How to Prioritize Home Projects

What stage of life you, and your home, are in will dictate which remodeling project to prioritize. (Photo by Jay Madden)

Unless you’re in the process of building your dream home, most likely you have a project “to-do” list posted somewhere in your house.

Whether it contains tasks as simple as refreshing the living room paint, or more labor-intensive projects, such as gutting the master bathroom, how do you prioritize your remodeling punch list?

“I always look first at things that are necessities, things that will protect your investment,” says Mike Fought, general manager of Nicholson Builders in Columbus, Ohio. “Roof replacements, window replacements, front door replacements — those are what I would consider a necessity versus a luxury. If all the necessities are taken care of, you can start taking care of the things that you’re going to get the most value out of for your circumstances.”

Determining what’s most valuable for you likely depends on your current situation. Did you just buy a starter home and want to fix it up? Or are you recent empty nesters who aren’t quite ready to downsize? Whatever stage of life you’re in, our highly rated experts provide some insight on the best remodeling options.

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Improving the Starter Home

If you’ve just purchased your first home, you may not have a lot of funds remaining to dedicate toward remodeling. How much should you really spend if you’re not planning on living in the house for more than a few years?

“Once the necessities are fixed, focus on the things that are dated,” Fought says. “The green shag carpet, the dark brown shell-shaped sink in the bathroom — these can be fixed on a budget and without ripping a room down to the studs.”

Other options include updating the hardware in the kitchen and bathroom, new appliances, and installing crown molding.

“The details are what enhances a home,” says Gary Adams, owner of Gary Adams Interiors in Las Vegas. While flooring and painting go a long way to help someone love their space, Adams says they don’t really add any value to the home. “Those are such personal tastes, and when you move out, the next owner will probably change it.”

Angie’s List member Luke Drown of Jacksonville, Florida, says one of the first things he did after moving into his first home was hire Orange Park Drywall of Orange Park, Florida, to remove wallpaper and the popcorn ceiling.

“My wife couldn’t stand it,” Drown says of the old features. “There were no major issues with the house — it just needed to be updated — and they did an amazing job. The house looks like it jumped into a time machine and caught up with the 21st century!”

Remodeling the Raising-a-Family House

Soccer practice, a dance recital, stuck in rush-hour traffic, and don’t forget to take the dog to the vet — sound familiar? If you’re occupied with caring for a growing family, a remodeling project might get pushed to the back burner. Then again, how nice would that extra storage space and finished basement be for everyone?

“Typically, the kitchen and family room are the areas of focus for these types of families,” says Tracy Lynn, owner of Style on a Shoestring in San Diego. “Having a dedicated playroom that will follow as a teen room in years to come is a great space if there is room in the house. It keeps the main living spaces clear of kids’ gear, so parents can feel proud of a clean home when they invite a guest over. It also allows the kids a space of their own that can include things they would enjoy, such as table tennis, foosball and gaming.”

Raising a family changes remodeling priorities a little bit. (Photo by Jay Madden)

The kitchen typically serves as a hub for the comings and goings of a busy family, and a remodel that includes an open-concept floor plan and additional storage, such as a mudroom, are popular options.

“Mudrooms are real trendy now,” Fought says. “With some innovative storage, like lockers, in there. It’s where the book bags and shoes go, you can place outlets there so the kids’ phones/iPads/computers can be charged in one location. It prevents clutter.”

Angie’s List member Meg Herndon doubled the usable living space of her family’s 1950s rambler in Falls Church, Virginia, when she hired Atlas Moran Construction of Arlington, Virginia, to turn the unfinished basement into a family room and master bedroom suite.

“I don’t think we could be more satisfied with the finished product,” Herndon says, adding that she and her husband are excited to raise their son and any future children in the new space. “The master does not feel like a basement bedroom, and the bathroom is gorgeous.”

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Renovating the Empty Nest Residence

If the kids have flown the coop and you’re wondering what project to tackle next, our experts say you have permission to indulge! Go ahead and build that four-car garage, so you have space to tinker with your ’64 Camaro.

“I just finished a home for ‘empty nesters’ and the first question I asked was about their hobbies,” says Sandi Perlman, owner of Blue Ridge Design in Indianapolis. “She liked making quilts, so in one of the bedrooms that had just been vacated by their son, I created a sewing room with storage for her quilts. He said he liked to drink beer and throw darts, so I created a pub-like area in the basement with a bar and space to throw darts.”

If you’re not ready to downsize, go ahead and make your house as grand as possible with custom built-in shelves, a sunroom or deck, and dream kitchen. “When you get to this point in life, you’re not spending all your money on the kids and can afford to remodel your house as you want,” says Bill Spratt, owner of Red Butte Construction in Salt Lake City. “Not everything will add value to your house, like decks and pergolas, which are purely aesthetic, but remodeling your kitchen and bathrooms certainly will.”

After living in his Charlotte, North Carolina, home for 25 years, Angie’s List member Harold Norton hired Classic Tile & Renovations in Fort Mill, South Carolina, to remodel his master bathroom.

“I prioritized the master bath very high because it was particularly out of date and the project would add value to the house,” Norton says, adding that he’s hired Classic Tile to update the guest bathroom as well. “We’re not in a hurry to move, but we will one day, and the bathrooms needed work.”

Hire Smart

When it comes time to hire a remodeling contractor or designer for a remodel, be sure to verify licensing, insurance and bonding, as well as read through the contractor's reviews on Angie’s List.

“Don’t get panic-stricken about it,” Adams says. “This has got to be fun. Make sure you work with someone who you like, and whose expectations line up with yours.”

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