Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Renovation

Before things got really bad.

Before things got really bad.

I’m a real estate agent, but I’m also a homeowner who recently completed a MASSIVE renovation here in Madison. After living through the experience, here are five tough questions I think everyone should ask themselves before starting a big renovation project.

1) Do I have enough money to finish the work?

Sadly, contractors don’t accept IOUs. We’ve all heard horror stories of someone who started a renovation, and had to wait a year or two to finish because cash dried up. Don’t be that guy. Make sure to have enough capital available – whether it’s in your bank account, through a home equity line of credit, or a construction loan – to see things through. And remember – everything is more expensive than you think it will be. ALWAYS.

2) Does this make sense?

A kitchen renovation almost always pays off (especially if you just can’t live with those Formica countertops anymore!), and so does a bathroom upgrade. But think long and hard before adding square footage or spending huge money on extravagant non-necessary improvements. Sometimes, it makes sense to blow out your ranch-style or Cape Cod home, and sometimes it doesn’t. Examine comps, talk with your neighbors, and touch base with a real estate agent to see if there’s upside and value in going through the pain and expense of a renovation.

3) Where do you go if you need to move out (and how much will it cost)?

You can only live with the dust and din of a large renovation project for so long. Eventually, you’re more than likely going to need to get out of dodge. Do you have friends with an extra wing or a guest house begging for a long-term tenant? Probably not… In which case, you’re going to have to plan for the expense of temporary living quarters. In expensive areas like Madison, Chatham and Morristown, short-term two-bedroom apartments can cost as much as $3000 a month – and those are the ones that don’t offer turn-down service and a pool. Make sure to plan for these expenses on the front end.

4) How will my personal relationships be affected?

Living in a construction zone is very stressful. No matter how much you love your spouse, you’re going to argue. A LOT. And having a team of tradesmen and construction workers there to see the show only adds to the tension. You’ll also need to assess your friendships – who can you call when you need a warm place to shelter and a friendly shoulder to sob on? And who will continue inviting you over for dinner parties and playdates – even when you can’t return the favor for six or seven months (or perhaps more)?

5)Would it be easier to move?

In most places in the country, the answer is a resounding yes. But in towns like Madison, Chatham and Morristown, where there are a fair number of starter-style homes (that still cost $600,000) and “move-up” homes that are at least $1.2 million – and not much in between – it’s more difficult to answer this question. Again, check your comps, ask yourself what you can handle financially and psychologically, and talk to a real estate agent. If it’s someone you trust, you can have an honest conversation about the upsides of renovating or adding on – and discuss the alternative of exploring new places to live – even if it’s just to verify your decision.

Meg Mullin is a Madison mom, realtor and writer. Feel free to reach out to her for information about building or buying – she has tons of experience doing both. You can reach her at or 973-845-8375.