Originally published in Seasonal Guide, April 12, 2012
Spring projects: improving the home
A lovely garden path to a bench, located in Sunset on Deer Isle. The Sunset Village Green Memorial Garden was founded in 1967. The garden is owned by the Sunset Congregational Church but cared for by a group called the Village Green Garden. More than 20 members help keep the garden looking healthy.
by Jessica Brophy
When the weather warms, many “weekend warriors” or DIY-ers get itching to hammer, saw, sew and paint after watching reruns on HGTV all winter.
Whether the plans are for a raised garden bed, freshly painted walls or a complete kitchen gut and renovation, there are a few things to consider before launching a renovation or home improvement project. Planning is key for a successful project that stays on schedule—and on budget.
Consider the following before launching a project:
Needs of the family or homeowner
A baby on the way, an older relative moving into the family home and children heading to college are some of the major changes that can drive home renovation or improvement projects, like an addition or finishing a basement.
It’s not just big changes that spur projects, though, said Morgan Eaton, realtor and owner of The Island Agency.
“It comes down to living well in your space,” she said. That may mean taking better advantage of underutilized areas, reorganizing and rethinking spaces.
“One of the biggest trends right now is built-in shelving and nice baskets for organizing clutter,” said Eaton. Some of these organizational efforts are easy DIY projects, and some might require custom cabinetry work, depending on the scale.
“Having a spot for everything in the home makes things more functional,” said Eaton. “There’s a huge movement toward doing that in good-looking and appealing ways.”
Long-term home plans
Homeowners looking to sell their home in the near- or medium-term should consider projects that add value to the home or make it easier to sell.
Eaton said even small projects can make a home shine on the market. Curb appeal, or how a home looks on the outside as a potential buyer approaches, is a huge factor.
“Freshening up painted or stained decks, spot-painting trimwork, cleaning up walkways and pathways so that things look clean and fresh makes a big difference,” said Eaton.
Other projects that add a lot of appeal and worth to the home can include outside living spaces like decks, patios, gardens or even just a well-placed pair of Adirondack chairs, said Eaton. “Well-thought-out landscaping can really improve the appeal of your home,” she said.
Even if you’re not planning on selling, keeping in mind the value of your home is a good idea, especially if home improvements are made with home equity money.
Depending on how handy you are, you may need help in planning or carrying out a project. Peter Haskell of Peter S. Haskell, Inc. said many projects are doable for the average homeowner.
“Interior and exterior painting, gardening and small fixer-upper projects” are all projects which are relatively easy to undertake, said Haskell. You may need to call in the big dogs for projects that involve plumbing, electrical or roofing, since those are complicated projects that require specialized knowledge and skill sets.
Haskell says gauging the scope of the project can be challenging. “A lot of times, someone will start a project and then I’ll get a call,” he said. Thinking about each step in the project, establishing a timeline or schedule, and understanding budget requirements is key to completing the project.
If you do bring on a professional, make sure they come well-recommended by someone you trust. “Ask your friends or check at the local hardware store,” said Haskell. “Be sure to get a price estimate up-front.”
It’s also important for contractors to have insurance, said Haskell. “If they don’t, and something happens to a member of the crew, the homeowner can be liable,” he continued.
The Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Maine says a written contract is required for any construction or repair work for more than $3,000 in labor or materials, according to its Web site. Such a contract protects the builder and the homeowner, said the Web site, by containing specifics on price, work and schedule.
Renovation projects follow a general rule: the bigger they are, the more opportunity to find other problems. Putting in new light fixtures could reveal out-of-date wiring, painting the exterior could reveal rot or termites and so on. When planning a major renovation or project, be sure to build “wiggle room” into the budget for unexpected problems.
Sometimes, desires outpace budgets. A new kitchen or complete bathroom renovation may not be in the cards. Eaton suggests changing the hardware on cabinetry, replacing worn appliances, replacing a vanity or painting to update a space, if a complete renovation is out of the question.
“Never underestimate the power of paint,” said Eaton.