Remodeling a home is exciting and rewarding. As a homeowner, you get to see your dreams come to life over just a few days or weeks. However, there are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about remodeling. There’s nothing like a solid beginning to make for a smooth finish when it comes to your remodeling project.
As with most things, a good remodeling plan leads to the best outcome. Every plan has three basic components: time, cost and quality. By establishing a timeline with your contractor, a budget with your spouse (if applicable) and documenting the features of your remodel, you can put together a pretty solid plan. Fortunately, there are many tools available to you for little or no cost to help you put your plan together.
Be sure to establish a priority order across the components of your plan. For example, is time more important than cost? Is quality (the features you want) more important than cost or is your budget the highest priority of all? Only you can decide which is of the primary importance, secondary importance and tertiary importance. Communicating your priorities to your contractor will help them implement your plan and deliver a satisfactory project.
One of the simplest and best tools is a sketch pad with a grid. Often called “graph paper”, you can pick up one of these pads at virtually any big box retailer or office supply store. The grid, when combined with a ruler and a pencil, makes drawing out your floor plan relatively easy. It doesn’t have to be perfect but even a simple sketch can help communicate your ideas to your contractor.
Pinterest is another free tool that makes collecting your design ideas easy. It also makes showing them to your interior designer and contractor very easy as well. If you have a laptop, smart phone or tablet of some sort, you can save your ideas on your Pinterest account and pull up the pictures when discussing your project. Pinterest is also a great place to find ideas for your project.
The more detail you include in your plan, the better. From things as significant as the floor plan to as insignificant as the pulls on drawers and doors, the devil is in the details. What may, on the surface, appear to be relatively insignificant may, in fact, turn out to have a major impact on your project’s timeline or budget.
Speaking of interior designers, give some consideration to hiring one to help you with your plan and the project as a whole. A good interior designer should ask lots of questions, listen even more than they talk and come back with ideas that fit with your concept of the remodel. Many interior designers also have a network of contractors with whom they have worked on previous projects. They should be able to give you a list of reputable contractors to help jump-start your contractor selection. Although … finding a good interior designer can be just as difficult as finding a good contractor.
You’ll also want a timeline as a part of your plan. This should be developed jointly with your contractor. As you develop your plan, remember that there are two types of plans: Those that have failed and those that may fail. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid putting a plan together. It means that you should build some cushion and flexibility into your plan. Don’t let your contractor give you the “just two more weeks” line, but also recognize that unexpected things can and do happen and that your plan should have contingencies in it to allow for these events. As with most things, the more detailed the questions, the more detailed the design and the more detailed – and unexpected event proof – the plan. (See the Contractors section for more on details.)
Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to prepare.
First, prepare yourself mentally. Most kitchen and bathroom remodels take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Your kitchen or bathroom will be out of commission throughout most of this time and … yes, it’s true … your house will be a little bit of a mess. If you’re a “foodie” and you love your kitchen, think about how you will need to adapt while your kitchen is inaccessible. If you’re remodeling a bathroom, give consideration to everyone’s schedule so the members of your household can utilize the remaining bathroom(s) without causing an all-out family feud.
Now that you’re mentally prepared, follow up on the functional preparations necessary to accommodate your family’s needs during the remodel. Will you need a bathroom use schedule? If so, draw one up and let all of your family members have input. Will you need to eat out more, order in or cook meals in the microwave in another room? Gather up take-out menus, coupons for your favorite restaurants and make the necessary space preparations. Move the food in your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer to its temporary location. Remove the toiletries and supplies from the bathroom and store them in other bathrooms, linen closets or the like.
With a plan in place and your preparations made, contractor selection is the final critical element in ensuring a smooth remodel.
Let’s start with the basics of contractor selection. A great way to find a great contractor is by talking to your friends, relatives and neighbors who’ve had similar work done on their homes. If you don’t know anyone who has had remodeling work done recently, Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau are good places to start your search. Other online search engines and tools can also be helpful. Take a look at potential contractors’ websites. If their site is well-designed and professional, it’s a pretty good sign that they will also be professional. After you’ve found a few prospective contractors, check their credentials. Do they have liability and third-party loss insurance? Are they bonded? Are they licensed for the kind of work you plan to have done? How about their hiring practices? Do they conduct background checks and drug screens prior to hiring employees? Are their vehicles clean and in good repair? All of these factors tell a story about the contractor.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Choose a contractor who is familiar with remodeling and, specifically, your type of remodel. There are remodelers and then there are contractors who occasionally “remodel” a room. Some contractors focus on kitchens and baths, others focus on new additions and still others focus on finishing basements. How do you know if your contractor is truly a remodeler? Ask them for references. Ask them for pictures of previous remodels. Pay attention to the questions they ask as they’re putting together your bid. Are the questions detailed in nature or are they very general. Contractors who ask detailed questions will pay attention to the details of your project.
This leads me to the second consideration when choosing a contractor. Look for a contractor who will give you a fixed bid and document the scope of the project. Many contractors will provide an estimate based on generalities. Invariably, those estimates change. Other contractors will provide “allotments” or “allowances” for certain features or the remodel. If you know you can stay within the allowances, that’s fine. If you aren’t up to speed on the price of your materials and your contractor’s labor costs … you might want to avoid the allowances route. A contractor who provides a fixed bid should discuss their policy for scope changes with you. That way you know how they handle changes to your project and the associated costs.
Purchasing your own materials, if you understand how to estimate the amount necessary, can be a way to save a little bit of money on most remodeling projects. However, most good-sized contractors will be able to purchase materials at a discount. While it’s usually necessary for the contractor to mark up the materials to recoup their costs for purchasing and hauling them, you may only break even (or possibly end up spending more) in the long run if you’re not very familiar with estimating the amount of material necessary for a particular job.
I mentioned the mess associated with most remodels earlier. Talk to your contractor about how they will minimize the mess and what they will do to clean up when they’re done, both at the end of each day and at the end of the entire project. If you don’t want your contractor to leave tools and supplies at your house during the project, it’s only fair to let them know that at the outset. It takes time to break everything down at the end of every day and set it back up again the next.
Yes, a remodeling project is a lot of work. Yes, it will make a mess of your home and your life for a while. In the end, however, you’ll enjoy the fruits of those labors for years to come and you’ll increase the value of your home along the way.