Tip 7. Consider finishing and cooling your garage
When we bought this place, the garage was kind of a dump. It was dark, dingy, had a nasty, moldy old workbench in it, and one incandescent bulb. In short, it was like many garages out there.
It was also almost 15% of the entire house's floor space. If it was a room, it'd be the second largest room in the house.
The thing is, in Florida (and in New Jersey, for that matter), garages are essentially unlivable for major portions of the year. Here, they're too hot, unbearably so. Back in New Jersey, they're both too hot and too cold.
But I kept thinking of all that floor space and realizing that I wanted to be able to use my garage, year round. I also wanted to be able to go into it, spend time there, get things organized, and not avoid the place or turn it into a dumping ground.
So we finished it. We didn't do a huge, fancy job, but we did a few simple things. First, I put in an epoxy floor like they have in race car garages. You can not believe how much nicer a garage is once it has an epoxy floor. Not expensive, either.
Second, we fixed the drop ceiling, patching the holes. This is important, because a patched ceiling provides better insulation. I had four cheap fluorescent fixtures put in, which gave us tons of great light. I also had the walls and ceiling painted, which gave the room a clean, finished feel.
Finally, I installed something called a Mr. Slim "mini-split" air conditioner in the garage. This unit is very energy efficient, and I can turn it on and off only when I need it. Sometimes, I just turn it on when I go into the garage, but if I know I'll be working there for a while, I'll turn it on an hour or so before.
It makes what would otherwise have been an unbearable environment nicely tolerable.
So here's the thing: all told, finishing our garage cost about $5,000. For more than 15% more usable space in the home, that turned out to be a very wise investment with both a potential home value ROI and an immediate usability ROI. There's probably no other way you can add another major room to your house for $5K, and I'd recommend it to any new homeowner.
Tip 8. Think carefully about the order of your projects
This almost caught me up a few times. Make sure you think about what should come first, second, and third. For example, take the epoxy garage floor.
This could be something done at any time, but if we decided to do it after moving in, we'd have to remove everything from the garage. Since the epoxy takes nine full days to dry completely, we would have had to leave our garage contents outside or scattered throughout the house for a full nine days.
But because we did it first, with enough time before the movers were coming to do the move, treating and finishing the epoxy floor was a snap. And, as I mentioned earlier, had I moved the new fridge in before sealing up the kitchen doorway, my life would have been much easier.
Oh, speaking of order, we did one thing first. Even before making an offer on the house, we put in a cable modem. During our evaluation period (this is when you have a home inspector check out the house and do due diligence on the purchase), I had the cable company put a working cable modem. I did repeated speed tests and ping tests on the line, to make sure the line was solid and connectivity didn't drop.
If we couldn't have gotten good broadband, we wouldn't have bought the place. By doing this early on in the process, I knew that the most important factor for the new house (my ability to earn a living) had been fully tested.