Planning a Rehab on a Budget as your Own General Contractor

Now, you have an idea in mind but don’t know where to start or how to do it.  The renovation seems intimidating and you question weather you can handle it.


First of all, get a simple cheap notebook or pen and paper and start writing down what needs repaired.  Also add design ideas for each room.  Draw a simple sketch of the house and each room you are renovating.  Measure the dimensions of each room to and write them down on your sketches. Calculate the square footage for the entire house and each room. If you didn’t already know, this is calculated by multiplying Length times width. Be thorough, try to get every measurement that you think might come in handy when you go to buy materials.


Now that you have your measurements and a list of all the tasks that need done. Prioritize what tasks need done first and which ones can wait. Issues that need to be addressed first are to seal up the exterior so that water and pests don’t get into the house.  Just try to use your common sense to determine the sequence of tasks. For example, if an entire room needs new drywall hung and finished on the walls and ceiling you wouldn’t want to put down brand new carpet first.  You would lay the carpet after finishing the drywall because mud and the dust from sanding would get the new carpet dirty.

DIY or Hire

Put a question mark next to each task that you don’t know how to do or have questions about. If your not that handy and haven’t done any of this stuff you will probably have a lot of question marks. For a lot of the mechanical issues such as HVAC and electrical its probably best to leave that stuff to the experts. For more info on hiring contractors, see my post “hiring contractors“.

A lot of plumbing issues can be learned and fixed easily yourself. As for the Structural issues you should have an exert take a look at. Most people only don’t like to try to learn how to do everything themselves and that’s fine.

With the use of the internet, you can learn how to do just about anything if you want to put in the time. Local hardware stores might have a few experienced employees that can be very helpful to tell you the best way to repair something.


Time is a big factor you will want to consider into the planning process. How long do you want the renovation to take? Do you want it done as soon as possible and spend more money or do you want to use more time and save more money?

If you are flipping a house, you will probably want to get it done on time to avoid paying as much in holding costs. But if you did what I did with my first house that I tried to keep the costs as low as possible so that I would have a place to live with minimum payments and debt then you can spend more time if you choose to putting sweat equity into the house.

Then, create a schedule ordering the tasks you prioritized and the estimated time that each task should take. Some contractors are get the job done quick and are on time, others don’t. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly screen your contractors and handymen.


The specific lists of tasks to be completed as part of the renovation is called your scope of work (SOW).  Now that you have prioritized the tasks and have a set schedule, determine the costs to complete your SOW.  There are online cost estimators that you can use for free to start getting a ballpark estimate.  However, not all of them are very accurate because the prices of material and labor vary depending on location.  One of the more accurate estimators is HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide that is very helpful and gives estimates based on location when you enter your zip code.

Now you can decide which items to tackle yourself and which ones you want to delegate to contractors.  Keep your handy dandy notebook with you as you manage the rehab.


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