December 5th, 2017 at 11:00 am


Few urges are harder to resist than the desire to move into a home you’ve just bought and start making improvements right away. But should you put yourself through all the stress of launching immediate renovations, or is it better to settle in for a while and slowly figure out which modifications will work best in the long run?

People who’ve lived through the situation seem to agree: It’s usually best to wait–maybe as long as a year–unless items like floors, walls, and ceilings need to be upgraded for safety or health reasons. Letting that year go by gives you the time, experience, and funds to perform the renovations you’ll enjoy for many years–not just the upgrades that come to mind before or right after you move in.

Here are some commonsense suggestions we’ve gleaned for buyers who really should keep those “fix it up” urges under control. They’ll help you really analyze what you can or can’t live without at your new address.

Wait until escrow closes

First off, don’t change anything until escrow has closed and you officially own the property. No major alterations or cosmetic changes should be made until the deed is recorded and all paperwork is signed.

Think about your renovation plans before you even make an offer. As a prospective buyer, you can build the cost of the work needed for your offering price, or ask the seller to perform some renovations or repairs before you close as part of the offer negotiation. However, keep in mind that most sellers won’t be interested in doing home renovation work prior to closing, and even if they are, you’ll have to be willing to wait potentially months for permits and sign-offs to be obtained prior to closing.

If the seller agrees to handle a few upgrades, you might save time and effort by letting them navigate the municipal licensing authority’s requirements and completing the work before you close. If the seller agrees to a discount so you can cover certain repairs or renovations, you’ll need to handle the details and wait until you close. But you might have more control over the process and the results, and you won’t run the risk of any disagreements with the seller over the quality of the finished work.

Wait up to a year for major work

Waiting a year to do major renovations helps you assess how you use the space. Then you can do things like select paint colors and bathroom tiles with a full 12 months’ worth of perspective. Renovating immediately is like flying blind–you’ve never lived in this home before, so you’re basing your improvements off of what worked for you in previous homes and former periods of your life.

Waiting provides the opportunity to methodically plot what will be best for you in the long term.

Waiting a year also gives you the time to shed the stress of moving coupled with renovating. Moving has its own headaches, so why add the ordeal of renovating your kitchen and ripping out the carpet at the same time? Get the move over with, get settled into your new life, and then consider what changes you might want to make.

Cosmetic updates to a home are in reality luxury purchases and should be paid for like any other luxury: in full with cash. If you can’t pay cash, you wait until you can. A yearlong moratorium will allow you to build up your cash reserves and, preferably, save up enough to pay for all the work in cash. However, if the previously mentioned floors, walls, and ceilings need repair, it’s much easier and cheaper to redo them before you move in all of your belongings.

The kitchen is king

For many new owners, their top renovation priority is the kitchen. It’s a good idea to wait and see if that priority holds up. By cooking in the kitchen almost every day for many months, you can get a clear sense of how you would like to redesign it. Without this knowledge, you might rely on a remodeler’s concept of kitchen design, which might not be what’s most conducive to your cooking workflow. If the home lacks a dishwasher or has an aging one, it might be wise to have a new one installed before attempting major renovations. You always can remove it and have a space designed for it in your new kitchen. Same with washers, dryers, and other major appliances you find you just can’t live without.

Cheap, temporary fixes are OK

An inexpensive, temporary fix could make life easier until a full-bore renovation is called for. Say you want to brighten up the living room but don’t want to invest yet in overhead lighting.

One family came up with an incredibly inexpensive solution: They hung white LED Christmas lights around the perimeter of the room. It may be a bit unconventional, even tacky. But the lights create a cozy, whimsical feeling and give the room a warm glow for just a few dollars.

Empty space is not a sin

Feel the need to fill every room with furniture, décor, and possessions? Remind yourself that empty space is not a sin. There’s no reason to fill up each room the moment you unpack. Even using a room or two for storing items is fine until you decide where they should go permanently. At some point, you’ll decide where everything belongs. Storing things in plain sight also gives you the opportunity to figure what you can live without. Tossing out or donating those old pillows and candlesticks is not only liberating, but it also leaves you with fewer things to dust off and clean. That might inspire you to acquire new items that better fit your current lifestyle.

Most things can wait

Even though you won’t want to.

Unless you’re planning to make your home a showcase for entertaining, remember this: After you move in, most things can wait. There’s a benefit to living in a place for a while before making any major changes. Even if you can’t do everything you want, be thankful for the delays, because you’ll probably discover other, better possibilities.

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