How to plan a home im­prove­ment project dur­ing the pan­demic

Chicago Sun-Times - - DRIVE HOME - BY SEAN PYLES

Did you find your­self cooped up dur­ing the pan­demic-in­duced stay-at-home or­ders, blankly star­ing at the walls of your house, long­ing for more?

Maybe you wanted to travel or go out to din­ner with friends.

Or maybe you just wanted a fresh coat of paint on that wall.

If you found your­self in the lat­ter camp, you had com­pany. When the home im­prove­ment plat­form Houzz sur­veyed 1,000 home­own­ers in April, nearly 80% said they were con­sid­er­ing remodeling changes that would help them en­joy their houses more.

And sales at Home De­pot were up 7% in the first quar­ter of this year com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, a pos­si­ble sign that con­sumers were al­ready spend­ing more on home im­prove­ment ma­te­ri­als.

Al­though now might seem like the per­fect time for DIY home im­prove­ment, be sure to con­sider our new re­al­ity. Plan the project’s size, type and bud­get to fit cur­rent cir­cum­stances.

Plan your project

Whether it’s a wall in need of color, or a drab back­yard that could use some land­scap­ing, start by know­ing what you want to ac­com­plish. Then, put to­gether a plan.

When de­ter­min­ing the project you’ll take on, think about what’s within your skillset and what you can ac­com­plish dur­ing the up­com­ing months.

For ex­am­ple, if you want to re­model your bath­room, put in some flower beds and redo the sid­ing on your house, start with the flower beds since it’s eas­ier and timely.

Some projects are bet­ter left for pro­fes­sion­als or for a later date. You might de­cide to wait to ren­o­vate a bath­room when you’re holed up for the win­ter and to hire a pro­fes­sional for the sid­ing since it’s com­pli­cated to in­stall.

But re­al­ize that it might be dif­fi­cult to get a pro­fes­sional on the phone given the un­cer­tain state of busi­nesses and stay-ath­ome or­ders.

Also, re­sist the temp­ta­tion to do ev­ery­thing your­self.

“Wiring and plumb­ing shouldn’t be DIY un­less you know some­thing about it,” says Alexan­dra Barker, prin­ci­pal at Barker As­so­ci­ates Ar­chi­tec­ture Of­fice in New York.

“Be­cause if you’re in a cri­sis, it’s hard to get a plum­ber or elec­tri­cian to an­swer your calls right now.”

Vicki and Steph Kostopou­los, a moth­er­daugh­ter duo who run the “Mother Daugh­ter Projects” blog, sug­gest hold­ing off on any project that in­volves a lot of sand­ing — dur­ing which you would need to wear an N95 mask — given the cur­rent de­mand for per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment in hos­pi­tals.

Do your re­search

Choos­ing a home-im­prove­ment project can be ex­cit­ing, but fig­ur­ing out ex­actly how to do it is an al­to­gether more dif­fi­cult task.

“Be­fore you start a project, watch a num­ber of videos on how to do it so you can make sure you un­der­stand the pro­cess,” says Steph Kostopou­los. “By watch­ing mul­ti­ple sources, you’ll be able to get an idea of how it’s done.” YouTube has count­less hours of DIY videos, but the qual­ity varies. For con­sis­tent and knowl­edge­able how-to videos, check out This Old House, a home im­prove­ment se­ries that makes seem­ingly com­pli­cated DIY projects more ac­ces­si­ble. Apart­ment Ther­apy is an­other re­li­able re­source.

Set your project bud­get

You know what you want to ac­com­plish and how you would do it — but can you af­ford it?

Make sure you know the to­tal cost of a project, then re­view your bud­get and see how much of your ex­pend­able in­come can be al­lo­cated for it.

The bud­get­ing pro­cess might take some ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween what you can af­ford right now and what you want to ac­com­plish. Given that we’re in a re­ces­sion, it’s best to avoid go­ing into debt or tap­ping your emer­gency fund for home im­prove­ments.

Con­sider mak­ing a sim­ple spread­sheet that lists the items you need and how much they’ll cost. That lets you pre­pare for and track the cost of the project. And pad your bud­get a bit be­cause your project will likely cost more than that when it’s done, Barker says.

“You al­ways have to add in 10% or 15% of cost over­age to your project bud­get,” she says. “You never know if your dog or cat will knock over your can of paint, then you have to buy an­other. Ex­pect the un­ex­pected as part of your bud­get­ing.”

If you find the to­tal ex­penses are more than what you can af­ford right now, see if you can di­vide the project into more man­age­able chunks over time. This will help you get started with­out stretch­ing your fi­nances.

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