Reams have been written about the glamorous part of remodeling--the architect’s (often incomprehensible) commentary; the client’s bubbling enthusiasm; the glossy magazine spreads. A lot less is said about the bumpy road most remodelers travel to arrive at a great project. In this most challenging of economies, it's even more important that you use your building budget intelligently.
While problems and surprises are endemic to the remodeling process, they can be minimized by careful planning and a healthy dose of pragmatism. Herewith are seven rules of survival:
• Educate yourself. Discover remodeling pitfalls the painless way--by taking a class or seminar--not by living through a disastrous project. Learning from a pro is easier and a lot less expensive than enrolling in the school of hard knocks. Look for homeowner education organizations in your area, or check the architecture department of your local junior college; many have a wide variety of classes on design and remodeling topics.
• Set a realistic budget. The days of $80 per square foot construction costs are just a distant memory now; realistically, you should allow from $200 to $300 per square foot, depending on the size, complexity, and quality of your remodel. Extensive kitchen or bath remodels will cost even more. If you plan to hire an architect, add an additional 12-15% fee to the total.
• Know where to save and where to spend. It’s easy to be seduced by trendy design, but high-fashion items are notoriously bad investments. Spend your money where it counts: on top-quality doors, windows, doors, roofing, and exterior finishes. The frou-frou can be easily upgraded later.
• Do as much of the work yourself as you can, but be realistic about how much you can do and how well you can do it. Finish work, especially, is not the place for on-the-job training--novice work can ruin an otherwise first-rate job. And be forewarned: Many contractors dislike sharing construction responsibilities with owners, since any tardiness on owner’s part can raise havoc with the contractor’s schedule. If you’re confident of your time and abilities, fine; otherwise, forget it.
• Choose a contractor (or an architect) by what he builds, not by what he says. Always ask for references, and then follow up on them. Most contractors and architects are dedicated, competent, and take great pride in their work--and they’ll be glad to let their references prove it.
• Be prepared for more of everything--more expense, more time, more disruption, more problems than you planned on. Surprises of one kind or another are endemic to working with existing buildings--expect them.
• If you need design help, get it. That 12-15% architect’s fee may sound like a waste of money until you find yourself spending $30,000 to correct errors or add items you’ve forgotten. If I do say so myself, investing in a professional’s experience will usually repay itself many times over. In any case, a well-detailed set of plans is an absolute must if you plan to bid the job out, since vague plans will invite many costly “extras” later on.
All of the foregoing adds up to two remodeling fundamentals: Be informed, and expect the unexpected. A little mental preparation will go a long way toward smoothing out the road to a remodel.