To Remodel or Not to Remodel: 7 Questions Homeowners Need to Ask Before Commencing Construction

remodelIn the age of HGTV, home and garden magazines, Pinterest, and more, the thought of remodeling your home might be tempting. After all, there’s a lot to love about redesigning, updating, and maximizing your space. Plus, whether you’re thinking of joining the do-it-yourself crowd or prefer to let hired professionals do the heavy lifting, any number of popular TV programs and encouraging articles make home remodeling look like a piece of cake. But before you start measuring walls and making demolition plans, Dan Fritschen, founder of, encourages you to stop a moment and really consider what you’re about to jump into.

“Remodeling isn’t for everyone, and many times it could be a downright bad decision,” says Fritschen. “It’s well worth your time to pause and consider what your proposed project entails, and whether the commitment is worth the time, energy, and money you’ll end up pouring into it.”

So, how can improvement-oriented homeowners determine whether remodeling is a good idea or not?

Here, Fritschen shares seven of Remodel or Move’s important considerations that can indicate whether or not to remodel. So before you launch into your own project, ask yourself these questions:

Which are we more excited about: Hawaii or hardwood floors? Yes, that updated living room you bookmarked in a magazine looks fantastic. But in the grand scheme of things, how much joy will it bring you? For instance, would you be happier with a trip to (and later memories of) a pristine white sand beach or with brand-new flooring?

“It may sound elementary, but give some serious thought as to whether you’d rather spend your time and money on a vacation or on a new and improved living space,” Fritschen advises. “Even if you don’t end up booking your trip immediately, leaning toward ‘vacation’ over ‘remodel’ is a good barometer for determining how important an updated home actually is to you. And the truth is, unless a specific renovation really is your heart’s desire, you’d probably be better off traveling than pouring money into an already-functional room.”

Are we the Joneses? It’s a fact of life: Everybody wants to keep up with the Joneses. (In fact, Fritschen says, that’s a very popular reason for deciding to remodel!) Before you hit up the hardware store, though, take a moment to consider whether or not you are the Joneses. Is your home already one of the biggest or nicest in the neighborhood? If so, it’s likely that the addition or remodel you’re planning will end up being a lot of work that won’t significantly increase the value of your home.

“If you really want to remodel because you love the design and remodeling process, then go ahead,” urges Fritschen. “But if all you really want is a bigger or nicer home and you already have the biggest and nicest in the neighborhood, it may make more sense to move to a new home that has all the features you want in a neighborhood full of larger and nicer residences.”

Can we really afford this? Even on sticking-to-a-budget-themed renovation shows, the main emphasis is on the work being done and not on the financial decisions being made. So what many homeowners fail to fully understand is that remodeling usually costs a lot, even when you’re going the DIY route and looking for bargains.

“If you’re not exactly rolling in the dough, don’t write off your remodel entirely,” Fritschen advises. “There are smart, financially savvy ways to remodel, including using money from savings, using a 203k mortgage, or refinancing and getting cash back on your home. However, if the only ways you can pay for your remodel are to tap into retirement accounts or use your credit cards, then the cost of remodeling increases significantly and is then much harder to justify. If you can’t pay for a remodel the ‘smart’ way, then it is better to wait a few years and focus on saving up the money you’ll need.”

Is the finished product worth the stress and mess? Again, this is an area in which TV shows can be misleading. Think about it: All of the chaos, frustration, debris, and stress are compressed into a 30-minute or hour-long slot. (And magazine or internet articles might not address these factors at all!) In the real world, though, even the most mellow and easy-going people can find remodeling to be a difficult process.

“The decision-making, the expense, the mess, the interruption to routines…it all makes remodeling a potential nightmare,” points out Fritschen. “So carefully consider everyone’s response to the turmoil of remodeling. If you suspect that some in your household won’t be able to effectively deal with the stress, then deciding against remodeling—or putting it off—could be a better decision.”

Is our income secure? For obvious reasons, if you aren’t sure of your income stream, spending all of your savings on a remodel isn’t a smart choice—especially when the economy isn’t exactly stable and thriving.

“If you aren’t sure about your job or other source of income for the next few years and have just enough in savings to pay for the remodel, think about waiting,” says Fritschen. “For your peace of mind, and perhaps the outcome of the project, it’s worth waiting until you have saved more or are 100 percent confident that you will have a steady income in the future.”

How long will we be in this house? If there’s a chance you may be moving soon, Fritschen says there are two very good reasons not to remodel. First, remodeling is a lot of work. And secondly, in many cases, the cost of updating your home might exceed the amount your home appreciates after the work is finished.

“In each of these cases, the only way to justify a remodel is by quality of life improvement—but if you are moving a few months or even years after the remodel is done, then you might never be able to truly enjoy the updated home enough to justify the costs,” he shares.

