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5 biggest mistakes first-time home renovators make and how to fix them

No more broken fingers or burnt out electrical wires!
by Zoe Weiner / / Source: TODAY
Computer Tablet Showing Finished Kitchen On House Plans, Pencil,
Computer Tablet Showing Finished Kitchen Sitting On House Plans With Pencil and Compass.Getty Images

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There’s a rush of emotions that comes along with moving into a new house. First and foremost, it's happiness and excitement. Then, in many cases, comes sheer panic over the amount of work it will take to transform it into your dream home.

Chances are, any new space isn't going to be 100 percent perfect on day one 1 or even on day 100. And that’s OK. Home improvement takes a lot of work (just ask "Bachelorette" stars Jojo Fletcher and Jordan Rodgers) but as long as you have a plan in place you are capable of making it happen.

“I think it's about taking a full inventory of really what you want to do, and making a prioritized list of the types of improvements or maintenance or just general improvement that you want to either have just getting the home in great working order, or personalizing it,” said celebrity designer and contractor Chip Wade, who partnered with The Home Depot in honor of its New Homeowners Day event on May 1.

Wade, who renovates houses on HGTV’s "Elbow Room," is used to working with first-time homeowners on these types of projects, and often sees them make newbie mistakes. Some of the biggies? Taking on more than they can handle all at once, refusing to hire professionals when they should, and getting overwhelmed or unenthused by the project and giving up. Thankfully, these can be avoided with a few simple hacks that will make the path to your dream home easier and a lot more fun.

1. Don’t do anything until you’ve made a list.

"You need to write down all the different things that need to be done, and rank them,” said Wade, who suggests picking the top five items and working through them in order of priority. The top two items should be “maintenance improvements” (like fixing the central systems of the house), he said, and then the others can be more fun, personalized things to make you actually enjoy the project and continue to fall in love with your home.

2. Develop a complete home inventory sheet.

Since home renovations can take months (or, not to scare you, years) to complete, it’s a good idea to have all of the information you need throughout the process consolidated in one place. Create an Excel document and fill it with as many details about your home as you can think of — like the size of your air filters, the types of light bulbs you use, your paint colors — so you always have the information on hand (or in your email) in case you need it.

"It's going to become a tool for it to not derail you when you're out and about, and thinking about what you may want,” said Wade. "Say you want a new refrigerator. Well, what is my refrigerator? If you've actually already identified what it is, you can be at Home Depot in the appliance aisle and search this document and say, 'Oh, I had a 36-inch refrigerator. It was this model.' I can search it and know that this model that I'm looking at is going to fit right in that slot.”

3. Don’t be afraid to do things yourself.

Chip Wade lays down vinyl flooring, which is much easier to use than it looks!
Chip Wade lays down vinyl flooring, which is much easier to use than it looks!Scott Rokis / Courtesy of The Home Depot

Home DIY can actually be a lot of fun, and even if you’re a first-timer you’re likely capable of more than you might realize. Things like vinyl flooring, stick-on wallpaper and squirt-and-paint rollers make it easier than ever to give your home a full makeover in a single weekend.

"Anytime I'm doing a project I always try to push myself just a little bit outside of my comfort zone — not a lot, but just a little bit,” said Wade. "I try to learn something a little bit more. Over time what happens is you become way more proficient in a lot of things.”

4. Know when it’s time to call in the professionals.

"I'm a big advocate of being a DIYer, but I'm also a big advocate of not getting in so deep over your head that you do something irresponsible,” said Wade, who recommends leaving certain categorical things like plumbing and electrical work to the pros. Otherwise, there is a very real risk of hurting yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. The deeper you get into a renovation, the more of a sense you’ll have about what you can and can’t do, but it’s best to err on the side of caution when you’re first starting out — even if only for the sake of your fingers!

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5. Work on smaller projects that you’re excited about.

For many people, the idea of replacing a refrigerator isn’t quite as much fun as, say, decorating your living room or tricking out your closet. In order to not get burnt out by the zillion tasks at hand, it’s important to pepper in the more interesting projects among the bigger, more important ones.

"What ends up making people really excited about their space is two things: having a personalized environment that feels like it was made for them and having a home that isn't an absolute nightmare,” said Wade. "Nightmare to live in meaning it's just constantly breaking or there's a lot of maintenance, or maintenance is expensive.” Alternate those two types of projects throughout your renovation and you’ll be good to go.

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