When you buy a home that's a fixer-upper, you should do so with the understanding that you will own a house but you will live on a construction site for what seems like forever. Where you should start renovating a house depends on the repairs needed. Before you start the renovation, you need a roadmap to guide your efforts. Also remember the "mushroom" effect: Small projects mushroom into large projects if issues are left unresolved.
Bring in the appropriate contractors for the building systems, such as a plumber, electrician, a carpenter, a roofing contractor and — if the house is a brick or brick veneer structure — a mason. Have each contractor provide a written report of the conditions and the problems they find. These reports will tell you the likely scope of your renovation project.
Use the Reports
The contractors' reports will give you the essential information on structural issues, plumbing issues, all electrical issues, insulation and the house's electrical system. Begin with the report on the condition of the roof. If the roof leaks, water entering the house can lead to problems with mold or wood rot. Problems in this area mean the house needs to be dried in — made watertight — as quickly as possible.
Once the structure is dried in and weather-tight, it's time to take on the other structural issues. You have the carpenter's report on the condition of the structural elements of a house. Using this report as a guide to the issues, make — or contract for — the repairs to the house's structural systems, including the flooring and roof support systems. This phase may also include elements of the foundation. If there are issues with the house's insulation, they should be addressed at this time.
Electrical issues should be addressed next. Once the house is dried in and the structure is secure, most of the work will involve power tools, meaning electricity is a necessity. The work should begin where the electrical service enters the house and include the distribution panel and all circuits. A licensed electrician can arrange for all permits and any government-mandated inspections of the electrical system.
After the electrical issues are resolved, it's time to bring in the plumber. As the plumbing issues are resolved, you'll also need to make aesthetic choices concerning plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen. Any additions to the plumbing, such as sinks or various components of the bathrooms, should be made as part of the plumbing project.
Changes to interior furnishings of the structure, such as carpets, wall coverings, paint, outlet and register covers, and lighting fixtures form the last phase of the renovation effort.