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Home Renovation Costs: Where I spent the $58,000 I spent on my first investment


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How much does a home renovation cost? More than you'll plan to spend. Kidding. Sort of. The answer, of course, depends on how much work is done to the home, prices in your area, and how much of the work you do yourself (DIY) vs. hiring a contractor. (Want to start saving money for a home purchase? Here's how.)

I can't give you an exact, definitive answer on how much a home renovation costs (no one can), but what online research can do is give you ranges. And what I can do is share my own experience: how much I paid when I renovated my first home in 2013, what all that money actually got me, and what many first-time buyers may not know when it comes to renovating a fixer-upper. (Please note, I'm updating this in late 2022, post-pandemic, so pricing for home projects may look very different but generally when renovating an older home….plan on the projects below, even if the cost may vary. I also plan to update this website with more recent numbers from my flipping projects VERY soon, so stay tuned!)

A remodeling project looks fun on TV. And sure, it is really fun, but it's also incredibly emotionally and financially stressful. Well, it's significantly less stressful if you're living outside the home that is being worked on. Don't live in a project if you can help it. 

Live in the metro Atlanta area and need a real estate agent? I’m now fully licensed and working in real estate as my full-time job. I love to work with both buyers and sellers. Here’s how to connect with me as an agent. Let’s see if it is a fit and work together!

How much does a home renovation project cost?

Again, it depends on how much work you're doing, the square footage of the rooms, and whether you're shelling out for the remodeling all at once or doing improvement projects little by little.

HomeAdvisor.com's study on renovation costs puts the average cost of a multi-room renovation between $18,000 and $76,000. My own home renovation was in this range, but projects can run as low as $3,700 or up to $150k for high-end work in pricey homes.

A kitchen renovation alone averages $25,000, according to the study. A bathroom remodel averages $10,000, and a basement remodel runs about $20,000.

House Beautiful also has a resource section on how much renovations can cost by room. For example, the average cost of remodeling a 35-square-foot laundry room is $6,000.

Live in the metro Atlanta area and need an agent? I’m now fully licensed and working in real estate as my full-time job. I love to work with both buyers and sellers. Here’s more about me as agent. Let’s see if it is a fit and work together!

What is the best way to pay for a home remodel?

Wondering how much does an exterior home remodel cost? And how should you pay for it?

Given that home renovations are such an expensive endeavor, many people who do home improvements choose to pay for them on credit or by taking out loans. Below are the most common ways to pay house renovation costs.

Cash

Paying with cash or savings is the best way to pay for renovations because it doesn't cost you any interest. Still, very few people have $20,000+ lying around for upgrades. The more you can pay for renovations in cash, however, the better because it will keep you out of debt.

Cash is also the most popular option! 91% of homeowners in a 2017 Houzz study used cash for all or part of their home improvement projects.

Credit Cards

Credit cards can work for home renovations, but I wouldn't recommend them. High interest rates coupled with low credit limits, make this a barely viable option. A 0% promotional APR could work for a time if your limits are high enough and you are in a pinch or need that money for unexpected home repairs.

Here's what else to consider when it comes to using a credit card balance for a house renovation:

  • Only use a card to finance a home renovation if you feel confident that you can repay the amount in a short period of time.
  • If you're just looking to do a few small tweaks – flooring in the bathroom or new appliances – a credit card can cover these types of small alterations.
  • After you've paid, try looking for balance transfer offers on other cards, so you can at least get a 0% APR on your home project after the fact.

If no balance transfer offers are available, make a plan to pay off the debt.

Home Equity Loan or HELOC

Home equity loans and Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are two of the most popular options when it comes to paying for home renovations because HELOCs and home equity loans come with much lower interest rates than credit cards or personal loans. These options are only available to people who have been in their home a significant amount of time and have more than 20% equity in the home.

Here's a quick overview of the difference between the two.

