The Reality of a Remodel

Congratulations! You decided to purchase an existing home or have been living in a home for a while and want to customize that home to fit your ever changing needs.  You love the neighborhood, the schools, the area and don’t want to move to a new home located outside of the neighborhood. Where to start?  Pick up some magazines for ideas or turn on the television and watch how a rundown fishing shack is transformed into a lake side bungalow in 30 minutes.

The photographs and video don’t convey the work, the noise, the dust, frustrations and complications associated between the before and after photographs.  Budgets are rarely mentioned, and if so, they are typically for materials supplied by the sponsors.  As a general contractor, I thoroughly enjoy working with my clients and subcontractors to transform a house into a home.  This post is to bring reality to the art of a remodel that is never seen on television.

Define a scope of work.

What really needs to happen for you to turn that house into a home?  Is it the kitchen?  Do the cabinets and counters need replacing or do you need more room?   As a general contractor I will look at your neighborhood and home from a resale point of view, whether you intend to list or not.  I will offer suggestions based on the return on investment.  If the neighborhood has an average price of $400k and you would like to install imported Italian marble and install gold fixtures,  I will convey the low return and high cost.   That being said, I understand in the end it is my clients’ home and money and I will do whatever the client decides.  I can only advise clients of the costs associated with their decisions.

Invest in a designer or architect and if structural walls are being relocated get an engineer.

The money spent on a good set of plans will save time and money in the long run by removing the guesswork.  Plans allow the homeowner to see first hand the final product on paper and serve as a guide for the contractor.  It is easier and less expensive to make changes on paper prior to the start of construction than to make changes mid project.  A good set of plans allows the general contractor to price the project accurately, avoiding cost overruns.  That being said, changes are part of every project.  Any change in price should be documented in a change order immediately, prior to the change being completed.  No one likes a surprise.  Even a number of small changes add up quickly.  Retain copies of the change orders to keep track of your budget.

Another reality of remodeling is the homeowner is in charge.

On television, the homeowners are introduced and then rarely seen. The homeowner is not tasked with making decisions because the television show picks up the majority of the bill and the on set designers take care of all decisions.  There is a reason the homeowners are not on site and/or on vacation.  An ever present homeowner will slow the job down.

If you are living in the home, contractors must come and go according to your schedule.  The electrical and water cannot be shut down and left off for an extended period of time.  Construction is noisy and inconvenient.  For instance, if you live in a home with a kitchen remodel, plan on eating out for a while.  I will not start a kitchen remodel until all cabinetry has arrived.  Once the cabinets arrive, the old cabinetry needs to be removed, the electrician, tile and countertop installation, carpenter, painter and plumber must do their work.  Add inspectors into the mix, to review the work, and it takes time even with all the decisions made ahead of time.

Even with great care taken, remodels are stressful.

A contractor must be cognizant of the homeowners needs and protect all belongings in the home from damage and dust.  Even then, the homeowner must be prepared for the dust to find a way inside.   Remodels can be stressful on homeowners and contractors alike.  Homeowners are excited in the beginning, than the work begins, the noise, the dust, a number of people in the home disrupting the routines can be unsettling.  Have patience.  We want to do our job and to do it correctly.  Construction is a process.  Trust me, I empathize with my clients during the transformation.

Be realistic about construction costs.

Televsion and magazines show beautiful photographs of completed projects, but they do not accurately reflect the cost of construction.  The shows create excitement about renovating your home, which is fantastic, but it is a show.  Construction and materials are expensive.  The sponsors provide the project with the latest and greatest products to promote on the show in hopes you will purchase them.  There are always ways to get the look you want without spending a fortune.  That is where a good general contractor can provide less expensive options.

This post is not intended to scare people away from remodeling.  Instead, it is to provide you with a realistic expectation of the process between the before and after photos.  In summary, decide what changes are needed, hire a designer or architect, establish a budget, interview a couple of general contractors, get contracts and payment schedules and turn your house into a home you are proud of.