Thinking about doing a home renovation? Today we’re talking about how to get an HGTV worthy home on a budget!

Home Renovations on a Budget

Last episode we got into the house hunt; finding one of the gems at a great price.

Louis Guillama shared how you can snag a fantastic deal by going up with a fixer-upper with solid bones.

Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty – turning that house into a home you love.

We love those designs we see on HGTV and Pinterest, but we don't want to blow thousands of dollars on a renovation.

So how do you get a beautiful home on a budget?

Actually, that’s what my husband Rob and I are tackling with our place. We bought a ranch home with a full basement a few years ago.

We’ve tackled a few projects here and there, but the room that has gotten the most attention by far is the basement.

It’s a great sized space around 900 sqft, but when we first bought it, it was well, a basement.

Now after a few projects, we’re using it as a dual office space for when we work at home and it’s been fantastic.

And so far we’ve been able to do these renovations debt-free.

So today, Rob and I will share our take on the basement renovation as well as tips on how we saved money with it.

I’ll also include tips from home renovator and author Kathi Fleck.

In this episode we’ll get into:

  • Coming up with your renovation design and wishlist
  • Creating a budget and saving up for your project
  • Finding a fantastic contractor who will work with you and keep the project on budget

Hope you enjoy!

Resources to Keep Your Home Renovation on Budget

Here are some handy resources for your home renovation projects!

Thank You to Our Sponsor Coastal!

Support for this podcast comes from Coastal Credit Union!

If you’re living in the Raleigh Durham area and you’re at the stage where you’re planning and saving up for your home project, you really want to check out Coastal.  

Besides having competitive rates with savings, they also have loan options for home improvements. You can find at more at!  

Renovating the Basement

Elle Martinez: All right, so I want to talk to you about the basement renovation because by far we've put the most amount in terms of home projects here.

So I guess we should start at the beginning, which was we were house hunting in neither one of us. I don't think put basement on the list. I mean, we saw split levels, but that wasn't there was more like depending on how this flotilla was arranged.

Rob: Well, yeah. Basement wasn't on the list because basements don't exist in North Carolina.

Elle Martinez: Well, this part [of the state]. I don't know about others.

Rob: Oh, yeah. We got in the area. Basements aren't a thing here. Yes. I mean, basically, that whole area, as we found out, they do exist. You know, they're rare, but they're not common enough that you would put them on your list.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. So when we looked at the house and you saw that it had a basement and yeah, there were definitely issues going on there.

What were your initial impressions?

Rob: Well, well, big space, lots of possibilities.

Elle Martinez: But before we talked about in this idea of it being a home office, we had to definitely get some work done.

The first one was that wall and getting the brace. And that was a few thousand on that. Correct?

Rob: Yeah. We'll call it that.

Elle Martinez: I went ahead and checked and looking at the old invoice, the total was $3,800.

Crucial Home Repairs Before the Renovation

Elle Martinez: And then we get that done. And we found out. What was it. I forgot the weekend. It was. David, in anywhere in town and what was the storm? Was it Matthew? And by storm, I meant hurricane. That's when we realized we had more work to do with. Yes, I believe this, Matthew. Yeah. So who saw that first? I remember pulling up the driveway.

Rob: David. Yeah. He urged the water coming out first and then noticed. And I was like I brushed it off before we had open. The doors are open going through the basement door because it was pouring down rain. And it's like that doesn't make any sense through the door and. Oh, yeah, and less and less water. I mean endless one inch high water. But, you know, an unlimited amount.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. Water in the basement. Never. Good thing. And I think. I should like take a second to mention the reason we were surprised is because there was work previously done with the house. There was a French drain that was installed and then there were to some pumps in the basement. But we found out they don't work quite as well as they were supposed to.

Rob: Yeah. In the case of Matthew, we lost power so the pumps weren't pumping. The next year there was another high rain time period. But instead of. But we didn't lose power.

Even so, the sump pumps were still overwhelmed. One of the pumps was an active didn't activate properly, and the other one got overwhelmed.

