As the prospect of owning a home has become harder and harder to come by in the United States, many of us have purchased older, less desirable houses. This isn’t to say that the house you bought is any less valuable, just that people overlooked it because they don’t have the vision that you or I do! In this post, I’m going to talk about how to update a house built in the 1990’s – I’ll highlighted the ups and downs of homes from this era and how to make the most of them.
90s Housing Growth
Almost 3 years ago my wife and I purchased the home we live in now. It’s a single story, three-bedroom home that was built in the 1990s. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m willing to bet half of the homes in Charlotte (my city) were built in the 1990s!
Aging Homes in Need of Update
My neighborhood, like many others built in this time period, is chock full of fading roofs, cracked driveways, and the tell-tale faded vinyl siding – all definitive characteristics of a 1990’s suburban neighborhood. And just as you’d expect, many of these homes have that same 90s charm on the inside as well.
The List Goes On
Our house was built in 1997 and we purchased it in 2020. The list of original amenities in our home included countertops, cabinets, carpets (yes, your heard that right), ALL original light fixtures and fans, toilets (not too uncommon), and windows. Oh yeah, lets not forget the mechanicals – original air conditioner, gas furnace, and water heater as well! Understanding what you’re getting into when buying a home is another important story. Take a look at “Manage Unexpected Home Costs Through Knowledge and Understanding“.
As I mentioned before, the difference in my wife and I, (and I’m assuming you) and the other buyers is that we had vision for this home. We knew with a little hard work and TLC, we could update our 90s home on a budget.
Advantages of Homes Built in the 90s
Before I talk about the things that you should change about your 90s home, I want to outline some of the great things about it. After all, we bought a 30-year-old house for a reason!
The suburbs of many cities were expanding in the 1990s, and the land pinch was not as apparent as it is today. Take for instance neighborhoods in Charlotte, NC suburbs that were built in the 1990s – it’s not uncommon to have 0.3 to 0.5 acre properties and live within 15 to 20 minutes of the city! This is in contrast to newer neighborhoods boasting 0.2 to 0.25 acre yards. This doesn’t sound like much, but the difference in one third and one fourth of an acre is around 3,600 square feet! Every square foot makes a difference when you live in a neighborhood of 200 homes.
90s Sprawling Floorplans
Another cool part of owning a 90s home is the floorplans – many homes sport two sitting rooms! And I’m not talking about a custom home here – your run of the mill track homes have some great floor plans with plenty of space. Even though the floor plans are not as open as some are today, in my opinion many newer home floorplans focus too much on open floor plans. This can leave you with one big kitchen-living-room-garage on the first floor – 90s floorplans give you an out when you want to watch football and someone else in the house doesn’t.
The last big plus I want to talk about is the fact that you now live in an established neighborhood. The trees, grass, and neighbors’ kid that lives in the basement are all 30 years old now! Take a look at newer neighborhoods – those trees won’t shade a squirrel for at least 10 years. Take advantage of this and enjoy your shade trees!
Updating a 90s Home on a Budget
Now we get into the meat and potatoes – how are you going to make this 90s time capsule bearable to live in? Keep reading below, I’ll lay out some must do updates as well as some nice-to-haves and give you some realistic budget expectations (based on my own recent experience!)
Replace Brass Light Fixtures
I can see it now – your ceiling is lined in tarnished, brass-plated light fixtures and fans (or at least my house was when we moved in). This is one of the easiest and impactful updates you can make in a 90s house that has not been updated. We bought our light fixtures and ceiling fans from Lowes, but you can find great deals for this type of hardware at any hardware store, specialty lighting stores, or even Amazon. On average we spent between $50 and $150 on lights and about $200 for a large ceiling fan in the living room – totaling about $550 to replace all of the fixtures in the living area of our home. The bedrooms could wait – it’s not like guests spend much time in them anyway.
