What is the First Thing to Do When Renovating a House?

Maybe you’ve been looking for a change in your home to make it like a fresh start. Remodeling is a great choice for this. Most homeowners new to the monumental task of home remodeling begin the process with stars in their eyes. However, it’s important to be very grounded in practical planning methods at the outset. But how do you efficiently sort through it all?

The first thing to do when renovating a house is to create a detailed plan of the process before making your first purchase or putting down your first paint stroke.

If you’re at a loss about where to start your planning process, this article will guide you through key questions you’re going to want to ask yourself as you go along. You’ll also find some examples of concrete tools you can use to help you stay organized.


Why is Planning a Renovation Important?

The first thing to do when preparing to renovate a house is to plan, plan and plan some more. This phase of the journey usually takes up to a month. It involves meticulous record-keeping that will require maintaining an inventory of materials and services needed, figuring out a workable budget, and being realistic about the timeline.

Before you commit to any changes, it is critical to make a thorough assessment of the house as it is, determine whether or not there are existing issues that might complicate renovation, and what kind of renovation you’re going to be doing and why.

Remodeling can look like small-scale accessorizing or it can mean intensive structural modification. The most common rooms that people renovate are the kitchen, bathroom, and basement. These kinds of renovations also help increase property value – so keep that in mind too!

You may have to take meeting codes and passing inspections into account especially if your remodeling project will involve extending. If you’re a member of the Homeowner’s Association, you’re going to want to get very familiar with their rules and regulations too.


Questions to Consider

Below are some examples of questions to guide you throughout the process of planning your renovation:

  • Why am I making these renovations?
  • What materials will I need?
  • Will I need to hire contractors?
  • Do I want to extend?
  • How will these renovations affect property value?

Now, let’s take a look at getting to know your house.


Getting to Know Your House

First, you’ll want to evaluate each part of your house. Make an assessment of the floors, furnishings, walls, and other features to find any glaring issues.

Record expenses involved in the repair of any issues as you go along, especially if they are beyond your expertise to fix. Then, do some research on multiple contractors available in your area so you can compare bids.

As you’re notetaking and moving through your house, spend a little more time in the rooms you’re thinking about changing and reflect on a few questions. Are there some rooms in the house that could be repurposed to meet your needs? If so, how are they being used now? Can you maximize those spaces?

Look for clever ways to save money. If you want a room to feel roomier, adjust a few cosmetic things like replacing curtains with sheerer ones or adding windows that would allow more natural light to get in. Combine one or two strategically placed windows with good furniture rearrangement and you’ve got a living room with more breathing space.

At this point, try to clarify a general design direction. Without getting too carried away, Pinterest is definitely a great place to start for interior decoration ideas. If you’re going to hire an official interior designer, you’ll want to have a rough outline of what you’re looking for ready.

As a rule, it’s important to remember that elements work together and an alteration of one feature could affect the quality of another. If you decide to remove or add light fixtures, how will this affect the overall mood of the room? If the walls are painted in dark colors, less light could make things even darker. Is that what you’re going for?


Some Practical Tools

Though paperwork is probably unavoidable, technology can still be an amazing tool for organizing and categorization purposes. There are tons of apps available on the Google Play Store that allow you to experiment with and visualize design choices while providing a steady stream of inspirational ideas.

The Spruce website, an authority on home remodeling advice, includes a comprehensive list of some of the best home renovation apps out there:

  • Houzz app– With a 4.8-star rating in the App store, this app gives you access to products you may need as you renovate, contractors, and cool design ideas. It has an enjoyable user experience and is free to use.
  • iScape – This app is designed to help bring your landscaping plans to life. Like the Houzz app, you can buy products for landscaping. You can use your own pictures or the visuals the app provides to create your own mockup.
  • HomeDesign 3D – Similar to the iScape setup, HomeDesign 3D affords users the capacity to create their own 2D or 3D floor plans. The app includes customizable graphics for furniture and other items.

Now, equipped with apps and Excel inventory or budget spreadsheets, you’re well on your way to completing a solid renovation plan. You’ve got great questions to work with that will help you continue clarifying your decision-making process.

Something else to consider when in the planning phase is whether or not your renovations will require passing inspections, land surveys, or HOA approval. Let’s cover some of those potential roadblocks so you’ll be prepared!


