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Budget-Friendly Renovations For New Homeowners

Kristen Campbell  |  July 27, 2022

You’ve got the keys – and the mortgage. Now it’s time to create the home of your dreams on a budget that works for you.

You did it! Somehow, in the midst of the current market, you not only found a place you love, but you actually bought your first house! 

First, congratulations. That’s amazing. 

As you revel in those first moments in your new home, you may have noticed that, awesome as it is, it does not come with all the sequenced “sign here” tabs that dominated recent days. You are in choose-your-own adventure territory now. 

This may feel fantastic or terrifying or some combination thereof. 

In an effort to help you experience more of the former and less of the latter, we checked in with experts who shared some fast and affordable ways to make your home your own. So take a deep breath, put your feet up on the nearest box and decide what’s next – and what’s best – for you. 

(Deep) Clean Up 

Perhaps now more than ever, cleaning your new home is essential. 

If you can make the schedule work, it’s ideal to clean before you move in, notes Kit Selzer, Home Editor at Better Homes & Gardens. Not only will it be faster not to work around furniture or boxes, she writes, but it’s easier to reach ceiling fans and light fixtures with a ladder before a bed or table is in place. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about your furniture and rugs getting dirty in the process, she notes.

If cleaning before you move in isn’t possible, Selzer advises making cleaning the first step in unpacking, suggesting that before you fill cabinets and closets, you wipe them down or use a vacuum attachment. 

“Whether you’re cleaning before you move in or as you go, always clean a room from the top down,” she writes. “Start by dusting ceiling-mounted lights, along the ceiling line, and around window frames. Finish by wiping baseboards and sweeping or vacuuming floors.”

Check Your Priorities

When prioritizing the updates you’d like to make, the projects at the top of your list may not be the “fun” ones, Selzer observes. 

“Think about things like safety and overall upkeep first,” she explains. “If the inspection uncovered any structural issues or if you’re concerned about the HVAC giving out or the roof leaking, that’s where you need to put your money.”

After structural or mechanical updates, Selzer notes, you may want to focus on projects that pay off right away when it comes to daily convenience. 

As Monique Valeris, Senior Home Editor for Good Housekeeping puts it: “There are a slew of projects that can help make your everyday life easier while adding character to your home. Can you carve out a makeshift mudroom with a simple storage bench and wall hooks? Instead of splurging on new kitchen cabinets, can you opt to paint them and rethink how they’re organized instead? Considering your biggest pain points is a great place to start.”

As you work – Selzer notes that some people recommend going room by room, starting with the one requiring the least amount of work and money – you may find value in holding off on some major renovations at first. 

“For big projects, like remodeling a kitchen, it’s a good idea to live in your house a while first,” Selzer writes. “Get a feel for how you ideally want to use the space and make notes about what you’d like to change. Pay attention to things like when the sunlight comes through the windows and if you need more windows or light fixtures.”

Play With Color 

“Paint, paint, paint,” writes Valeris. “You’d be surprised how much a fresh coat of paint can dramatically change the look of a space. Whether you consider painting your front door or an entire room, it’s a great way to add a jolt of personality to your home.”

Art Works (Even The Cheap Stuff!) 

Besides painting, artwork can offer an affordable (no, really!) way to make your house truly yours. “I’ve purchased prints from sites like Etsy and Society6, framed posters that I’ve found at museum gift shops and have even had luck at flea markets,” Valeris writes. “Plus, it’s easy enough to find budget-friendly frames to make your wall art stand out and you can easily switch up your arrangement seasonally or whenever the mood strikes.”

Looking for an even more budget-friendly – not to mention unique – option? Look around you. “Decorate with items that have personal meaning,” Selzer suggests. “You can put just about anything in a readymade frame or shadow box: a favorite scarf, your grandmother’s handwritten recipe, a page from a vintage book.”

It’s A Journey, Not A Sprint

After the initial flurry of activity, you may well wish to take a nap. The chore you executed with gusto during your first weekend of being a homeowner may now languish. It’s understandable.

Still, you want to keep your home at its best while still being kind to your budget. Valeris suggests paying attention to small details that make an impact. Consider upgrading simple things – from doorknobs to curtain rods, light switch covers to faucets – to make your space more stylish and give it a modern flair, she writes. 

Landscaping matters too. “This doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars,” she writes. “You can find plants that are fit for your region as well as low-maintenance options that don’t require a ton of water to thrive and add charm to your home.”

(Case in point: Some of my favorite perennials are irises my mom shared with me after dividing hers. And you know where she got hers? The dump!)  

Finally, embrace light. Valeris notes that the right balance of overhead, task and accent lighting can make your space feel warm and inviting.

Remember Your Bottom Line

In the midst of projects big and small, keep an eye on your budget. 

As Valeris writes, “not everyone has the bandwidth or means to take on a gut renovation, so think about more manageable upgrades that can still make a difference in your home.” 

Meanwhile, Selzer notes that when you’re a homeowner, there are additional expenses you probably didn’t have when you were renting, such as utilities, general maintenance, and unexpected repairs. 

Furthermore, taxes and insurance are among the money questions often overlooked after the closing occurs, according to Elaine King, president and CEO of Family and Money Matters.

So pace yourself. You don’t need to make every update you imagined your first weekend, or your first year. As Valeris puts it: “Stay true to your budget and lifestyle.”

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