Is this a good investment? As Fritschen has pointed out before, in many cases, the cost of a remodel might exceed your home’s overall increase in value once the project is complete.

“I want to stress that it’s very important to know going in that you might not make money, and to be okay with that,” he emphasizes. “Do your research before making any commitments so that you’ll have a fairly accurate idea of what to expect in terms of cost and your home’s updated value. If the numbers aren’t promising and the thought of not making a clear profit when you eventually sell your home horrifies you, you might want to rethink your renovations.”

“Always make sure you have an accurate perspective on when a remodel makes sense and when it doesn’t,” Fritschen concludes. “Remember, the project should improve not only your home, but also your happiness and quality of life—without breaking the bank or driving your family around the bend. Still not sure? take advantage of the free Should I Remodel? Online Calculator at

Homeownership: The Biggest Investment Most People Make


click image for larger view

When to Buy and When to DIY

Is this the year of do-it-yourself projects? A new survey suggests it might be.

According to a JPMorgan Chase poll, “people are taking steps to achieve their goals – and have fun – on their own terms this year.” Here are some of the company’s DIY-related findings:

  • 46 percent will exercise at home or outdoors instead of at a gym or health club.
  • 59 percent will pamper themselves at home rather than making visits to a spa or salon, which only 22 percent plan to do.
  • 29 percent prefer to celebrate a special occasion with a home-cooked meal instead of dining out.

All of these are smart and simple ways to save money at home. Unless you’re just trying to make a superior or unique project, that’s the main goal of DIY work.

Unfortunately, the DIY ethic doesn’t always save money, time, or sanity. If you’ve ever learned the hard way that we have pro services for a reason, here are some factors to consider before tackling another project on your own:


How valuable is your leisure time? Big projects might require several nights or multiple weekends, and you’ll need to keep tools and supplies somewhere in the meantime. Plus, if you have to dismantle something in the process, it’s out of order until you’re done. This can make long projects or ones in important areas of the house (like the kitchen) pretty inconvenient.


Specialized tools can be expensive, and you may not need them again. If you don’t have a friend willing to loan what you need, that means more time and expense in hunting down and buying tools or renting them.


How confident are you that your skills are suited to the project at hand? Are there safety risks? Permits required for the work? If you screw up, you have to call a pro anyway – and they may have to fix damage from your mistakes on top of accomplishing the original project. That adds insult to pocketbook injury.


If you’re taking on the work as much to learn as to finish a project, then your time will probably be better spent and more enjoyable than a stubborn, grumbling penny-pincher’s. It’s not worth it when the work makes you miserable and leaves you unsatisfied.


Some things are just cheaper to replace than to fix and most low-end electronics fall into this category. Parts can be hard to find or pricey in comparison. The only time it’s worth spending more on a DIY project than you would to buy it outright is if you get something superior or unique (sentimental value, knowledge, custom-make) out of it.

So what makes a good do-it-yourself project for the average person with no special skills? Here are some scenarios of when to buy and when to DIY:


Buy: Most staples are cheap to buy in bulk – like rice and flour. Some things you should always buy generic. Stock up on the ingredients to your favorite menu items, then learn to make them yourself. Just make sure you know when your food expires so nothing goes to waste or makes you sick.

DIY: If you’ve got the space, start a garden. Seeds are much cheaper, and the food is often much tastier, than store-bought veggies. You can also consider making your own dog food, homemade yogurt, and flavored water.


Buy: Sturdy equipment – cheap mops and sponges end up costing more when you have to replace them often.

DIY: Homemade cleaners are both effective and cost-effective. Learn about the wonders of vinegar and how to make dish soap, laundry detergent, and all-purpose cleaners.


Buy: Most things, unless you’re obsessed about quality or took that arts and crafts class seriously. Without practice and knowledge about materials, this is a time-consuming adventure that could be wrecked by the washing machine. Fortunately, there are ways to save on clothing you buy at the store.

DIY: How about Halloween costumes, which only have to last one night? Or custom accessories that won’t hit the wash? Basic mending, sewing, and hemming skills also go a long way to preserving your wardrobe, and a mini-sewing kit doesn’t cost much.

Home repairs and improvements

Buy: This is where things get risky – in terms of time, cost, and safety. When in doubt, use a pro. Jobs for pros: most additions and installations, major electrical work, paving, windows, gutters.

DIY: A lot of energy-efficiency upgrades are simple enough to do yourself and use cheap materials. Most people can handle painting jobs, drywall, and laminate flooring.

