If you’re keen on knowing what makes a renovation worth doing and what red flags mean you should run away from the project, then here’s the low down.

Is the biggest problem with the home fixable?

There is a tendency amongst renovators to focus on the small, doable projects first.  Almost anyone can replace doorknobs, paint a few walls and change out light switch plates.

While it may be understandable, it can lead you down a dangerous path where the money and time that is being spent won’t result in a good return on investment due to other, more fundamental issues.

Rather than develop a list of things that can easily be done, consider what flaws in the home would be the hardest to fix, perhaps even impossible.

Red Flags

Here are a few examples of fundamental problems with homes that can’t be easily renovated.

  • A small house on a small lot, where typical additions or expansions to the home aren’t possible.
  • A location fronting onto a busy street or backing onto unappealing commercial or industrial elements, such as the back of restaurants, power generating stations and so on.
  • A condo unit located in an older building with aged, dated finishes in the common areas and entrances.
  • A poor layout that would require major construction to remedy.

When in doubt, try an exercise where you put yourself in the shoes of a potential purchaser after you’ve done all the renovations you’re considering.  Finish the sentence “It really is lovely, it’s just a shame that…” and if you keep coming up with fundamental things you can’t change, walk away from the renovation.

Will one thing lead to another…and another…and another?

Anyone who has done a significant renovation knows that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In project management terms, it is called scope creep, when the scope of a project keeps expanding as time goes on.

One of the most common examples of this is where one aspect of a space sticks out as needing to be repaired or replaced.  It is the only thing “wrong” with the room and if that was fixed, then everything would be dandy.  In many cases, when the one thing is fixed, the addition of a new, modern replacement suddenly makes everything around it look worse.

That new front door suddenly means the door jamb needs to be replaced as well because it looks out of place, which means the brickwork around the porch also needs tuckpointing now.  Once that is done, the flooring needs to be sanded and stained because it’s the only thing not updated in the area.  Might as well do the spindles while we’re at it and now that downspout is looking pretty grotty, and what’s about the eavestrough?  It goes on…and on…and on.

Red Flags

Older homes that require significant cosmetic renovations often require equally significant structural or system renovations such as electrical, plumbing and HVAC.  If you’re looking at a place that would be great if only someone did a little work, consider that the reason no one did that work already is because they discovered it would involve a lot more work than you might think.

Whenever you identify an obvious candidate for repair or replacement in a home, look closely at the elements around it to see if they will suddenly become unacceptable if the one element is fixed.

Do you have the money (and energy) to do it properly?

It’s not difficult to identify properties where the homeowners ran out of time, money and energy.

  • It’s a lovely kitchen that has the new stainless steel fridge sitting in what used to be the breakfast nook. No cupboards or shelving around it, just a fridge sitting in a kitchen.
  • It’s a gorgeous marble countertop in a bathroom with a rusty toilet that rocks when you touch it.
  • It’s the brand new sliding doors leading out to the porch that have unpainted, uncaulked trim work applied unevenly around it.
  • It’s the gorgeous home with a back deck that appears to have been thrown together with a hand saw and a bunch of two by fours that the homeowner found at the side of the road.

One of the most heart-breaking situations is to “finish” a renovation in a place where it actually looks worse than it did before.  The end result of the hard work and money that was spent is a seller looking to recoup their investment and a buyer who is thinking they’ll have to start from scratch.

Red Flags

If when you consider a renovation project, you find yourself saying things like “We can do that bit ourselves” and “I’m positive we can find someone to do it for about half of those quotes we got” then consider whether you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Allocating a reasonable budget and a healthy reserve for overages is critical to making sure the project gets done to the extent necessary to make it worthwhile.  If you need to cut lots of corners in order to get it done, it will almost certainly show up in the end result.

While there is no question that renovations can add tremendous value to a property, make sure that you approach any such projects knowing what’s fixable and what isn’t, an understanding that there is often more to be done than you initially thought and the budget and energy to do it properly.