Up to Code?

Before you can jump into remodeling, you have to make sure that you’re aware of local laws, rules, and regulations. Ask yourself: Do I know where my property lines are? Am I familiar with my city’s ordinances and building codes? It’s okay if you answered no to any of those questions.

Once you affirm that, yes, you’ll need to apply for a permit. Determine whether you’ll be doing renovations yourself or you’ll hire a contractor to do the work. If you are enlisting a contractor’s services, then have them go to the local building department and apply.

Permits will cost some money, but they are usually about $50. An inspector will need to come onsite to verify that codes and rules are being met. Don’t sweat the expense. You’d rather go through the trouble of inspection than paying the fine for renovations that are in violation of your homeowner’s insurance.

Let’s look at some examples of the kinds of remodeling that typically require building permits.

Below lists examples of projects that will need approval from your local building department:


Projects Usually Requiring a Permit Projects Usually Not Requiring a Permit
Installing new windows or doors Replacing an existing door
Adding a skylight Installing new flooring
Installing fireplace or insert Replacing countertops
Installing a new roof Replacing cabinets


Now, let’s take a look at when a land survey is needed.


When a Land Survey is Needed

Though not usually an issue for remodeling indoors, land surveys are more relevant for renovations that involve adding on to your property. If you’re planning demolition for the purpose of replacing an existing structure, if you’re extending or constructing an outbuilding, this section is for you. You want to try and avoid disputes with your neighbors!

Land surveys are also referred to as boundary surveys. A land surveyor measures the property’s boundaries to establish the plot of land on which the house is built.

Land surveys are especially important for extension projects that alter the footprint of the house because you’ll want to make sure you aren’t violating any restrictions associated with the legal boundaries defining the property.

There are different kinds of land surveys. If you’re interested in adding a fence to your property, you’ll need a monumentation survey. That is if your local jurisdiction requires them. Surveys aren’t always mandatory but double-checking is always recommended.


Homeowners Association Requirements

If you’re a member of the HOA, you more than likely know that any external modifications you’re planning will definitely have to get approval. However, many HOA members aren’t as informed about approval for interior remodeling projects. For example, any changes that entail rewiring electrical systems, rerouting plumbing, or removal of walls will all need to be signed off on.

You may have to fill out a project proposal form and send it off to the board of directors. They’ll want to see details about the renovation, a well-thought-out timeline – everything this article has been helping prepare you for!

In addition, after you get all your permits and the contractor work is completed, the HOA will inspect the renovations and determine whether or not it meets their standards. But, no worries. If you’ve done your homework, this step will be uncomplicated.


Planning for the Future

There are multiple things you should do to plan for the future when thinking of renovating a house. Let’s take a look below.


Property Value

Increasing property value is a common reason people decide to remodel. When it comes to getting high returns on investment (ROI), you want to make wise decisions during the process. Find that happy medium between top-notch quality and reasonably priced remodeling.

The kitchen offers the best ROI – over 50% – according to industry research. It’s most often featured as the prized showpiece during home selling. Giving the cabinets, floors, and countertops an intensive makeover could prove to be a smart investment for the future.

If one day you hope to put your house on the market, prospective buyers are likely to be impressed by the marble and hardwood since the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house.


Tax Increases

A word of caution: home improvements can mean a spike in property tax. If your property’s value goes up, you’ll also see increases in your tax bill.

County appraisers monitor real estate in a given taxing district, updating databases of local property values. Your renovations won’t go unnoticed and tax assessors have creative ways of finding out about them like sifting through demolition permit applications.

So, weigh the long-term effects of your renovations in a cost-benefit analysis. Consider both the positive appreciation of your property’s value and the potential financial pressures of tax increases.



That art studio room you were dreaming about…don’t give up on it now that your head is swimming with rules and regulations and all the inventory you haven’t made a list for yet. Take advantage of the apps mentioned earlier in this article. Make Excel your best friend.

The better you plan, the more smoothly your renovation process will unfold. You want to enjoy the project and let your creative juices flow. So, tackle the hard stuff systematically, prepare yourself for success, and keep the end goal in mind. Home remodeling doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Element Home Remodeling can help make your next remodeling project a reality.  We are a Bay Area home remodeling company with a reputation for modern and open designs that can fit most budgets.  Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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