Repairs and maintenance. Your first priority should be to repair any defects that may cause more damage, such as replacing a broken windowpane or fixing a leak in the roof. Then move on to other, less pressing, jobs. If you lack do-it-yourself experience, tackle the simpler jobs first; then move on to the more complex tasks as your skills improve.

Whatever the level of your expertise, you will find easy-to-follow directions for most repairs in the following pages. The quickest way to locate the information you need is to check the Table of Contents or Index. Also, watch the cross-references at the tops of the pages. They will refer you to related jobs that are covered elsewhere in the book. Even if a job is too complicated for you to do yourself, you can see what's involved and can thus deal more knowledgeably with professionals and avoid being overcharged.

Ideally, you shouldn't wait for a breakdown to prompt you to take care of your property. By undertaking regular general maintenance on both the interior and the exterior, you can forestall the damage and frustration that result when one small, unattended problem snowballs.

Modest improvements. Once all the needed repair and maintenance jobs have been taken care of, you'll no doubt consider brightening up the house with a paint job, new carpeting, or more modern faucets. You might even consider jobs that cross into the area of improvements, such as converting a closet into a half bathroom or installing new kitchen cabinets.

In planning major improvements, go through your house from top to bottom, inside and out, making notes on what you would like to change. The master plan that results will probably be too extensive to accomplish all at once, but with your desires spelled out, you can decide which improvements take priority. Do one job at a time at your own pace; give yourself some breathing time between projects; and soon you'll have the satisfaction of a more attractive and comfortable home.

How far to go. Some of the larger-scale improvements not only will make your home more comfortable to live in but may add to its value if you sell it. Such improvements include putting new cabinets, countertops, and ceramic tile in your kitchen and bathrooms; building a deck or patio; adding a skylight; adding a fireplace; or converting your basement or attic into living space. Directions for these projects are given in the following chapters. You may also add to the value of your house (if you don't drive it out of the price range for its neighborhood) by adding one or more rooms. Naturally, your profit will be greater still if you do the work yourself.




Material taken from
Readers Digest "New Complete do-it-yourself manual"

The first step in estimating the cost of any job is to decide exactly what you want to do and how you want the completed project to look. With this in mind, you can determine the kind of work involved and the tools and materials you will need.

Estimating costs. Make a rough sketch or diagram of the project and fill in the measurements. Based on these measurements, make a list of the materials needed to complete the job, allowing about 10 percent extra for wastage on each item.
If you are framing a wall, for example, use the measurements to estimate the number and sizes of the studs and plates. How many panels of wallboard will you use? How many nails? If you are putting in electrical switches and outlets, list those plus wiring, connectors, and other equipment. Include any tools you will need to buy or rent. Then, by determining the number of square feet in the wall (height multiplied by width), estimate the amount of primer and paint required to finish the wall.

To make sure your list is complete, reread the directions for carrying out all parts of the project. Make sure that you have listed all necessary materials, no matter how insignificant. Then get prices for each item, and add up the costs.

Prices. Shop around for the best prices. Watch advertisements for sales, and check prices at various home centers, lumberyards, hardware stores, building supply stores, and discount outlets. If you are thinking about a future project, make a file of pertinent ads and magazine articles for later reference.

One of the most convenient shopping guides for hardware and decorative materials is a mail-order catalog. Sometimes catalog prices are slightly lower than those of local dealers. For basic building materials, such as lumber, plywood, and wallboard, it is easier to deal with a local building supplier.

Understanding materials. Familiarize yourself with home improvement materials so that when you plan your project, you will be able to deal knowledgeably with suppliers or contractors.

The Family Handyman. By writing to their advertisers, you can obtain brochures and pamphlets to help you evaluate the newest building products.More and more products in the home improvement market are designed for installation by the homeowner. These products help achieve desired effects quickly and inexpensively. For example, pre-finished wall panels are far easier and cheaper to install than a wall of individual planks that must be hand-finished. Pre-hung (factory-framed) doors can save you time and frustration, as well as money.

If you are modernizing a kitchen or bathroom, visit showrooms of suppliers who sell ready built cabinets, countertops, and sink units. Because such units are mass-produced, they often cost less than building a cabinet from scratch. The money you save could make the difference between doing the job and not being able to afford it.

Financing home improvements. If the improvements you are planning are relatively minor, you may be able to manage them by digging into your savings or stretching the family budget. If they are major, you may have to arrange a loan.

Generally, extensive home improvements are financed through conventional lending institutions: banks, credit unions, and savings and loan associations. You may also be able to borrow against your life insurance policy at a comparatively low rate, but this will reduce the amount the policy will pay by the amount you owe until you repay the loan.
Shop for a loan as you would any other major purchase. Investigate all the types of loans you are eligible for, and decide which best suits your particular circumstances. Consider not only the annual interest rates (which vary from bank to bank), but also the finance charges, the costs of life insurance (if required), the penalties for late payment or default, the amount of each payment, and the total number of payments. Multiply the amount of each payment by the number of payments to determine the full amount you will be paying back.
HUD and VA loans. If the improvements you are making are not extensive but will make your home more livable and useful, you might be able to get a loan backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Or if you are a U.S. veteran and bought your house under a GI mortgage, you can probably get a VA loan. Because they are backed by the government, HUD and VA loans generally have lower interest rates, and security is required only for very large loans (the amount vanes).

Passbook loans. You can borrow money at a fairly low interest rate by pledging the amount you have in the bank to pay out the loan if you default. It would cost less merely to withdraw the money from the account to finance the work and then pay it back in monthly installments, but doing this requires great discipline and determination.

Personal loans. If your credit is good, you may be able to get a personal loan of a small amount of money on your signature alone. However, it is more likely that you will have to put up some collateral that would be sold to pay off the loan in case of default, and the interest rate is often higher for a personal loan than for a home improvement loan.

Mortgage loans. If the collateral you are offering is the home, consider a second mortgage to get the money for the improvements. For the most part, interest rates on second mortgages are higher than on first mortgages, but lower than on other types of loans. The term for a second mortgage is usually 15 years, and the combined first and second mortgages generally may not exceed 75 percent of your home's appraised value.
A home equity loan is a variation on the second mortgage in that a lien is placed on the property, which means that if you default on payment you risk foreclosure and the loss of your home. Typically home equity loans have adjustable rates and work as revolving lines of credit, allowing you to draw money only as you need it over a period of 5 to 10 years.
Finally, you might be able to refinance your first mortgage into one new higher loan amount. Be aware, however, that most mortgage transactions involve new closing costs as well as a reappraisal of your home.