“When to Buy and When to DIY” was proved by

28 Ways to Refresh Your Bath on a Budget

By: STAN WILLIAMS, This Old House magazine

coordinating bathroom accents

Photo:  Ryan Kurtz

1. Coordinate Accents

Give your bath a designer touch with matching accessories. Here, the medicine cabinet’s silvery frame is echoed by the decorative metal outlet covers.

Similar to shown: Kohler 20-inch Recessed Medicine Cabinet, about $178, and Betsy Fields Design Brushed Satin Pewter standard wall plates, about $7 each;

tiled bathroom countertop

Photo:  Ryan Kurtz

2. Tile the Countertop

An alternative to a stone slab, a tiled counter resists water but costs a lot less and is easy for DIYers to install. This terra-cotta top has white-painted wood edging to go with the vanity below. A bead of clear caulk keeps water away from the wood.

Similar to shown: Merola Tile Augusta 4-inch tile, about $8 per square foot;

Read the remaining 26 here at

A Year's Worth of Smart Home Solutions

Living room

Photo:  Simon Whitmore

Update Your Decor on the Cheap

Have a pile of inspirational magazine pages you’ve been waiting to make a reality? January and February are the best times to nab furniture at serious discounts—up to 60 percent off in some cases—as stores hold clearance sales to make room for new spring inventory.

January: Tin-Tile Fireplace Surround

While looking for a way to add personality to their new custom fireplace, Steve and Sandy Miller had this flash of genius: Why not use the same unique tin tiles that adorned their kitchen backsplash for the surround? The couple first chose their design—an ornate pattern of 3-inch squares, which they cut to fit from large panels. Then they covered the surround with cement board and affixed the tin with a heat-resistant construction adhesive. In total, the project took only a few days—but the result will look cozy all winter.

The rest of the year here at

75 Easy Spruce-Ups Under $75

Living area with a wallpapered alcove

1. Wallpaper an Alcove

Highlight an alcove by wallpapering the back wall.
Similar to shown: Fern Damask prepasted wallpaper, $44 for a 60-square-foot roll;

Window herb garden

2. Create an In-Window Kitchen Herb Garden

Screw 1×4 wood cleats to the side jambs and insert tempered glass shelves. Two 3-inch-deep shelves for a standard 30-inch double-hung, $64;

Read the rest at

Remodeling Activity Reaches Record Levels

home-remodelingAs the weather started to cool and kids went back to school, remodeling activity continued to soar in 2011. Recently, BuildFax unveiled its Remodeling Index for September 2011, which shows that remodeling activity reached a record high during the month. BuildFax also released data stating the most popular types of remodeling projects over the past five years.

The latest BFRI showed that September 2011 became the month with the highest level of remodeling activity since the Index was introduced in 2004 and represented the 23rd consecutive month of increases. The data revealed the most popular permitted residential remodeling jobs since 2006 have been roof remodels/replacements, followed by deck and bathroom remodels. The top eight types of remodels classified by are:

1. Roof (21.4%)
2. Deck (7.9%)
3. Bathroom (6.9%)
4. Garage (6.1%)
5. Kitchen (4.8%)
6. Basement (2.9%)
7. Office (1.7%)
8. Sunroom (0.7%)

Mortgage rates continue to be near record lows, and as homeowners from coast to coast refinance, they are continuing to update their current home and invest in their properties. The data shows that homeowners are not only doing important ‘maintenance’ projects, such as fixing their roof, but also taking on projects that add to the ‘livability’ of their homes by adding decks, remodeling their bathrooms and updating their kitchens. These are immediate fixes they will enjoy and that potential buyers look for.

September Signifies 23 Consecutive Months of Industry Growth

The Residential Remodeling Index rose 34 percent year-over-year—and for the twenty-third straight month—in September to 141.4, a new high number in the index. Residential remodels in September were up month-over-month 2.8 points (2 percent) from the August value of 138.6, and up year-over-year 36.3 points from the September 2010 value of 105.1.

The BFRI is the only source directly reporting residential remodeling activity across the nation with monthly information derived through related building permit activity filed with local building departments across the country. This monthly report provides month-over-month and year-over-year comparisons on trends in remodeling activity for the entire United States, as well as for the four major regions of the country: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West.

Half of Country See Month-over-Month Gains

In September 2011, the West (6.4 points; 4.6 percent) and the Midwest (5.73 points; 4.9 percent), all had month-over-month gains, while the Northeast (1.1 points; 1.5 percent) and the South (2.9 points; 2.9 percent) saw a decline. Regions up in year-over-year gains from September of 2010: the West (44.4 points; 43.5 percent), the Midwest (16.8 points; 15.9 percent) and the South (8 points; 9 percent). The Northeast dropped 3.7 points (4.7 percent).

Eco-friendly home upgrades that pay you back


click image for larger view