By Sheldon Stewart

With the welcome return of warmer weather, your thoughts are probably turning outside. But what if your wish list is too much for your checkbook?

Maybe the solution is to tackle a big project by doing a little bit of it each year. Let’s say you’ve been thinking of adding a 20-by-10 patio to your home. You get some estimates and they’re more than you can afford.

You could save for a few years until you have enough for that perfect patio, but maybe there’s a way to get something done sooner. Why not put in a 10-by-10 patio that’s designed so it can be expanded in the future?

Homeowners should plan their projects with the same approach used by the owners of large condo complexes: Do things in stages and attach a budget to each stage.

This approach can apply to many aspects of home or business maintenance. The key is to be upfront with your contractor to find a solution that will meet your needs, while also fitting within your budget.

When I repaint my house, I never paint the whole house. I identify any areas that are peeling, or I pick the side of the house that gets the most weather. I also try to paint before it really needs it, because I know as soon as it needs it, it’s more work. If you paint the areas that need it most, one side at a time, then your house always has a maintained look. Doing it that way usually will fit your budget, while painting everything at once might not.

Landscaping is another area where you can adapt the project fit to your budget. I get a quote for a landscaping package every year. They outline ideas for spring cleanup and fall cleanup and everything in between. They break it all out and it adds up to a certain amount. I go through the checklist and I pick and choose what I want them to do.

Cutting trees back, pruning shrubs, exposing overgrown walkways so they look new again – those are all things that you might do that in stages.

Don’t forget about interior maintenance, whether it’s painting a single room or having your carpet cleaned. Think about the winter season and all the salt and dirt that’s walked into your carpets. Cleaning your carpet every spring will prolong its life.

If a contractor is aware of your maintenance budget, they can tailor different things to meet your limits. You may have short-term goals, you may have long-term goals, and you may have pie-in-the-sky goals. Being open about your goals and your budget allows contractors to help you get things done, and that might include options you hadn’t thought of. If you can’t afford to repave your driveway with asphalt, maybe a good alternative is putting stone in your driveway.

Not all contractors want to work on staged projects. Some want to do all or nothing, so you might need to call around a little to find someone who will fulfill your needs and budget. Sometimes doing a project in stages is impossible. When I wanted to get central AC at my house, I had no idea what the cost would be. The first estimate was well beyond what I could afford, so I got two more estimates – and they were still too much for me, but at least I knew the going rate. I asked if they could install the duct work on the first floor one year and then the following year install the duct work on the second floor and then then the third year install the condensers. I couldn’t find an AC company that would do that. It took a few years, but I ended up saving the money and waiting until I had enough to do the whole job.

Allocating money each week or month or year, however you decide to do it, toward potential upkeep on your home is always advisable. One rule of thumb recommends setting aside one percent of the purchase price of your home each year for ongoing maintenance. That would mean $3,000 per year if your house cost $300,000, but the age and condition of your home might raise or lower that. A lot of people don’t have the discipline to do that. They may need to get estimates for a big project, so they know what the finish line looks like.

When you’re ready to move ahead, whether the project is big or small, do your homework and find a reputable contractor. Share your budget and prioritize your goals. Work together toward your end goal. That may mean doing it in stages. Don’t pick the cheapest contractor just to get it all done. You can get a super-low bid, you can get timely service, and you can get a great quality result – but don’t expect to get all three!

Sheldon Stewart is President of Stewart Painting, Inc. in Hyannis. He can be reached at (508) 362-8023 or at sheldon@stewartpaint.com.