And then at another point, the pump actually stopped working. But I think that was after the. That was after we had redone the drainage.

And somehow along the line there, the pipe guy was broken. So it actually wasn't pumping the water out at all, but did matter because we have the drains, the new drainage that way.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. And that was about $5,000 six thousand to get the gravity fed kind of drain around the basement or something like that.

Rob: Ok. I don't recall the exact number.

Elle Martinez: I went ahead and check the invoice and it was just over forty eight hundred. Happy to say we haven't had any flooding or water in the basement since having that installed. So, OK. We had to do the prep work. We had to make sure there is no water that's going to come in and base because it makes no sense to finish it and then have those problems. So when we did have that cleared away, we had the brace. We went with the natural kind of drainage system. What were you thinking in terms of. Okay, now we're actually going to have some fun. This is more like repair work. Now we're gonna do a renovation project. What were some of your thoughts for how this basement could be used?

Rob: Ah, yes, the point where the possibilities have to materialize into actual usage. Still didn't know what to do with that projectors with the space just yet.

Elle Martinez: And I think you have to acknowledge that as part of the renovation process is making decisions on how you think you're going to use.

Even before you call contractors and you get estimates, you just want to have an idea of the potential uses that you could get out of it. And when you have a space like a basement, where there are many different directions you can go to, it can feel a little overwhelming.

But when I had spoke with home renovator and author Cathy Fleck, she gave good advice, which is at this stage in the game, while you're still trying to save up for this renovation, it's a perfect time to think about the possibilities.

Kathi Fleck: One of the things that I like to help people with is go ahead and put everything out there as far as what they do dream what they might want to consider, because this is the time to do it before they get started with this needed to go through some ideas if I really knew what to do with it, because we had a couple of ideas gathering around.

Rob: We have… it could be a guest room or part of it can be a guest room in the entertainment area. I do think that. The office is having these offices and having a little bit of a play area for the kids is a good use.

Elle Martinez: Yeah, but I think because we couldn't exactly nail down the usage, it did lead us to like keep it very simple for the first phase of the renovation, like we wanted an open concept, almost like a studio in a sense of getting the electrical work done, getting the drywall and the framing and everything, but not partitioning any rooms yet. So it's one large room, of course, with the bathroom.

Rob: But yeah. We had I think I had suggested it would be that we would sort of try to create pseudo rooms using various pieces of furniture or dividers so that we could play around with the space before we made permanent walls.

Elle Martinez: I also want to mention how grateful we are. We had a family friend who is very talented in design.

That's her expertise and she gave us a general layout that we could follow with these room dividers that made the most sense for how we planned on using in living in this space. And it's been a tremendous help now.

Elle Martinez: I think a big challenge a lot of families have. And we kind of had was we knew for us we wanted to do this debt-free, save up ahead and pay for it.

The question was like. Do you call contractors and get several estimates for something that you're not going to do for another year or how do you get a ballpark figure?

I remember the very, very initial estimate was when we were getting the drain done. And the contractor was working their bond and his crew. And just asking for it like it was such a ballpark figure, but I told him that I was like, we just want to get an idea of like, how much would it take or how much should we start saving up for?

And I think the original was like fifteen thousand or something like that.

Elle Martinez: And even though this wasn't a concrete estimate, it was really helpful for us, as I mentioned before. We wanted to do this debt-free. So it was important for us to have that money in the bank.

I also want to tell you that there are some fantastic resources out there. If you just want to get a rough idea, such as home advisor and home wise, where you can give an estimate of the materials and get an idea of how much that's going to cost, including labor.

It's not perfect, but it can give you a general idea of what to shoot for. And as you get closer to renovation and you're talking with contractors, just keep in mind that costs can still vary greatly depending on the materials you use.

Kathi Fleck: A lot of times people will say to me, I don't know when it's going to cost. So I really have a hard time giving you a budget. So they're trying to focus in on what they think it's going to cost. But in reality, most of us don't really know what it's going to cost until we get into it. Oftentimes I'm asked. Can you do a green model for a certain dollar amount in the dollar amount is realistic?

