Especially during a time of flat or declining home values, I’m a huge believer in making smart improvements to a property. Not only can you customize the home to your requirements, you can build some equity to protect your investment from any potential future decline.
That said, I often recommend that buyers live in a new home for six months to a year before undertaking any major remodeling or home improvements. I’m not talking about necessary repairs to lighting or plumbing and such to make the home habitable. Rather, I’m referring to discretionary remodeling, expansions, and other improvement projects.
Many buyers today want their new home to be move-in ready, and having work initiated after you’ve settled in may seem inconvenient at best. But I’ve got my reasons for suggesting that you at least consider holding off on the big home improvement projects, and here they are:
1. Living in the home can change your plans
You may have grand visions for what you’d like to do to a home, based on its condition and your priorities at the time you buy it. But until you’re actually living there every day, it’s difficult to know exactly how you’ll use the house, what will work for you and what won’t. Ultimately, it’s this day-to-day experience with the house that should inform your home improvement decisions, instead of early notions of how you want your day-to-day experience to be.
For example, a client of mine bought a home with a kitchen and a formal dining room separated by a wall. The living room was at another end of the house. The kitchen needed work, and she wanted to renovate it before moving in, though I counseled her to live in it first. As it turned out, the family spent way more time cramming into the kitchen and very rarely used the dining room or even the living room. It soon became clear that, as a part of the renovation, they should open up the wall between the kitchen and dining room and transform the space into one big, open, informal living/dining/kitchen area.
2. After buying a home, you deserve a break
Buying a home is a huge project, an enormous change to your life, and a shock to the system — if not your finances. I’ve seen buyers jump through hoops, spending months on end looking for a home. In some situations, it becomes a part-time job. Once they find the home, getting their finances together and going through the purchase becomes extremely stressful.
A home renovation can be yet another big and stressful project, what with all the decisions to make and contractors to deal with. My recommendation is to take a break after the stress of buying your new home. Enjoy it for a while. Take some time to get used to your new setting. Some buyers have told me it took them six to 10 months to really feel settled and comfortable in their new home. And after coughing up a big down payment, you may need time to get back on your feet financially before taking on any home improvement projects.
3. You need time to carefully plan your home improvement project
Any renovation, no matter how small, should be planned with care. This means speaking to multiple architects, contractors or designers to get their take on your ideas and options — a time-consuming process.
An hour with a well-qualified contractor can uncover opportunities where you least expected them. For instance, even though it may be an added cost now, moving the laundry from the garage to the top floor during a larger renovation may save you time and money down the road.
Conversely, hiring architects and contractors while under the constraints of an escrow period is likely to cause problems for you later. Some buyers want to get the renovation ball rolling as soon as possible because they feel like they can’t live in the home while the work is being done and they don’t want to pay rent and a mortgage at the same time. While this may make some sense economically up front, it can still cause costly problems later.
Take your home for a test drive
Often, buyers who said on day one they don’t want a home that requires any work end up buying a home that needs at least some work. It’s the natural evolution of the buying process. Rarely does someone end up buying the home they started off thinking they wanted.
While you should be open to doing work on a home, don’t feel stressed about getting it all done at once. Live with the home as is for six months to a year. Take it for a test drive and see how it runs. You may be surprised at how your perspective, and your priorities, change once you settle in.
Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor® and real estate expert based in San Francisco and New York. He is a contributor to Zillow Blog, has collaborated on multiple real estate books and is often quoted by major media outlets. Follow Brendon on Twitter.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.