A home equity loan is a second mortgage (loan) against your home. The money comes in one lump sum, and you pay it back every month.

A home equity line of credit is an amount you can borrow against the equity in your home. It isn't paid as a lump sum. Instead, you can borrow amounts over a specified period of time (usually 10 years) and then pay it back over another term (the next 10-20 years after you take out the money, for example).

Personal Loan

If a home equity loan is unavailable, a personal loan (which could also be called a home improvement loan) can pay your remodeling costs. There are some major advantages to using a personal loan for home renovations, including:

  • A personal loan works for recent home buyers who have a home they'd like to improve but who don't want to wait five to 10 years to do it.
  • Your home isn't on the line in the event you default.
  • It's faster than a HELOC or home equity loan, with fewer fees.

But the biggest disadvantage to using a personal loan is the high-interest rate. You'll always get a lower interest rate on a home equity loan or HELOC.

Credible (pictured above) is a search

Gifts

It's nice if your parents want to pitch in to help financially. If given the choice between using the money for a down payment on a home or for renovations, choose the latter. When you use cash to help finance a home purchase, the bank will want to see documentation for the money, and that can be a hassle.

I also like to say that using gifts for home renovations instead of the actual purchase helps buyers get into a home they can actually afford.

What about a home renovation loan?

A home renovation loan, also known as an FHA 203k rehab loan, lets the borrower lump both the home purchase and home renovation money into the same loan. When I renovated my first home, I did it with a 203k renovation loan. 

You can read the full post about my experience here. (A similar program is the Homestyle Renovation loan from Fannie Mae.) My credit history was good, but even those with credit issues or thinner credit profiles have suitable options available, such as what's known as guaranteed home improvement loans, which work for those with lower credit scores. 

I wouldn't have been able to renovate or buy a fixer upper without the 203k option. It was nice to pay the money each month with my mortgage payment, and it was nice to get the bulk of the renovations out of the way up front before I moved into the house.

But honestly, I have mixed feelings about the 203k loan. I'll just say: my experience wasn't awful, but it wasn't amazing. It did allow me to house hack my way to wealth with no money.

My own home renovation example + what I spent

The money I spent on my little fixer upper can be split into two categories. The first is how much I spent from the 203k renovation budget during the initial renovation phase (from August to November 2013). The second remodeling budget is how much I spent in the five years I spent living in the home before I sold it in September 2018.

When I first walked through the home during the inspection, there were a lot of things that, as a novice, I didn't think needed fixing.

But when you live in a home every day, especially when you start working there…it's really easy to get into the fixer-upper mindset and keep making mental lists of everything that isn't just-so.

I've included all the expenses because (as with any investment) the money you spend impacts your investment's bottom line. And any time you buy a home — remodeling or not — be sure to include a budget for annual home maintenance. 

If you're wondering how much does an exterior home remodel costs or an interior, this might help you to judge even though your situation will be different. Here's another great piece from Porch.com on how to simplify and streamline your renovation if/when it is getting out of hand.

Home Renovation Costs – Let's Go Room by Room

Interior – Before

how much does an exterior home remodel cost?

Interior – After

home renovation results

  • What I Spent: About $25,000
  • What I Got: All new plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems for the house. New drywall in places and refinishing of the home's original hardwood floors. New light fixtures for the home (and a few I got for free through a sponsored partnership with  Supply.com).
  • Money Spent Since 2013: $1,800 on a brand-new set of stairs up to the attic.

Shop the room: Progress Lighting Chandelier (c/o Supply.com), living room light fixture (similar here). Paint: Benjamin Moore – November Rain. All furniture is either a hand-me-down or a secondhand thrift store find.

Exterior

How much does an exterior home remodel cost? Let's get into that now.

Psst. I sold the home (read about that here) and removed the exterior photo for privacy for the current homeowner.

