Learn the Planning Process: Ready to Remodel
Starting a home improvement project can be exciting. Just the thought of all those nice things you've long wanted can get you revved up and making lists. Skylights! Whirlpool tubs! Walk-in closets in every room! Granite countertops!
Whether you're remodeling to reposition your home on the market, or renovating to increase your enjoyment of your home, you can quickly wind up with a long laundry list of desired features if let your imagination run wild.
Many of those dreamy upgrades can be big-ticket expenses, however, and before you know it you could be looking at a financial investment you might not be able to afford. That's why it's important to plan well from the beginning, keep a cool head, prioritize, and be practical.
Before you even think about picking up a hammer, get organized. Here are some tips for making sure your home improvement project starts off right and stay on track (and budget).
Draw it Out
How ambitious is your plan? If you think you might need to consult an architect, you could prepare for a meeting by sketching out your ideas. If you're adding or expanding a room, how do you intend for the space to be used? How will the changes affect traffic patterns, wiring, and outlets?
You should also think about how the planned changes will affect the overall layout. You don't want to make it too boxy, or impede flow. Additions should be proportional and well-planned, or you could overwhelm the rest of the house. Remember that by adding space, you're removing negative space - what kind of effect will an addition have on your yard or other outside spaces?
Try using a home design software program to help visualize your home improvement project.
This Supportive Old House
An easy way to figure out what not to do is to learn from the mistakes of others. Chances are you'll make your own mistakes anyhow (and learn from them, too), but you might make fewer errors if you talk with people who've been down this road before.
Many personal blogs are written by homeowners documenting - sometimes in excruciating detail - their own home improvement projects. Some people have blogged about custom homes they built from scratch, others about simple renovations. Most are pretty candid about their mistakes as well as their successes and their discoveries. Use the comment field (some bloggers have developed strong and supportive communities) to ask questions of the author and his or her readers.
There are a ton of home improvement sites out there with interactive communities. Along with many how-to articles and expert advice, they often have forums and chat. You'll find these resources invaluable. People love learning new things and then sharing that knowledge, and they genuinely like helping one another out. Message boards are usually subdivided by subject, so it probably won't be difficult to find a thread that answers your question.
Look Toward the Future
Keep the future in mind when making your plans. Does the roomy new addition make sense if you're planning on selling the house in a few years? Does the improvement actually price your home out of the neighborhood? Remember those 'neighborhood norms'; if most homes in your neighborhood have three bedrooms, it may not be a good idea to add another bedroom, or you might not recoup your investment. Appraisers look at comparable homes to determine the value.
Other improvements are just incongruous with the architectural style, or not very well thought out. Adding vinyl siding to a Queen Anne Victorian, for instance, will cause your home's value to fall. Not to mention that your family's needs may be very different in a few years. Will today's home improvement make sense down the road?
Keep Track of Your Pennies
Plan your budget as carefully as you can, but don't be surprised when your project veers off the rails a little. Home improvement projects are notorious for going over-budget.
Before you factor in your high-priced upgrades such as rosewood floors or granite counters, determine exactly how much you have to spend. Then make sure you have a cushion to protect you from those cost overruns.
Prioritize your upgrades. Consider mid-priced compromises all around. Or maybe there are features you want to go all-out on, and others you could be happy with as long as you got it, period (happily settling for the low-end version). Be creative. Some projects enable you to split the difference. For instance, you could have a kitchen island with a high-end natural stone, while the rest of your counters are topped with beautiful but less-expensive bamboo, butcher-block, or recycled glass.
For the must-haves that really blow out the budget, you could look into financing alternatives, but the wisest decision is to stay on-budget as much as possible and be open to compromise. Keep the future in mind. If there's one home improvement that you really can't do now, you can always come back to it later.
Hire the Right People
Unless you're a dedicated - and skilled - DIYer, you will need to hire professionals to handle your projects. One of the most common mistakes the weekend handyman makes is to overestimate his or her ability, and sometimes that can be costly. Even if there are some projects you feel confident doing on your own, don't hesitate to call for backup for those projects that are beyond your skill level or experience.
When you do hire help, how do you ensure you've got the most appropriate fit for the task, and for you? Of course you want someone who's licensed and bonded, and highly qualified - but there's more to qualifications than paperwork. Your architect might have an entirely different vision and insist on it, and your contractor may have a reputation you don't know about.
Checking with the BBB is one way to investigate, but don't forget the good old social network. Ask friends, co-workers, neighbors, and relatives. Even your dentist likely has an opinion or a valuable experience. If you know someone who remodeled recently and you like the outcome, talk to them about their home improvement project. Google your contractor and architect's names; if someone is really unhappy with their work, you'll find out.
Be sure to talk with multiple architects and/or contractors. Be open about your concerns. Don't just hire the first one you meet!
Rule #1: Do not begin remodeling without a written contract. No handshakes, no 'my word is my bond.' Get everything in writing.
No matter how simple the project, or even if the contractor is your cousin, misunderstandings will occur. Misunderstandings lead to disaster. A contract protects both parties.
Make sure all parties agree on the work that will be completed and the timeline it will be completed in. Be sure, also, to define the materials that will - and will not - be used.
You Can't Fight City Hall
Zoning, codes, and permits - oh, my! Get all your paperwork squared away before you lift a hammer. Most likely you'll need a permit before making any structural changes; your city or county will require you to meet all building codes and safety regs.
Renovating in a historic district, or remodeling a historic home, presents unique challenges. In these cases, permits insure that any exterior changes adhere to neighborhood and historical guidelines.
In most cases, a general contractor will take care of permits and code compliance, but if you hired a carpenter or are tackling your home improvement project yourself, you will be responsible for the permits. Don't start work without them!
There will always be irritability and frustration in a remodel, but they're generally proportional to the size of the project - the bigger the project, the greater the exasperation. Budget overruns, equipment failures, mistakenly ordered or undelivered material, bad weather, supply shortages, delays, and miscommunication are construction project staples.
You can't control everything (remind yourself of this daily), but you can take a few simple steps to limit the frustration. Notify your neighbors about the construction project and possible noise, and be as cooperative as possible with any concerns they might voice. Give the contractor and his crew a few tactfully-stated guidelines. Be clear about where they can park their vehicles and store their equipment. Ask for their cooperation in scheduling noisy activities during less objectionable hours, and ask for advance warning on the really noisy activities so that you could possibly give your neighbors a heads-up for those days.
Manage your own stress. Find ways to indulge yourself and relax, especially during the hectic times. It might be a good idea to plan a brief romantic getaway, just to catch your breath.