When I buy a new house, I make sure to get a thorough home inspection. And I make sure to be there for the 3-4 hour process myself so that I can go through the house, understand how everything works, see what issues need to be fixed and when all the issues need to be fixed. If there’s anything unsafe or expensive, I would negotiate with the seller about getting it done prior to the closing. When I get my inspection report, which usually contains photos, I map out when I’d like to complete any of the needed improvements. I take out a document and type headings such as Fall 2019, Winter 2019, Spring 2020, etc. I take every needed repair and improvement and map out when I’m going to get the work done.

I did this for the home I currently own and within two and a half years I completed everything that was suggested on my home inspection report. I rewired the house to replace the old knob and tube wiring. I replaced all the lead piping throughout the house. I added insulation to the basement and attic. I fixed the cross-connection in my bathroom tub. I painted the deck. I added cement in between the house and the front steps. There is one theme to all of these improvements: They are not fun, interesting, exciting, or sexy. They just needed to be done. 

But what if I really want to renovate my kitchen? I know I should probably deal with the old lead pipes that leak every once in a while instead. I know my house could use some real insulation in the attic, but I can just pay the higher heating costs for another couple of years before I get around to that, right? Can I skip these projects and do what’s really fun?

When trying to decide what projects to tackle, I find myself relying on a few rules or priorities. Here they are:

  1. Fix what’s broken first. A home that is not maintained tends to get worse. If you fix what’s broken, which could be a lot, especially if the house sat vacant for a while, your home will function better. If you have to move sooner than you wanted to, the next owner will come at you for fewer things when they inspect the house. This is number one priority.
  2. Fix what will make your home more energy efficient next. So, if you don’t have any insulation in the attic, add that first. Is your furnace 25 years old and often needing repairs? Get a more energy efficient one now before it breaks for good. Can you pick up a can of spray on insulation and fill in those cracks and crevices in a couple hour’s time? Probably a good idea.
  3. Fix the easy and cheap things next. Oftentimes, especially if you buy an old home, you get a long list of repairs…many of which can be easily crossed off the list in an hour or two. I had to repaint a gutter box that took less than an hour, but I didn’t do it until the third year after I bought the house. I find that if I can cross some of these easy and cheap things off the list early on, I feel less stressed because the list got smaller and more manageable in the process.
  4. Do what’s fun and sexy. At this point, you’re ready to renovate the bathroom…if you have the funds of course. You should always have the money first instead of borrowing it and paying it back later. So, if you get a great tax refund this year and are ready to fix up the kitchen like I did, go for it.

A Little Goes a Long Way

One more word about the budget. If you find you’re taking care of the boring projects a lot of the time, the spend-a-lot-of-money-but-don’t-see-what-it-did projects like replumbing the house, take a hundred bucks and spend it on something fun every once in a while. It’s just a little money, so it won’t prevent you from doing the necessary items and it may help tide you over until you’re ready to do the fun and sexy things. For example, I took $100 and dressed up my foyer one weekend. I added curtains, new pictures and hooks, a plant with a gold/glam plant stand and a mirror. All for just $100 and it made me feel like I was doing some of the fun stuff when most of my money was being allocated to that attic insulation at the time. You could also find ways to cut corners or choose less expensive options. For example, I’m going to put laminate countertops in my kitchen instead of expensive granite. I chose plywood bead board to line my bathroom walls instead of tile. It still looks great and fits the period of the house at the same time. And it was thousands less.

Questions to Ask Yourself

When I’m tempted to do the fun and sexy projects, I often ask myself if I can live with it. If I can, try to put it off once more. I also ask, is it functional? If so, it will do for a while. Another question to ask is can I finish the project? Am I motivated or do I have the time for a big project right now? My kitchen project for example, will be done in the summer when I’m not working (I’m a teacher). That way I can grill out for a couple weeks, use paper plates while all my dishes are in boxes, and eat outside when the floors are being refinished. Renovations take time, money, and effort. If you just don’t have the bandwidth right now, it’s not a good time. It should be fun. It should be something you’re looking forward to. If not, you might not do as good a job. 
If the answers to all these questions are favorable, and you’ve tended to all the projects on your list of necessaries already, then it’s time. Start renovating. Have a little fun. Enjoy the journey.


  1. Ron Kesterke September 7, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    A good balance between must-do’s and fun stuff!