By Jim Wehner
Housing is a major component in community development. Having spaces that families can call home anchors them in a community and stabilizes other areas of life, such as schools and jobs. Admittedly, these all work together to strengthen a family, but at FCS we believe housing is an important piece of building flourishing communities.
In the last 35 years, FCS has completed more than 350 homes through our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing. Our experience has helped us refine our process and ask better questions before we jump into a new project. If you (or your organization) are involved in housing, you might find our questions helpful. When starting to renovate a new home, here are 4 questions to ask first:
What is the end product for this project?
Rental renovation and sale renovations have very similar processes, but the budgets and outcomes are vastly different. Rentals require you to think about durability and sustainability (read: cost-effective solutions). You must also understand what the market will support in terms of rent, and base your renovation budget on those realities.
Conversely, renovating to sell means making the house desirable from a buyer’s perspective. The materials you use and the colors you use, especially in kitchens and bathrooms, are very important. Usually, they are also more costly choices than what a rental project might require. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear on the purpose of the renovation before you begin the work!
What is the total cost of the project?
Before you acquire a property, you should be very clear what the total cost of acquisition and renovation will be. There is nothing worse than getting part-way through a renovation and having to stop work because you’ve run short on funding.
Once you start your project, stick to the plan. Upgrades and nice additions may seem fun, but they will add time and expense to your renovation. And sadly, most of these expenses won’t be recovered once you move to rental or sale.
Finally, your budget should include some contingency funds. Renovations always include surprise expenses, and extra funds will help you over these speedbumps. Without good planning, these speedbumps turn into mountains.
Do I have the experience and expertise to pull off this renovation?
A strong real estate agent, contractor, or inspector can save you serious headaches in the long run. Build trusting relationships with partners that have experience and expertise. They will gladly help out and keep you on course.
But remember, they are also worth their wage. I will not hesitate to talk to a contractor when I need a pro bono job done on behalf of FCS. But it is the past work we have paid for and the trust that we have built with our contractors that allows me to lean on them when things get tight.
If you are continually asking your contractors to give you lower cost or free work, they will soon go away. And you will earn a reputation for the type of work you want done. Proverbs 15:22 reminds us that, “Plans fail for lack of advisers, but with many advisers they succeed.”
What will success look like when the project is complete?
Start your work with a clear vision. If you are approaching a project on behalf of a low-income family and want to make it affordable, you must keep the process sustainable while providing a product that is wholesome and viable. That means using materials that last, building in a way that lowers utility expenses, and making sure that you can afford to be the landlord for years to come.
For greatest success, know your end goal and do your homework before jumping in. While you cannot foresee all speedbumps, you can plan well to deliver on your vision.
Ty Pennington may be able to build a house in a week, but for the rest of us, housing is long term work. Providing housing in an urban community is not for the faint of heart, but it is a valuable gift and resource to the people in the neighborhood. Make sure you have the stamina and the support to go the distance!