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Tucson Home Renovation: Lessons Learned

This post summarizes five lessons learned during the renovation of my 1956-vintage home in Tucson, Arizona. The renovation project began in spring 2017 and ended in fall 2019.

Lesson #1: Add “Project Manager” To Your Resume

Doesn’t matter what your day job is. If you’re having your house fixed up, the project manager will be you. It’s a great learning experience for people whose jobs are more tactical than strategic.

You’ll be in charge of:

  • Financing your home renovation
  • Project planning
  • Finding contractors
  • Scheduling and completing the work

I’ll cover each of these tasks in the next four lessons.

Lesson #2: Financing Your Home Renovation

There are three ways to handle financing. Here’s a quick summary of them:

Pay Cash

First, you can pay cash. Nothing like 100% down with no additional payments.

The trouble with home renovations is that they can get expensive in a hurry. If you’re committed to the all-cash method, get the work done over time.

For example, my house came with drafty metal casement windows. I wanted to replace them but couldn’t afford to do all nine at once. That project lasted five years, and, yes, my house looked like work-in-progress with mismatched windows. Here’s a look at the work done back in 2009 and, at the very end of the project, in 2010.

Use Your Credit Card

If paying cash isn’t an option, choose the second method: Charge it. Just remember that credit card companies add interest to unpaid balances. So, challenge yourself to paying off that card as quickly as possible.

Tap Your Home Equity

The third payment method is the home equity line of credit, or HELOC. It’s a loan against the equity in your house.

Be aware that your house is the collateral. Which means that the lender can foreclose if you stop making payments.

Lesson #3: Project planning

This writer has a confession to make: I’m terrible at fiction. If I ever wrote a novel, I’d call it The Granite Countertop Syndrome. Or The Designer Bathroom Disease.

Why? Because these titles reflect what I see in too many home renovation projects. The kitchen and the bathrooms look fabulous, but the house still has its original electrical system — and leaky plumbing. When this lovely house goes on the market, it takes forever and a day to sell.

Hire a Home Inspector First

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid this scenario. Before you start your renovation, hire a home inspector. He or she will act as a neutral third party who will take an in-depth look at your property and note everything that’s wrong. And then you’ll get a lengthy report. (Mine was nearly 30 pages.)

Once you have that report, you can start planning. For example, my home inspection report showed that my evaporative cooler had rusted out and was leaking onto the roof. I’ve been wanting to replace that cooler with an air conditioner, and now I have a good reason for doing so.

But I live in a mid-1950s Tucson classic with an electrical system that can’t handle modern-day appliances. Time for an upgrade.

From Problems to Plans

In my example, the action plan looks like this:

  1. Upgrade the electric service from 60 amp to 200 amp
  2. Remove the old evaporative cooler
  3. Install air conditioning system

Lesson #4: How to Find Reputable Home Renovation Contractors

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Ask around. Talk to your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers. Personal recommendations led me to my home inspector and air conditioning contractor.
  2. Use a referral service. These services screen the contractors for you. And props to Tucson’s We Gotta Guy for sending me such a wonderful group of locally owned businesses.

Lesson #5: Scheduling and Completing Jobs

Scheduling jobs is easy. You approve your contractor’s estimate, pay the deposit, and set a date.

And then reality sets in. Delays. Followed by more delays. Your original schedule turns into a fine work of fiction. Been there, done that. Best advice I can offer: Be patient and develop a sense of humor. Know that your home renovation will be finished in its own time.

After it’s done, you’ll have a great new house to enjoy and a wonderful learning experience to look back on. Who knows, you might even write a book.

In my case, I created a portfolio book called This Middle-Aged House. Since this is a portfolio book, it’s not for sale. Instead, This Middle-Aged House is intended for in-person presentations. To arrange your presentation, contact me.

My Tucson Home Renovation posts

  1. Photo Essay: Fence Top Screen Installation
  2. Photo Essay: Exterior Painting
  3. Photo Essay: Front Walk Replacement
  4. Photo Essay: Exterior Door Repair and Replacement
  5. Photo Essay: Plumbing Adventures
  6. Photo Essay: Greywater Harvesting Installation
  7. Photo Essay: Carport Gate and Fence Installation
  8. Photo Essay: Roof and Carport Replacement
  9. Ductwork Problem Solving
  10. Bathtub Refinishing
  11. Fence Replacement
  12. Electrical Service and Heating and Cooling Upgrades
  13. Furnace Room Door Replacement
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