To Renovate, or Not to Renovate ...

Whether you’re a first time home buyer or a newly minted empty nester, there are some things to think about before you decide on any major renovation project.

The first, and most critical is, of course, is how much can you afford?  Equity lines are still a very affordable option if you’ve been in your current home a while, and are currently available at attractive interest rates.

Next, you need to to prioritize which projects you want to tackle.  Sometimes its smart to do several things at once since you will be under construction and living with some pretty messy business for a while.

For instance, if you’re considering a new kitchen, you may want to include a laundry room as part of the project or, if removing some walls, rework the living and dining spaces as well.

Most importantly - think about how you want to use the space.  Do you entertain/cook?  Do you like to just hang in the kitchen and visit while you’re cooking or enjoying wine?   How many people do you need to seat for breakfast or dinner party? Many activities revolve around the kitchen as the main entertaining space.  Large islands have become increasingly popular as they often double as work space, eating space, buffet space, etc.  Plus, it’s all about open spaces.

In older homes, there’s often only a single shared bath for several bedrooms (they needed less back then!). So, it's always key to figure out if there is a way you can borrow space from an adjacent room.  For example, forfeiting a small bedroom for a generous master bath.  Today’s home buyers are almost always looking for a dedicated master bathroom, so it’s smart to re-work a space for what buyers want most

Now let’s talk realistic budgets. A full kitchen renovation can start at $20,000 (including entry level cabinets), and can go all the way up to $100,000+ for full custom, high end appliances, etc. Bathroom renovations start around $8,000 and can go up to $50,000 based on the same considerations for upgrades.  Keep in mind that half of the budget is labor - plumbing, electrical, carpentry and tile work.

In terms of resale, if you are putting this kind of money into your home, make sure the project scope is in line with what’s in your neighborhood - also known as “comps”.  If you’re not sure, someone like me (renovator & real estate professional) can help by looking at selling prices in your area, provide an good idea of what your house is currently worth and what a renovation would make it worth in the future.  

A final note: If you are considering eventually selling your home after the updates or renovation, remember to keep the look neutral!  I can’t stress this enough.  Don’t be tempted to personalize things too much, like using fire-engine-red cabinets or tiling the walls with little palm tree tiles because you love Florida. Remember, while these things may appeal to you, it drastically narrows down the field of who else would think this is fabulous, which in turn translates to less dollars when it’s time to sell.

So, take the time to research and do your due-diligence.  Sites like are a perfect way to take a look at photos of finished projects and find out what appeals to you. It allows you to create a ‘Project’, easily save photos with one click, and even ‘share’ the photos via email to a designer like me to help guide you in the process.

And don’t forget to enjoy it! A renovation should be exciting and fun.  Sure, there will be stressful moments - but stay the course, be patient and be willing to make adjustments. In the end you should be delighted with the result and find it was so worth the money spent.


A New Chapter

I’ve always been passionate about design. I’m a creator by nature, and I find beauty even in the mundane. 

I turned my passion into my career and have had my interior design company, Deco Studio, for 25 years now. I love being able to visualize what the possibilities are for a room or an entire home. My mind reworks the puzzle on the spot; removing walls, flipping things around, reworking living spaces. To me, there’s nothing greater than sharing the possibilities with my clients and seeing their excitement as it all comes together. 

Over the past few years I began buying & flipping houses that were in desperate need of complete makeovers. Acting as my own general contractor, I was able to fully immerse myself into the deeply complicated and challenging world of home renovation. I loved taking apart the insides of these challenged spaces and reworking them. Even the smallest of updates would instantly breath new life into a home that would have otherwise languished. There was nothing greater than standing in the finished house, with every inch representing something I designed. 

However, once I’d finished renovating a home, I would hand my work off to a sales agent who would not be able to fully tell that home’s story to a potential buyer. I’d never imagined I would explore the world of real estate but as my renovation business began to grow, I found myself feeling left out of the best part of the process - showcasing the final product to a person or family that would soon call it home. So I got to work. 

After lots of intense studying, I now have my Ohio real estate license through Keller Williams, EZ Sales Team, the largest, tech savvy & award winning real estate team in Ohio. To me, this represents not only a new chapter in my career, but a new way to share my passion for home design with others. 

Designing, renovating or buying/selling can be a daunting process - but it doesn't have to be. Let's get creating!


I'm the first to admit, I've wasted away some perfectly fine Saturday afternoons plugged into my favorite TV shows, "Flip or Flop", "Property Brothers", "Fixer Upper", and my latest new obsession, Nate Berkus' new show, "Married to Design".

However, when they get to the important part of the show where they discuss budget I start yelling at the TV.  I imagine all the producers sitting around a room somewhere saying things like ''well, we know that project that Joanna did this past week for Fixer Upper was really a $100,000 project, but if we tell our audience that it will seem out of touch to our dreamer audience who thinks they can make this happen for $30,000, so lets just go with that. It's a nice, friendly number.  Oh, and leave off the part that mentions not a stick of the furniture, lighting, artwork or accessories are included in this number, ok?"  (Insert visual of me here yanking at my hair and mumbling under my breath.)

Unfortunately, most of my current clients and future clients are probably glued to the same HGTV shows.  Remember, and this is key, they are selling imagination and possibility. And it's just that. Sure, I'd like to tell my clients they could have their entire house redesigned in under 5 weeks and for around $30,000.  I'd like to tell them, as a bonus, I will even paint the exterior of the house and throw that in the furniture and a newly planted garden.  (You know who you are, Joanna.)  Probably the biggest offender are the cutie pie Property Brothers.  There is just no way I am going to send you away for a couple of weeks and you will come back to an entirely new house, completely furnished and decked out with all new accessories and artwork.  Ta Da! 

The great news is that it IS possible to recreate all these looks that you've seen and dreamed about, it's just going to cost you more than you think.  For instance, a recent Property Brothers episode listed the cost of an entire first floor, complete with new kitchen and all furnishings & accessories for $32,000.  That number would maybe cover the kitchen remodel.  Most likely it will come in around $40,000, after new appliances, flooring, etc.   About 50% of the cost will be in labor.  Labor means the plumbers, electricians, the contractors and of course the painters. And remember, you won't be able to have the Brothers do your work, so you need to find a good contractor.  He (or she!) should be someone who comes recommended, not someone you find randomly on Craig's List.  They should have references, or better yet, be referred by someone like me who has worked with many of these people. 

I am also aware that most people don't have disposable income available for these projects and will likely use a home equity loan to do them, and that's perfectly fine.  You can call your bank and they will walk you through the process.  Most contractors are paid in a 'draw' fashion, which means they will give you a bill every few weeks as the job progresses.  This keeps your finances manageable and insures the contractor and his crews will be paid on time.  As for my role, I also bill every few weeks and will keep my clients aware of time lines for selections, such as appliances, lighting, paint & furniture.  I also am frequently on site during construction assuring that all is well. 

So, yes, the HGTV shows are totally fibbing when it comes to real budgets. But, if you're savvy about the process and let me guide you, you can certainly find ways to make it happen to fit within your budget. Always remember, as my brother in law once said, 'Good things aren't cheap.  Cheap things aren't good."