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Part ll: Rolling Up Those Sleeves! (Also The Fun Part. Or... Not.)

If you’ve got a ton of questions about buying your first home, you’re not alone. Join @RBC_Canada and a panel of 5 experts (including us!) for the #FirstHome Twitter chat, on June 26 from 9- 10 pm. Get answers to your most confusing questions and a chance to win RBC Visa Gift Cards!

A/ DIY vs. Don’t You Dare DIY...!

Here’s the thing-- we know you’ve just spent your entire life savings and then some. And you are now paying an honest-to-goodness mortgage (gasp!) for the first time in your life. Scary stuff just by itself, but add in the fact that the lovely little diamond in the rough you’ve just bought needs work, and it’s enough to induce a full-blown panic attack. But hey, relax. You read Part l of our series, right? You’ve been smart. You’ve got a clever, practical and completely do-able renovation plan. And last but not least, you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and you’ve got all the energy and enthusiasm in the world to get the job done! So why not just jump right in and get to work? Well, we’ll tell you why. Energy and enthusiasm do not an expert make. And yes, we know you want to save some cash. We all do, and of course that’s just smart, but biting off more than you can chew-- or, in this case ‘do’-- will only end up costing you more in the long run. Honest. We wouldn’t lie to you! Our advice here is simple: know your limitations. You’re not an electrician by trade? Or a plumber? Then you should leave those jobs to the pros. Don’t worry-- there will be lots of work that needs to be done, and there is certainly a lot of it that you can do. So yeah... stick to those jobs. After all, your reno is an important investment in your home, so it follows that paying the experts to do the job right is also an investment. Right? A botched DIY can be a painful and expensive lesson to learn, and we wouldn't want you to get hurt like that...

Janet says:

When we began our two-storey addition and full house reno, we were on a verytightbudget, in other words-- no room for error. We simply couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Nor could we afford to sit back and have all the work done for us. (How nice would that have been!?) The plan was this: have the contactors do the foundation, the framing, and the roof-- all the heavy-duty structure stuff. We had to have the original foundation ‘underpinned’ (a job for the experts if ever there was one!), and so they came and did... and then my husband took over-- for a while. Luckily, hubby is an uncommonly handy ‘trades’-type guy... and also an electrician to boot! Jobs that he could handle included insulation, wiring, etc.-- basically most of the things that got us to the drywall stage. But even he-- the man who loves a challenge-- knew when to graciously step back and let the experts take over. So ‘Drywall Dave’ came along, and was I ever glad he did! Sure, we could have saved a whack of cash if we had tried to do it ourselves. But to us, installing drywall-- and getting it just right-- is where our skill set ended. And I know we would have botched it. Totally. Plus, Drywall Dave had it all done in a jiff. Well, well worth the cash.

B/ Beware the Dreaded ‘While We’re At It’...

It’s a little known fact that only 3% of first-time home buyers are actually aware that embarking on any sort of renovation project whether big or small will inevitably and ultimately lead to other additional and possibly even bigger renovation projects. And the fact that we just totally made up that statistic doesn’t, in our humble opinion, make it any less true. Seriously-- you will be amazed (and possibly confused) at how many times during your reno that you find yourself saying ‘While we’re at it, we might as well ______” (fill in the blank). And you know what? You might just be right. When starting a reno, it’s nearly impossible to foresee how the project will go, what you will run into, or what it will lead to. You know what they say about the best laid plans, right? Smart renovators will take those do-able opportunities when they arise, and, yes, do them-- if time and budget allow, or if they seem like a wise investment in the future. For example...

Janet says:

When we put on our addition, our plan was just to put on an addition-- full stop. We were planning to then follow up and do the rest of the house, over time, after the addition was complete. But one day, mid-reno, as we were shopping for hardwood flooring for the addition, we happened across a great deal at a Big Box store-- a clear-out of perfectly good flooring that was going out of production. Clearance. (Read: Cheap.) And as we stood in that Big Box store alternately marveling at our luck and dithering (okay-- I was dithering. Hubby doesn’t dither-- he waits for me to make up my mind... smart man, that.) about how much of it to buy, it occurred to us that when we did, one day in the future, re-do all our hodge-podge flooring in the original part of the house (remember all that carpet, vinyl and parquet from Part l?), we would never be able to match the floors to this clear-out stuff. So, we bought enough to do the whole house-- addition and all. And as we stood there we actually said ‘While we’re at it we might as well...’

