lead on most of these projects. I accomplished a single project — repainting the kitchen cabinets. Both of us ran into several issues along the way. Although we usually figured out how to move forward with the help of YouTube, each delay put an added crunch on our move-in timeline.

My big lesson from all this: Before you decide on home improvement projects, take some time to consider what will give you the most return on your investment. You don’t have to include the latest trends from your favorite HGTV show — include what makes you happy and fits within your timeline and budget. 

I also recommend building some leeway into your timelines. A more forgiving timeline can give you the breathing room you need to complete the projects without pushing yourself too hard. 

Costs can add up more quickly than you think

My husband has a great DIY attitude and dove into these projects head-on. With a willingness to learn new things, he was able to save us thousands of dollars on labor costs. In fact, we only hired out one project — a plumber to replace some pipes before we moved in. 

Even with his extensive labor on the house, we still spend several thousand dollars on materials. Updating any aspect of your house can be expensive. After making a large financial commitment with your down payment and closing costs, adding more expenses into your life might not be the best idea. Make sure that your budget and savings can support the house projects you are considering. 

Personally, we saved up to fund these costs before moving forward with our home purchase. Although this can prolong the home-buying process, it provided peace of mind for us. 

A new home can be an exciting step in your life. But don’t forget to weigh the costs and time commitments against any renovations you are planning as you move forward. As a potential homeowner, take some time to consider the hard work and surprising costs of these seemingly “small” fixes. You might decide that you are happier with fewer changes to save your budget and sanity.

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