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5 Tips for Prioritizing Renovation Projects

Sometimes the scope of work involved in a fixer-upper home becomes a lot clearer once you’ve finally moved in. All of those “easy-fixes” that you noticed during the inspection suddenly become a very long, intimidating list of “to-dos.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed!


Our house if caulk-full of projects. Some are big, costly and complicated while others are minor, cheap and cosmetic. It’s precisely this variance that makes prioritizing so tricky. I hate the colour of the kitchen cabinets, the downstairs toilet needs to be replaced, and I’d love to add crown molding to the bedroom. What takes priority?  


I’ve noticed over the years that some people jump right in, starting multiple projects in a crazed fit of productivity, but never really end up finishing anything. Others get paralyzed and don’t start any projects, anticipating of a “major overhaul” in the future.


In my experience, striking a balance between needs and wants, acceptance and intolerance can go a long way in making the ownership of a fixer-upper less stressful – I might even go as far as to say enjoyable (especially as projects start to get crossed off the list!).


So, here are my top tips for making your project list more digestible (and actionable!):

  1. Function Over Form. Looking over your list, consider what is actually broken vs. what simply doesn’t look good. Fixing a leaking drain pipe should take priority over painting the ugly cabinet that it’s hiding inside. Start with the functionality of the things you use on a day-to-day basis or problems that are causing further damage by not being mended – you don’t want your list getting even longer!
  2. High Traffic Areas. If the basic functions of your home are in order, I like to start with projects that fall into high traffic or public facing areas. Consider where you spend most of your time and prioritize projects that improve the functionality and enjoyment of these spaces. A fresh coat of paint in the living room is often an easy place to start.
  3. I Hate It! Your home should be a place where you feel at ease. If you walk in everyday loathing one particular thing, bump that project up your list and change it as soon as you can. That said, it’s a fact that there are going to be areas of your home that you’ll have to accept as they are for some time; so don’t play the “I hate it” trump card too early or too often.    
  4. Longevity & Resale. Likely resale isn’t the first thing on your mind if you’ve just moved in, but you shouldn’t disregard the ongoing value of your home as you pick your renovation projects. Sinking $15K into a media room is enticing, but tackling a really outdated bathroom first might be smarter in terms of your home’s value. When investing in projects, don’t forget to consider how long the project is intended to last and budget accordingly -- is this a temporary fix or a permanent solution? 
  5. Budget & Skill. While it might be nice to tackle our entire to-do list in one foul swoop, in reality it usually takes time to save up and get the work done. Consider which items on your list require more savings and skills (like a kitchen remodel) and start saving now! As you work toward these bigger projects, keep up your motivation and develop new skills by crossing a few of the smaller, less expensive projects (like painting or small repairs) from your list one at a time. Small projects really do add up over time -- trust me!

What’s the first project you tackled or hope to tackle in your new home? What’s the one thing you wish you could change right now?

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Stephanie Catcher
September 9, 2020
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Steve Catcher
June 9, 2014
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