Money Smarts Blog

Prioritizing Your Never-Ending Home Improvement To-Do List

Jan 22, 2019 || Elizabeth VanCamp

Man working on home improvements.

Whether you buy a brand-new home or a fixer upper, it seems there’s always a home improvement to-do list. Some projects rank higher on the list than others. It’s usually the more “fun” projects (probably not the word the man of the house would use), that receives the “done” check sooner. But some of those that sit near the bottom of the list might actually deserve a higher priority, especially if it means completing a project that corrects a safety hazard, i.e. a poorly wired electrical outlet or extreme drafts seeping through doors and windows causing your furnace to work harder.

So how do you prioritize your project list, especially when you have a lot of items on it?

List, Categorize and Prioritize . . .
Do a walk-through of your home and write down all the things you’d like to work on; are there walls that need painting? Want to upgrade your furnace to an energy efficient one? Build a deck on the back? Include all projects small and large. The final list should include projects that’ll transform your house into the home of your dreams.

So, you’ve created your list. Now, it’s time to review each project and add it to one of the categories listed below. I know, at this point you’re thinking that creating the list is a “to do” item itself! But, categorizing really helps you visualize the most important project to accomplish first.

  • Will improve the safety of your home
  • Will prevent potential damage
  • Will increase your home’s value
  • Will require hiring professionals

Safety: If you or your family’s well-being will be improved by completing a home improvement project in this category, you should absolutely put these projects at the top of your list. I’ve completed many projects that have increased the safety of my home, including installing a front porch light camera, anchoring furniture to the wall, and replacing old door hardware to make our entry doors safer.

The home I purchased last spring has a deck that spans the whole length of the house. It’s beautiful, but isn’t safe. Two separate deck companies have confirmed this. It’s definitely a safety risk, and since our budget didn’t allow getting it replaced over the summer, my husband, daughter, and I chose not to use it. The good news is, we recognized it as a safety hazard and we should have enough saved by summer 2019 to hire someone to make the necessary upgrades so it’s safe enough to be enjoyed.

If you, too, have a big project that poses safety concerns, but you currently don’t have enough money saved, you have a couple of choices. If it’s an avoidable part of your home and your safety isn’t going to be compromised on a daily basis, put that project on the back-burner. If fixing the problem can’t wait, look into getting a home improvement or home equity loan to help with the costs.

Damage Prevention: If you have a project that’ll prevent potential damage down the road, such as flooding or electrical issues, move that project closer to the top of list. As they say, “A pound of prevention . . .” In these instances, it’ll usually cost you less to fix the issue now, rather than waiting until the damage has been done and the repairs are more costly.  

Increasing Home Value: Most people know that updating rooms like the kitchen and bathroom will help increase the value of a home, but there are also smaller, less expensive projects you can do to boost the look of your home to make it more appealing to you and potential buyers.

Decide if you want to tackle one or two high impact projects, like your bathroom or kitchen, or if you want to do several smaller, more cosmetic projects, such as having matching hardware throughout your house or installing smart home devices (think smart thermostats, door locks, and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors).

If you decide that you want to “go big or go home” (pun intended), you don’t have to completely renovate your bathroom or kitchen to get a big return. You can do a few things to each room to make them look completely different.

For example, if you’re handy (or at least willing to watch some YouTube videos and get your hands dirty), some simple changes for your bathroom that yield big results include updating the floor tile, adding a subway tile back-splash (which is cheap and easy to install), painting your vanity, and re-finishing your bathtub (which is easier than it sounds!). Voilà! You just added value to your home and crossed off a major item from your to-do list.

Professional Help: If a project is simply out of the scope of what you can handle, you’re going to need professional help. And that’s ok. In this case, identify how important completing the project is, how much can you afford, and whether you can do part of the project yourself.

If a project needs to be completed as soon as possible or is a safety concern, but you can’t afford to hire anyone, consider a home improvement loan. IHMVCU offers low interest home improvement loans that help you complete important projects without leaving you broke. Win-win!

Now that you know which projects are most important…
You’ve built your list, categorized and prioritized it and now you have an organized list that makes sense.  But what about those projects you aren’t sure about? They aren’t safety concerns and they won’t increase the value of your home, but you still want to do them.

Move them to the bottom of the list and determine if the time needed to complete that project is really worth it. 

Some projects just aren’t worth stressing about, and if you can take them off your ever-growing to-do list, you’ll feel happier about the overall state of your house. Watching shows like Fixer Upper can bring all the flaws in your home to the surface and create an urge to spruce your place up. But don’t rush to install “a vertical succulent garden so my house can be more like a Joanna Gaines curated home” to your project list.

Time to get stuff done.
By this point, you should have a list that’s less overwhelming and more realistic, which will make jumping into that first project a bit easier. Don’t stress too much about getting things done quickly—just enjoy the process, be thankful if you have someone helping you and try to maintain peace throughout the project!

As you complete projects from your list, you’ll likely find other projects you want to add. Follow the same rules for prioritizing new additions to the to-do list. This will keep you cool, calm, and collected as you make your house into your dream home.

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