Joe Mazza, the host of HGTV’s “Home Inspector Joe,” is a pro at not only finding hidden home hazards, but also helping homebuyers decide what to fix—or leave well enough alone.

Unfortunately, in the episode “Coastal Home, Costly Surprises,” Mazza finds a lot of problems in a Stamford, CT, house that must be dealt with, from a sunken floor to asbestos in the basement. Homeowners Meg and Ben paid $824,000 for the property and have just $120,000 to spend on repairs and upgrades.

Given these limited funds, where should the money go? Thankfully Mazza and his go-to designer, Noel Gatts, know how to make each dollar count and where to save. Check out what they do to learn how to renovate on a tight budget.

Tweak old features to fit your lifestyle

Meg and Ben love this home’s beautiful moldings and original character, but they don’t necessarily want to preserve every historic detail.

“We really love this fireplace, but it’s a little high,” Meg says of the mantel, which is nearly eye level.

“Yeah, and admittedly, this is where I wanted to put the TV,” Ben adds.

Luckily, Gatts says that changing the fireplace is possible and won’t take too much away from the charm of the home.

“Normally, I’m a big proponent of keeping architectural details,” Gatts explains. “But because this home has so many architectural details already, I feel like it’s not a detriment to change this out.”


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The team replaces the old facade with smooth, sleek stone and switches to a reclaimed wood mantel that is stained and distressed to look like driftwood. It adds a beach vibe to the living room.

The homeowners didn’t need to preserve every inch of their old home, especially when it comes to a functional change.

Use white paint and new lights to make a room look bigger

At first, Mazza and Gatts want to open the wall between the kitchen and dining room, but when they realize how tight the budget is, they decide to leave the layout as is. Still, Gatts wants to make this dated, green dining room look more coastal.

“We’re not taking down this wall, but what we can do is refresh that dining room so you get the new paint colors, new light fixture, and it’ll feel brand-new,” she says.

She has the room painted white and adds a contemporary light fixture with wooden beads. This easy upgrade freshens the space on a budget.

The updated dining room looks as lovely as can be. The new paint and light fixture brighten up the room and allow in plenty of light, making the space look bigger despite the closed layout.

Don’t forget to check the flooring

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When Mazza first sees the sunroom, he spots a long crack in the concrete floor and learns that it was caused by the home’s downspout spitting out water right next to the foundation. It has caused that corner of the sunroom to sink. A new drainage system will cost $10,000, and on top of that, Gatts wants to add a new tile floor.

“Some flooring would be fantastic, so it feels not like a porch,” she says. “You know what I mean? Feels more like a part of the house.”

The simple white tile adds a homey touch to this room, showing just how important flooring can be.

Replacing cabinets may be a waste of cash

By the time they get to the kitchen, there isn’t much money left for a refresh. Still, Gatts is sure she can make the kitchen look new on a modest budget.

“We don’t have a giant, giant budget in here, but we can do a lot,” she says. “Refacing the cabinetry, keeping the appliances, new paint colors, new hardware, a light fixture, all doable within a budget of, like, $20,000.”

She makes a lot of small changes in this space, but perhaps the smartest move was keeping the cabinets and just swapping out their facades. The end results are so nice and it saves a ton of money.

A live-edge counter adds character without being tacky

Meg and Ben’s new basement requires a few pricey upgrades, from removing the asbestos to adding new Sheetrock.

Once the space is safe, Meg and Ben want to turn it into a Tiki bar, though they have different ideas of how that might look. Meg wants to avoid a tacky look, but Ben doesn’t mind a spirited vibe.

“If we’re going to have a bar, it may as well be a little quirky, a little fun,” he says.

Gatts ends up keeping the finishes fairly neutral, but she does add some personality with a live-edge counter. It’s a decor touch that can look sophisticated and spirited.