But then when they start getting into picking out products, they might choose very high-end ones in that frozen budget way out of line. I won't know that till we get further down the path on picking out the products.

So if they have an idea of what they want to invest in their project and it might be able to make a harmless value, there's a certain dollar.

So I don't want to overspend or maybe I can't afford to put more money into it. So if we start with that, then it's okay.

Here's the budget that you want to work with. What can get done in that time frame or in that budget? Is it going to be realistic for the products that they want or how much they want to do? And sometimes it's not.

Sometimes they have to save a little bit more money or maybe they can't do it at all or they decide they have to pick different products. So by talking about all of these with somebody that they feel that they can work with, then they can start to zero in on what they're remodeling going to be.

Elle Martinez: With the basement, One of the things was it was a significant amount, I think, altogether for the renovation part. It came out to eleven thousand.

So, I mean, that's not chump change. I know we saved monthly and then you're a natural saver with that. And then we decided late tax returns and we tried to find ways to keep costs low, to have as much as we could automated with savings. Right. Am I missing anything?

Rob: Yeah. Basically, he's basically made sure that we had the money and that it was in the accounts that we worked. And so we didn't actually pull the trigger into a new that we had enough money, plus still some extra buffer left over in case anything went wrong.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. Yeah. Because one thing I did know for sure is every time I watched any kind of renovation show or just like from experience says, you have an estimate that you don't know, especially when you're doing something like messing with electrical and walls, that there could be unexpected expenses.

And there were. But I would say Mike did a good job. Contractor finding ways to either offset that or minimize it. When we did come up with those extra costs. Yeah.

Finding a Great Contractor for Home Renovations

Kathi Fleck: They'll tell me. ‘I'm not really going for the low price', but they're still going after price because that's the only comparison that they can have. The bottom line, the price. So I think, Jeff, all the different approaches to take a look at what they want to work with. And so there are ways to find good contractors, but a business burial is one. And that's something a lot of people are familiar with. And they can go online and check out that company and see if there's any problems with them, what their rating is. There's also association one belong to Nari, which is the National Association of Remodeling Industry. And there's also another something like Pinterest, which is called How to Use the dot com. And there's reviews for those of us who are on how often have people find me through houses like they're looking for ideas. And also contractors. So if somebody is very visible and is out there in the community and you can find them, know that they're going to be around. Our reputation is extremely important. And the last thing I want is a negative hit on any of those associations because it's totally not going to help me have a positive approach with others. And then I suggest interviewing the contractor and finding out who has a good fit for them or not. Everybody does. And that doesn't mean that they're a bad contractor. It just means that they may not yet be a good fit for that homeowner. So once they find the contractor that they want to work with and they talk about budget as far as what they want to put into it, and then they get the help of the contractor to work with the products that are going to fit within that budget, there's already that working relationship that is starting before they start tearing something out in time to do the job. But many times homeowners are in a hurry and they say, well, I really want to get this down. They're excited. They've been thinking about it for a long time. They have the money saved up or put away until they're ready to get started and then they're in a hurry to find the contractor. And even though they may have met with three or five different contractors, it still may not be the right one.

Elle Martinez: So you might be eager to jump into the renovation. But please take Kathy's advice, interview the contractors.

Hopefully they're interviewing you back, making sure that it's a good fit for both that their style and design and also how cost conscious they are, if that's a major concern of yours, is in line with what you are imagining or expecting.

Finding the right contractor is going to make your home renovation a lot easier.

Elle Martinez: So if anyone's listening and they're going to do a home renovation. Any tips or any piece of advice you want to give them?

Rob: If possible, do it piece by piece to see how you want to use it. I mean, if you have enough to do all of it all at once, great. But if you want to do it piecemeal and you're in a situation, you can do that. I don't know if that's advice or not. That's just what we're doing.

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Music Credit

Like the music in this episode? Music is by Lee Rosevere and Music for Makers.

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