  • What I Spent: $7,650
  • What I Got: New landscaping to help with drainage, new front steps and a new retaining wall.
  • Money Spent Since 2013: $1,200 on additional drainage work to front landscaping and to landscape the front with flowers for curb appeal to potential buyers when I attempted to sell the home with Redfin in 2015; a cheap front door makeover that only cost $15.

Kitchen – Before

how much does an exterior home remodel cost?

home renovation before pic

Kitchen remodel – After

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.16.29 AM

  • What I Spent: $14,061
  • What I Got: New everything: appliances, sink, countertops, kitchen cabinets and flooring.
  • Money Spent Since 2013: $584.63 on one side of the backsplash in the kitchen (after I decided to upgrade from the Smart Tiles), window treatments….and changing the paint color…. twice.

Shop the room: Pfister faucet, farm sink, cabinet hardware (pulls for drawers and cabinets) in “Brushed Nickel” finish. Paint colors: Cabinets are Benjamin Moore- Ashley Gray #HC-87, walls are Sherwin Williams – Sky High.

P.S. Like the “custom” roman shades in the picture above? I made them myself on the cheap from an old shower curtain! Click here to read my full Ikea roller shade hack tutorial.

Downstairs bathroom – Before

Wondering how much does an exterior home remodel cost?

Downstairs bathroom remodel – After

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.17.45 AM

  • What I Spent: About $1,200
  • What I Got: New shower tile and fixtures, new vanity and light fixture.
  • Money Spent Since 2013: $1,400 for new flooring, new drywall and linen closet, new hardware on the walls and upgrading the faucet fixture.

Shop the room: Floor tiles (similar here), bathroom vanity (similar here – I painted it a lighter gray color for a pop!), curved shower curtain rod (really does make such a difference!), two towel bars and other bath hardware, shower curtain (similar here). Paint: Benjamin Moore – Chelsea Gray.

Office & sun porch – Before

Office & sun porch renovation – After

home renovation results

  • Money Spent Since 2013: Both rooms just got the paint treatment. It cost me $250 to give the sun porch a makeover, and about $100 and give-or-take two years of my life to finally get all of the office trim painted. Ha. The furniture in here are all hand-me-downs.

Attic bathroom – Before

Attic bathroom renovation – After

home renovation

  • What I Spent: $2,500
  • What I Got: New laminate flooring, paint and light fixtures upstairs. Plus I moved the attic access doors to make room for some shelving in the upstairs bathroom.
  • Money Spent Since 2013: $1,420.26 to convert the former master closet back into a fourth bedroom and to freshen up the bathroom (new mirror, light fixture, faucet, hardware and moving the attic access doors) when I was trying to sell the home. Otherwise, I haven't done much because I'm trying not to overbuild for the area.

Shop the room: Mirror, Faucet. Paint color: Sherwin Williams – Spa. Shelving unit is an Ikea Kallax.

Grand total for all renovations: The total for the 203k renovation was about $58,000 + the $6,754.26 I've spent since 2013 makes me all in at $64,754.26.

So around $65,000 to renovate a home top to bottom. Yikes.

Total Spent vs. Total Earned

Now we answered, how much does an exterior home remodel cost? And how much for interior renovation (well for mine anyway).

But has it been a good investment? I definitely think so. Let's check out the numbers below.

Since I bought the home I've earned:

  • $40,000 in a state income tax credit (over three years) for rehabbing a historic property.
  • $3,000 each year of loan forgiveness for living in the home as my primary residence. This is part of the down payment assistance program I leveraged to get into the home for just $1,800.
  • $16,410.77 from renting out bedrooms the last three years.
  • I sold the home in September 2018 for a profit of $130k (read about that right here).

That's a total of $189,410.77 earned on the home, or $37,882.15 a year for my first five years of homeownership.

When I think about how much I could've spent renting this entire time instead of having my money make money by increasing the home's value, I know my real estate return was a good investment, despite all of the trouble it has been.

And if you want to read about how I find houses to flip, click here.

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