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How to Plan and Budget for DIY Home Projects Now

Tailor do-it-yourself home projects to fit current circumstances by considering the size, type and cost of the work.

Take the right approach to DIY home projects by tailoring the size, type and cost to fit current circumstances. © Getty Images

By Sean Pyles, NerdWallet

Did you find yourself cooped up during the pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders, blankly staring at the walls of your house, longing for more?

Maybe you wanted to travel or go out to dinner with friends. Or maybe you just wanted a fresh coat of paint on that wall.

If you found yourself in the latter camp, you had company: When the home improvement platform Houzz surveyed 1,000 homeowners who use the site in April, nearly 80% said they’re considering remodeling changes that would help them enjoy their houses more. And sales at Home Depot were up 7% in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, a possible sign that consumers were already spending more on home improvement materials.

Although now might seem like the perfect time for DIY home improvement, be sure to consider our new reality. Plan the project's size, type and budget to fit current circumstances.


Plan your project

Whether it’s a wall in need of color or a drab backyard that could use some landscaping, start by knowing what you want to accomplish. Then, put together a plan.

When determining the project you’ll take on, think about what’s within your skillset and what you can accomplish during the upcoming months. For example, if you want to remodel your bathroom, put in some flower beds and redo the siding on your house, start with the flower beds since it's easier and timely.

Some projects are better left for professionals or for a later date. You might decide to wait to renovate a bathroom when you’re holed up for the winter and to hire a professional for the siding since it’s complicated to install.

But realize that it might be difficult to get a professional on the phone given the uncertain state of businesses and stay-at-home orders. As well, resist the temptation to do everything yourself.

“Wiring and plumbing shouldn’t be DIY unless you know something about it,” says Alexandra Barker, principal at Barker Associates Architecture Office in New York. “Because then, if you’re in a crisis, it’s hard to get a plumber or electrician to answer your calls right now.”

Vicki and Steph Kostopoulos, a mother-daughter duo who run the “Mother Daughter Projects” blog, suggest holding off on any project that involves a lot of sanding — during which you would need to wear an N95 mask — given the current demand for personal protective equipment in hospitals.


Do your research

Choosing a home-improvement project can be exciting, but figuring out exactly how to do it is an altogether more difficult task.

“Before you start a project, watch a number of videos on how to do it so you can make sure you understand the process,” says Steph Kostopoulos. “By watching multiple sources, you’ll be able to get an idea of how it’s done.”

YouTube has countless hours of DIY videos, but the quality varies. For consistent and knowledgeable how-to videos, check out This Old House, a home improvement series that makes seemingly complicated DIY projects more accessible. Apartment Therapy is another reliable resource.


Set your project budget

You know what you want to accomplish and how you would do it — but can you afford it? Make sure you know the total cost of a project, then review your budget and see how much of your expendable income can be allocated for it.

The budgeting process might take some negotiation between what you can afford right now and what you want to accomplish. Given that we’re in a recession, it’s best to avoid going into debt or tapping your emergency fund for home improvements.

Consider making a simple spreadsheet that lists the items you need and how much they’ll cost. That lets you prepare for and track the cost of the project. And pad it a bit because your project will likely cost more than that when it’s done, Barker says.

“You always have to add in 10% or 15% of cost overage to your project budget,” she says. “You never know if your dog or cat could knock over your can of paint, then you have to buy another. Expect the unexpected as part of your budgeting.”

If you find the total expenses are more than what you can afford right now, see if you can divide the project into more manageable chunks over time. This will help you get started without stretching your finances.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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