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Making the most of our home renovations

With a budget of $25,000, we wanted to stretch our money as far as we could. Where could we direct our limited reno budget to have the biggest impact?

October 7, 2021

Written by Nick Patch

Key takeaways

  • Adding or renovating bathrooms will greatly improve your quality of life and the value of your home.

  • Some less-expensive outdoor upgrades, such as new eavestroughs, can have a big visual impact.

  • When it comes to return-on-investment for your renovation, nothing seems to top a fresh coat of paint.

Making the most of our home renovations

When my wife and I bought a new house, we were renovation rookies. 

We had only lived the low-maintenance lifestyle in condos and the Toronto townhouse we were selling. With a budget of around $25,000, we initially let our home-improvement imaginations run wild. 

We soon realized how unrealistic our ideas were. We faced tough decisions. With such a limited budget, we wanted to stretch our money as far as we could. Where could we direct our limited reno budget to have the biggest impact on how livable and valuable our house would be? 

1. Renovating the kitchen 

The kitchen is an important part of the home for most of us. As it turns out, you can give that space a fetching facelift without breaking the bank. 

Terry Paranych, Edmonton-based president of the Paranych Group of Companies, points out that dated cabinets, which are costly to replace, can be rejuvenated by renovating around them. Adding new laminate flooring, countertops, or a fresh backsplash, for instance, can give a modern look and feel to a kitchen even if some other elements are dated. 

St. John's, N.L., realtor Conor Stack offers a personal cautionary tale. Before he and his wife had their two daughters, they "over-renovated" their kitchen, knocking down walls and erecting LVL beams for an open-concept look, and putting in top-of-the-line finishes like new Corian countertops, slick appliances, and new cabinets. 

Shortly after, they sold the house. 

"It was just a nicer kitchen than the house warranted in some respects," Stack said. "The people who bought the house I'm sure are enjoying it, but we didn't recoup the costs." 

What we did to our kitchen: 

After exploring the cost of switching out our countertops or backsplash—both of which were fine, if a little dated—we decided our budget was better directed elsewhere. 

We did take advantage of our newfound counter space to buy a toaster oven. Day-old pizza hasn't been the same since. 

2. Curb appeal 

When it comes to renovating the outside of your home, the sky's the limit for what's possible – and sometimes, costs can run just as high. But some less-expensive upgrades can have a big impact. 

Although renovating windows can be costly, it can be done incrementally over the years and makes a big difference to the look and value of your home, said Ottawa sales representative Lyne Burton of Lyne & Dominique. 

New eavestroughs can also be a "knight in shining armour" for the overall visual appeal of a house and can also make a big difference when selling a home, Paranych said. 

What we did outside our home: 

When it came to renovating the outside of our house, my wife at first couldn't curb her enthusiasm. She wanted to explore buying a new garage door, replacing the soffits, eavestroughs and downspouts with sleek black, and recladding the window frames to match. 

After looking at an estimate of around $18,000 to accomplish all of that, we decided to put it all on hold indefinitely. For now, our only small investments in the outside of our home have been a pair of sprinklers and a rising water bill. 

3. Paint job 

When it comes to renovation ROI, nothing seems to top a fresh coat of paint. 

"Paint can transform a house," Stack said. "I've had clients who were ready to sell their house, they repainted it, and then they second-guessed whether they wanted to sell it because it looked so good." 

"Paint is the No. 1 best ROI you could possibly get," said Mark Broady, Montreal-based real estate broker with Team Broady and Royal LePage. 

What we painted: 

To paint the whole house, we spent around $900 on 12 cans of paint, plus $100 for supplies like drop cloths and rollers. 

As far as labour, my dad offered to handle the painting for us. Had we hired painters, it might have eaten up the bulk of our budget. 

4. Bathrooms 

Adding or renovating bathrooms will greatly improve your quality of life and the value of your home – and you won't have to watch your entire reno budget circle the drain. 

An ensuite bathroom can make life easier for you, and when it eventually comes time to sell your home, buyers pretty much expect one these days, Stack said. 

If you can't boost the quantity of bathrooms, invest in quality instead. A new toilet, mirror, vanity, or even shower head can go a long way toward freshening up your washroom. 

Realtors do caution that homeowners who remove their tubs altogether risk taking a bath financially if they decide to sell. 

"Often the demographic who will be buying that house in that neighbourhood are probably people with young kids, and they'll need a bathtub to bathe their children in," said Broady. 

What we did to our bathroom: 

Bathrooms wound up being the main focus of our renovation attention. 

When we bought it, the house had two-and-a-half baths, including a dated ensuite that seemingly hadn't been updated since the house was built in the late '70s. 

After considering all the alternatives, we decided to devote pretty much our entire reno budget to gutting the ensuite for a fresh and modern remodel, while also installing a brand-new bathroom in the basement (the plumbing rough-in was already in place). 

All told, we spent $20,000 on materials and labour on the new washrooms, along with $3,300 for unsexy under-the-hood improvements to the house ($1,800 for mould removal, $500 for roof vents to a bathroom, and $1,000 for attic insulation). 

The rest of our wish list will have to wait. 

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