The first step in renovating a lawn is to do a soil test. Measuring the level of nutrients, especially nitrogen, in your soil will indicate what kind and quantity of fertilizer will be necessary. Specific types of grass require the soil to be within a specific pH range. Testing for soil chemistry for pH may indicate the need to adjust that balance with lime. Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension has prepared a series of fact sheets, including this one on Lawn Renovation (PDF), as well as this introduction on lawn and garden Soil Testing (PDF). Another useful tip once the lawn renovation is complete is to shred your leaves in the fall using a lawn mower, leaving them in place to decompose and feed your lawn instead of spreading chemical fertilizer.