Extra cost? Yes. Extra work? Yes. Extra time? Yesyesyes... BUT totally worth it in the end, and a decision that we have never regretted. Likewise, our decision to re-do our kitchen-- and when I say re-do, I mean a rip out walls, back to the studs re-do. Also not planned as part of the addition. But it was the floors, you see. Deciding to re-do all the floors in the original part of the house forced us to think about our long-term plans for the original part of the house, which included a full kitchen reno. If we wanted to get the floors right, we had to rip out a dividing wall in the kitchen, to prepare for the change in the footprint of the kitchen that we knew we wanted, and of course, if we did that, we had to take out the cabinets, and there really was no sense doing all that and then putting the old cabinets back in and so... well, you get the idea. Again, extra cost, work and time, but again, a decision we have never regretted. But you see how easy it is to get carried away? Just remember that when you hear yourself saying ‘While we’re at it...’ that there are two types of ‘carried away’-- smart carried-away and not-so-smart-carried away. If you know what long-term plans you have for the house and from that, are able to figure out what makes sense right now, then the dreaded ‘While we’re at it...’ will still hurt-- just not quite so much.

C/‘OMG- It Cost What?’ (AKA You’ve GOT To Be Bleeping Kidding Me!)

We’ve all heard it before-- when renovating, general financial guidelines are to give yourself at least a twenty percent cushion in your budget, because in all likelihood, you will go over your set budget (if wondering why, please see Part B). As addressed earlier, there are smart splurges and not-so-smart splurges (the trick is to avoid these). But when you are in mid-reno, deep in DIY mode, it can be very easy to lose track of how much you are spending. And we mean VERY. One great idea is to keep track of all your spending on a spreadsheet. You might be surprised at how much a box of 2 ½” screws cost-- and how many of them you’re actually going to need. Or how many gallons of paint you’ve gone through. Our point is, these seemingly ‘little’ expenses, those dribs-and-drabs of cash you spend here and there can really add up-- and fast! So be smart. Keep track. And don’t be surprised when you have to dip into that little twenty-percent fund you thought you’d never have to touch.

Another way to save cash is to put off unnecessary expenses until later. Yes, you’ve just revamped the entire family room in your new house-- the new fireplace looks amazing, and the floors? Fantastic! What you really need to set it all off is All New Furniture. Or... do you? Sure, new furniture would look great, but is there room left in the budget? If not, do yourself a favour and wait a while until you can afford it. You can still sit on Grandma Rose’s old couch for a few more months-- just while you gather your financial strength-- and you know what? The fireplace will look just as amazing.

Janet says:

I have a confession to make. I still have my grandparents’ table and chairs in my kitchen. It’s a totally dated, stained maple table and four matching chair set from like, the 1980’s. You know the kind I mean. Is this set what I would have chosen for myself? Uh, no. Does it do the trick until I can afford what I really want? Yup. Same for the sofa-table (which is actually an old brown-painted drop-leaf kitchen table with turned legs) that I ‘borrowed’ from my Mom three years ago, and never gave back... (hehe). Or my thrift-store 1960’s coffee table and side tables I got for a steal about six years ago. None of these is reaaaalllly what I want, but hey-- they all work. I like call my look ‘Eclectic Yard Sale’. One day I’ll be able get what I really want... or, maybe not. In terms of design, sometimes this bothers me. Alot. In terms of equity, it never does. What I know for sure-- just like Oprah-- is that my hand-me-down furniture does not and more importantly, cannot take away from the value that our reno added to our house. And that is what is important. And, in the meantime, while I’m dreaming about future fabulous furniture, we’ve got three kids to raise, and at this point in my life, that’s obviously what takes precedence. If, in my travels (and when I say travels, I mean travels to a local yard sale and/or flea market), I happen upon something I like better that doesn’t break the budget, I’ll grab it. If not, I’m content. there are worse problems in the world than my kitchen table. The truth is, ugly or not, the pieces are all diligently serving their purpose, and may even continue to do so for some time to come. Remember, when you finally sell your first home and start climbing up that property ladder, you’ll take that ridiculously expensive had-to-have-it couch with you. So we guess our point here is if you have-to-have-it, and you-can-afford-it, then by-all-means-go-for-it. If not, be smart. Wait and keep Grandma Rose’s couch-- or kitchen table-- for just a little while longer...  

Disclaimer: This post content is sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, however the view and opinion expressed herein represent my own and not those of Royal Bank of Canada or any other party and do not constitute financial, legal or other advice.


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