Summer is the best time to engage in home improvement projects. True or false?
Most people will say that statement is “true” without much hesitation but as it turns it’s not quite as black and white as all that. Certainly from the perspective of weather summertime is undoubtedly the best time to be making holes in exterior walls or digging up the yard for an inground pool. But weather is not the only thing that needs to be considered when setting up a schedule for your home improvement project. Just as important, (and in many ways more important), is that the renovation occurs at a time that fits best with your family’s schedule and dovetails nicely with optimal financial conditions; both your own and those related to the cost of materials and labor.
The Law of Supply and Demand
The summertime may be the best time to open up the side of the house to create an addition but it’s also the contractor’s busiest time of the year. That’s because everyone wants their addition built during the warm weather. If you can wait until fall or early next spring you can likely catch the contractor at a slower time when they really need the work. Translation? You’ll get a better price. Waiting out the market can sometimes make the difference between being able to afford the renovation you want and having to settle for less.
Securing the services of a contractor at a reduced price is one great way to make your renovation budget go further. Another way is to take the long view on materials. If you know exactly what you want to do and you’re sure you can afford it you might find it to your advantage to wait and slowly gather materials prior to starting the project. This way you’ll have plenty of time to find bargains on the materials you’ll need. Keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground for sales, clearances, closeouts and other promotions. Then purchase what you’ll be needing and store it away until it’s time to start work. You could wind up saving a substantial chunk of change this way.
The Ties That Bind
Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to home improvement project timetables is the family. The best time for the family does not always coincide with the best weather. For instance; if your son or daughter is home from university for the summer do you really want to be gutting the kitchen or knocking out the wall in their bedroom while they’re home? This should be a time of reaffirming family bonds and enjoying the time you have together. Not spending sleepless nights or watching her or him retreat to their friend’s house to escape the noise and mess.
Your Bottom Line
Most individuals as well as families experience fluctuations in their financial position throughout the year. As a result you may not want to start an expensive renovation project when you’re experiencing a cash ‘valley’. Since summertime is typically the time of family vacations you may find yourself pinched financially at a time when the weather would make renovations easy. A better time might be after the holidays and tax season are over but summer has not yet begun, or after summer vacation when you’ve had some time to replenish your bank account.
When Summer May be the Right Time
There are some projects for which summertime is the ideal time, regardless of cash flow or who is home for the summer. Take furnaces for instance. Most people don’t think about their furnace until the leaves start to fall. By then however you’ll have to both wait in line with everyone else and pay top dollar for maintenance, repair or installation services. Go against the grain and schedule your furnace service or new furnace installation for July instead of November. You’ll save time and money.
There are other projects that simply can’t be done any other time than the summer, like house painting. Once the temperature gets below 37° F latex exterior paints are worthless. But even if you’re painting when it’s 45° F outside it will still be too cold for fillers, caulking and the like. Interior painting jobs can be handled year round but think carefully before you subject everyone in the sealed-up house to the disruption, smells and inconvenience.
Last Words for Timing
So going back to the original yes/no premise you can hopefully see that determining the right time for a home renovation project is not always a simple matter of waiting for the weather to warm up. There are other things and other people to consider, including the fact that whatever it is you do in the summer it’s going to cost you more. So think twice before scheduling your next renovation project for June, July or August. You might be better off waiting.
Avoiding the Money Pit: Budget for Home Improvements
Chances are you’re not reading this in the grand hall of your Alpine castle with servants shuffling about busily readying the fortress for the upcoming winter. Which means you probably don’t have an original Leonardo sketch you can auction off to raise money for needed renovations. Instead, like the rest of us mere mortals, you’ll need to devise a realistic budget sourced from your hard-earned income to achieve the renovations you have in mind. While that may not seem like a big deal the fact is a good portion of home improvement projects end up home improvement nightmares either because the budget wasn’t realistic or simply wasn’t adhered to.
Ensuring a Happy Ending to your Home Improvement Project
When determining a budget for an upcoming home improvement project there are two important things you’ll need to do: first, take off the rose colored glasses and second, channel your chemistry teacher. You know, the one who never smiled and just stuck to the facts. These two things will be key to your renovation turning out the way you want instead of the way you fear.
Tossing the Rose Colored Glasses
When setting a budget for a home improvement project wishful thinking is the first thing that needs to be abandoned. It simply won’t get you anywhere you want to be. You need to take off the rose colored glasses and take a cold-light-of-day look at your finances, taking into account all the variables (current expenses, upcoming obligations etc.) to determine if you can afford to do what you want to do. If you’re of a mind to borrow money for the project you’ll need to figure out exactly how much you can afford to borrow without undermining your lifestyle—then, mostly importantly, ensure that you do not needlessly exceed this amount later in the process.
Channeling the Chemistry Teacher
The reason you’ll want to channel your chemistry teacher is because they had something you may not: discipline. By that we don’t mean corporal punishment, we mean an attitude that doesn’t allow details to be ignored or glossed over. There will be pressure on you from day 1 to push the envelope regarding the scope of the project and materials used. Don’t give in. Have the parameters clearly defined before any contracts are signed and don’t waiver.
Arriving at a Number
Now that you have the right outlook and attitude arriving at a budget is a fairly well understood process that entails 4 basic steps.
First, get a ballpark idea of what your costs will be. Spend as much time as you need researching the various components of your project to get an accurate idea of material costs. (A lot of relevant information is available on the web but you may also have to do some legwork and visit suppliers.) Research local labor costs as well and try and find out what others in your area are spending on similar projects.
Second, use your newfound realism and discipline to scale the project to adhere to your budget. If you’ve discovered that what you want will cost $50,000 and you can realistically afford $20,000 the discipline will have to kick in. You’ll need to either dial back the scope of the project, choose another, more affordable project or wait until you’re in a better position to handle the cost. Failing to do so could put you behind the financial 8 ball for years.
Third, ask for quotes. Assuming you are moving forward on a project you can realistically afford the next step it to gather quotes from prospective contractors. Tell each contractor exactly what you want to do right down to the countertop material and number of track lights. Give each contractor the exact same information and ask for itemized bids. Throw out any ridiculously high or low bids and make sure the winning bid allows you to also set aside 10-20% for contingencies.
Lastly, stay disciplined. Throughout the project you’ll be tempted to upgrade the cabinets, upgrade the flooring, upgrade the lighting scheme, upgrade the appliances etc. etc. Don’t do it. Every time you spend more on A you’ll have less to spend on B. Either that or you’ll be tempted to borrow more money or raid the college fund (just this once) to cover the additional costs. This is how the money pit is created and where regret is born. Don’t waiver. Don’t give in to temptation. Stay disciplined. You’ll love yourself for it in the long run.
The secret to successful home improvement projects is not to view them as fantasy fulfillment but as investments. If you can stay grounded in the facts and not give in to the temptation to say “Sure. Why not?” you’ll wind up at the end of the process with the home upgrade you wanted and a future unsullied by financial mismanagement. Who could ask for more?