Replace 90s Carpet
Our house was carpeted wall to wall in a worn out, loose, beige colored carpet that had seen its fair share of foot traffic. We knew the carpet had to go, but we were worried about the cost of replacing 2,000 square feet – rightfully so, even the cheapest floor covering at around $1 per square foot would cost us $2,000! So needless to say, this project was postponed about a year after we moved in. This gave us time to save $$$ as well as shop around for an affordable replacement for the gross carpet we were subjecting our bare feet to for a year.
Install LVP Flooring
Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) flooring is an excellent replacement in your older home – it’s affordable, durable, and super easy to install. You can get LVP as cheap as $1-$1.50 a square foot and it will withstand the beatings of large dogs and toddlers. We spent a little bit more on our flooring, about $3.50 per square foot, but I made up for the extra spend by installing it myself. After all was said and done, we replaced ALL of the floor in our outdated 90s house for LESS than $8k. With some of the more favorable prices out there, I estimate you could do this for $3-$4k for a 2000 square foot home if you do-it-yourself.
Can Light Replacement Ideas
Changing out lighting is important when updating a 90s home. Another wonderful home feature that was prevalent in the 90s is the can light. These one hundred and fifty degree temperature, 120 watt light fixtures exists IN your ceiling to give you that natural SPOT LIGHT in a junkyard feel. Thankfully the lighting industry as done wonders with new designs all while making it super easy to replace. Do yourself a favor and pick up these flush LED replacements for your existing can lighting.
They come with 5 different light settings (from soft to bright white) and only cost $15 a piece. There is absolutely no re-wiring necessary and they fit in the existing ceiling can. We had 10 fixtures – coming in at a whopping $150 for the upgrade. Money well spent if you ask me. Replacing old lights with LEDs is one of my favorite pass times – check out this post!
Paint Your Walls
This is a no-brainer if you ask me. Even if your walls have been painted in the recent past, repaint them to fit your style. If your anything like my wife, you’ll be paring the paint colors with the light fixtures, flooring, furniture, dog, etc… Paint runs about $50 per gallon. Plan on buying at least 10 gallons if you’re painting your living area, kitchen, dining, and bathrooms. $500 is a reasonable estimate for four or so rooms (if you DIY of course). I’ll mention again, if your doing this on a budget, focus on the living areas of your house – the places people spend most of their time. This isn’t a race – take your time and it’ll all come together as you plan!
Replace Formica Countertops
Yep, those 30 year old countertops are not complimenting all of the other work you’ve done in your home – I would know because I haven’t replaced them yet. Its tough to look at all of the hard work you’ve done and then pan over to those faded, yellowing, countertops with random rust stains from the last owners that didn’t know how to clean properly. No big deal though, just like all of the other projects, it’s on the to-do list and will get done in due time. I’ll have more to elaborate on when I finally get this done – and I’m going to hire a contractor for this, I don’t trust myself cutting granite. I’ve seen granite prices around $25-$35 per square foot, installed. I’ve seen average prices can be around $3k. Again, I’ll let you know more when I tackle this project.
Bathroom Updates on a Budget
Take a look at this post where I cover specific bathroom upgrades and bring you in around $500 for a bathroom refresh. This is well worth a read if you’re interested in getting the most bang for your buck in your outdated 90s house.
Now that I’ve schooled you on how to update a home built in the 1990s, I have one last thing to cover. Replace every hinge and door knob in your house with whatever style you like – black, oil rubbed bronze, etc. This small detail will tie together all of the other updates you’ve made and give your house a crisp, updated look. Hinges and doorknobs cost me about $350 for the entire house and I cannot stress this enough – this is a must do!
Refreshed 90s Home
Your 90s home has now been brought into the 21st century! This is the vision you had when you decided you would make it your own. The best part of it all is, if you stuck to my gameplan, you just spent about $5,000 completely updating your home. I’ve seen contractors take that much money from a homeowner to paint 3 rooms! Again, take a look at my post covering bathrooms, and leave a comment or questions if you have one! Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing about your budget remodels!