Top 10 Renovation Tips from Wes and Tera of “Building Us”

May 29, 2018

Tera and Wes Wages are the stars of Building Us, a 12-part series with a new episode released each Monday right here on Renasant Nation. The show follows their journey as they renovate their 112-year-old home in Florence, Alabama. We caught up with the Wages and asked them for a few pointers they’d give future renovators.

From time and budget to even strains on personal relationships, there’s a lot to consider before attempting to transform a house from the ground up. Here are some of Tera and Wes’s top tips on making the most of your own renovation experience.

1. Get a Good Babysitter

Budoucnost našich silnic by Honza Soukup, on Flickr
Budoucnost našich silnic” (CC BY 2.0) by Honza Soukup

As the parents of three growing children, the Wages didn’t have a lot of free time to begin with, much less time to spend on a full-scale renovation project. Taking on a project of this size is a huge time commitment, and although a sitter is helpful, the couple set daily boundaries to ensure that neither family time nor the project was neglected.

“Honestly, it was just a lot of sacrifice,” Tera said. “At night, one of us would go to the house and work on a project while the other one watched the kids. We don’t live near family, so we were having to get a lot done during the day while the kids were with the sitter.”

2. Decide If It’s Your “Forever Home”

The Gellar Family Home by wwarby, on Flickr
The Gellar Family Home” (CC BY 2.0) by wwarby

Renovating a home from top to bottom is time consuming. Of course, different people have different experiences, but you’ll want to consider how long you plan to live in your house before beginning renovations.

“This was a really fun project, and I’d go back and do it again—for this house,” Tera said. “I couldn’t go house to house. It’s a labor of love.”

3. Be Patient With Each Decision

Renovating a home is basically a series of decisions, and if you’re working with a contractor, a lot of the decisions that need to be made will fall out of your comfort zone. Take your time and research any direction you give—you never know which decisions will have the biggest impact on your renovation efforts.

“There were situations in which I should have done more research and just made [contractors] wait,” Tera said. “There were a lot of times where I felt like I had to make decisions immediately, but looking back, I would choose to wait and make the right choice versus a hasty one.”

4. Give Yourself Time

times 2 by Identity Photogr@phy, on Flickr
times 2” (CC BY 2.0) by Identity Photogr@phy

It’s easier said than done, but the best way to make informed decisions and deliver quality work is by giving yourself the time to do so—which means no shortcuts.

“With a project of this size, you never want to back yourself into a position where you’re going to be impulsive,” Wes said. “You need time to make the right decisions. Period.”

5. Decide When You Really Need a Contractor

Latvia children to enjoy Alaska Air Guar by 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, on Flickr
Latvia children to enjoy Alaska Air Guar” (Public Domain) by 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard

Delegating work to a professional can seem tempting, but if it’s not work behind the walls, it may be faster, cheaper and easier to get your hands dirty and do the job yourself.

“Because our house needed such extensive behind the walls work—electric, plumbing, things that we know absolutely nothing about—having someone help us filter through those things was really helpful,” Tera said. “But I probably would not have used a contractor for the majority of [the renovations].”

6. Learn to Give

Much like they do when couples are shopping for furniture or taking a long road trip, disagreements often pop up in the midst of a renovation. Tera and Wes experienced this themselves, but soon realized that the best way to avoid spats is to remind themselves that they are creating a family home they’ll both love no matter what.

“There are going to be roadblocks and people who do a poor job,” Wes said. “But at the end of the day, we’re still going to have a home.”

7. Know the Costs

Money bands by 401(K) 2013, on Flickr
Money bands” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by 401(K) 2013

Budgeting for renovations is hard. But Tera and Wes found a fix that worked for them: when you think you’ve budgeted enough, just add a little more.

“Everyone told us we would be over budget, and that’s 100 percent true,” Tera said. “Whenever you’re budgeting for a project like this, expect to spend 10 to 20 percent more than what you planned for. Everything is just way more expensive than you think it’s going to be.”

8. Don’t Exceed Your Home’s Appraised Value

renovations by dcysurfer / Dave Young, on Flickr
renovations” (CC BY 2.0) by dcysurfer / Dave Young

Another great budgeting tip: It’s wise not to exceed the appraised value of your home in order to maintain maximum resale value. Use your appraisal to help inform your budget.

“When you look at this from a real estate perspective, you don’t want to go over the appraised value,” Wes said. “So, that’s really a good estimate of what your budget should be.”

9. Do Your Research

IMG_4228 by Lal M, on Flickr
IMG_4228” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Lal M

Whether you’re brainstorming interior design ideas or looking for the perfect contractor, put plenty of time upfront to avoid headaches down the line.

Going into renovations, you’re probably going to want to buy a new computer,” Wes said. “You’ll be spending hours and hours and hours doing online research.”

10. Be Thankful

Pretty simple, right?

“Both of us took turns reminding each other how thankful we are,” Tera said. “I felt like that helped our attitudes stay positive at least. I’m not going to act like everything was amazing all the time, because it wasn’t, but keeping a positive outlook helped us to enjoy the overall experience.”

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