One good way to find out what you can afford is to simply get three estimates from contractors. Discuss what you want with the contractor and if the estimate is high, ask them how you can reduce the costs. The estimate should be separated into cost of materials and cost of labor. By getting a professional opinion first, you may find that the bids are very similar and you have a good starting point for the high-end cost of your project.
Now, you can begin to factor in whether there is some work you can do yourself. This will improve the amount of cash outlay necessary to complete the work. Another way to get to meet your budget is to shop for a cheaper source of materials or change the type of material used. Either way, these are highly flexible items in your home improvement budget.
Sources of Financing
If one doesn't have the money, the inclination is not to do the home improvement. Cash, however, is not the only way to pay for a home improvement plan, you can also finance. If you find you don't have enough cash, you can use a home equity loan to finance the remodeling of your home. Try to identify additional forms of financing in case you need additional monies to complete the project. In the end, a home improvement project should add to the resale value of your home for it to be a sound purchase.
Scope of Work
This is where a good plan is essential. If you are planning a major remodel, you will want some basic plans drawn up, preferably by a professional. You don't want to find out later that the wall you envisioned removing for a more open space is a critical weight-bearing wall. Similarly, you don't want to plan for electronic appliances and devices in an area where there are no outlets. If you plan on revamping a kitchen, the dimensions of workspace and appliance real estate are very important. Don't try to eyeball it or you'll end up paying for it later in time, additional work, or wasted purchases. By trying to define the scope of the work on paper first, you can bypass many of the simple problems that arise from not having thought the improvement plan out thoroughly.
Functionality And Aesthetics
Obviously, we don't just want to substitute one thing for another, we want the new home improvement to outshine the old room. We want it to work better for us and we want that "ah" factor too. Have you done your research on the functionality of the appliances and space arrangements? How about the aesthetics and maintenance of the materials you chose? Does the improvement help to accommodate the growing needs of your family? Will it continue to be of service after 5 years? 10 years? These are all factors that should be considered and weighed against budget, scope, and resale value.
This is a tricky value that can't really be foreseen that much. We know that kitchen and bathroom remodels recoup the most on the sale of the house. No home improvement will recoup 100% of the price it took to remodel, however, if you are in a climbing real estate market that might not matter. What you don't want to do is to add a home improvement that detracts from the value of your property. Adding a fifth bedroom in a neighborhood of four bedroom homes would be detrimental to the value of your home. Adding a swimming pool in areas where houses with pools don't sell well would also be considered an investment that could not be recouped. Some people still do it anyways. The point is that most home improvements are done to meet the needs of a particular family and the desire for a more comfortable living space. While resale value is important, it is just one of the many considerations that have to be evaluated in a good home improvement plan.