Remodeling your home can be one of the most rewarding and exciting endeavors you will ever undertake when done properly. In the end, you can enjoy the beauty, larger size and modern conveniences of your home knowing you also increased its value. On the other hand, some remodel projects can unfortunately become the source of sleepless nights, tremendous frustration, and can literally take complete control of your life. Many homeowners even decide it is easier to move than to take on a major remodel project due to the horror stories they have heard regarding cost overruns, poor workmanship, and unscrupulous contractors. My experience has shown that most problems can be preceded and eliminated by following a few simple guidelines that will make your next remodel project a fun and exciting time in your life rather than a stressful and depressing one.
Just like you would never start a new business without a business plan, you should never start a remodel without a "remodel plan". Putting your thoughts and vision into writing clarifies what you want to accomplish, establishes a budget, and allows you to see the bigger picture of what will be required to complete the project to your satisfaction and timeline. We all hate unpleasantly surprises, especially the ones that cost us money.
Fortunately, most of these can be avoided by writing out the steps required to complete a remodel project. Many homeowners erroneously believe that hiring a general contractor eliminates the need for a written plan. Not true! You will still need a plan before you ever interview the potential general contractors to ensure that they have a realistic understanding of your ideas and expectations in order to avoid misunderstandings and delays. The decision to whether or not to hire a general contractor will become part of the planning process and decision matrix.
To stay as organized as possible, I recommend breaking the plan into sections such as: my vision, pre-planning, budget considerations, eliminating the scope of project, and determining the critical path and timeline. You need to be realistic and build some flexibility into your plan because nothing will ever go perfectly smooth; your budget can include what you want to spend and a maximum not to be exceeded, your timeline can have ranges showing a best case scenario and a "plan b". Your plan's specificity is up to you. The more specific it is the fewer surprises may lurk in your project. If you do hire a general contractor, he may build on your plan with a more specific one of his own. Remember, this plan will become the foundation for your project.
Now it is time to plan how you are going to live with the disruption a remodel creates. Really think hard here and try to envision living without a kitchen, bathroom, or half a house for some time. If it is a kitchen remodel, what will you do for meals for the duration; eat out, impose on a friend, set up a make-shift kitchen in the garage? Bathroom; do you have a spare, can you share with teen-agers? Large add-on; what will your security be like if exterior walls are down, what about dust, dirt and noise? Landscape overhaul; will everyone have access to your unfenced pool, what about security? Some homeowners decide it is easier to move out during the construction phase, but that takes planning as well. Who will oversee the project, who will troubleshoot, what are the consequences if a mistake is made and not done until later? The more thought you give these issues up front, the better chance you will eliminate those ugly, costly, stressful surprises. It is here that some homeowners decide to move rather than do the project at all!
The next step is to determine the full scope of the project and who is going to complete the work as this will effect the overall budget. Do you require an architect? Does the project require plans to be submitted to the city for a permit? Do you need a designer? Are you going to serve as the general contactor and be responsible for obtaining all permits, arranging inspections, purchasing materials, arranging for storage and delivery of materials, and coordinating the work of plumbers, electricians, tile contractors, etc., or hire a general contractor do complete this for you? A general contractor is going to provide generous experiential benefit and reduce the time required to complete the project, but the remodel will cost more. If you decide to exceed or complete the project yourself, are you prepared for delays due to lining up sub-contractors? A general contractor typically operates in one of two ways; either an open book process where the fees are based upon actual costs with an agreed upon mark up or closed book where you are provided with an overall cost to complete the project and you do not know the true costs and how much the contractor is making . In closed book bids, the contractor will usually provide you an allowance for finishes such as tile, carpet, plumbing fixtures, lights, etc. I personally do not like surprises and feel more comfortable with the open book methodology since it allows me more flexibility to choose the actual finishes I desire.
If your project requires permitting, you may also have to bring other items in your house up to code. An example is an older home without fire sprinklers, alarms, fenced pools, etc., in which the permitting authority may require you to complete work in other areas of the house to bring it up to code. If that is your case, these added costs must be factored into the budget and need to be addressed in your budget planning stage. By the time you are submitting your plans for permits, you should already have an idea of the project's overall budget and estimates from the various trades to complete the work, timelines for completion, and your finishes selected.
In completing my budget, I always obtain three estimates from each trade to ensure I know what I am paying for. Even if I feel I know a contractor well, I still believe it is best to get three bids as a check and balance, and any honest contractor would agree with me. Additionally, I benefit by learning something new or getting a different idea from those supplying the estimates that I may want to incorporate into my overall plan. I am always upfront with the contractors, letting them know I am also receiving other bids and even telling them against what they are competing. You should compare bids, materials being used, what is included in the bid, skill levels of their employees, and how change orders are handled. Keep in mind, I am not advocating going with the lowest bidder, the highest bidder or the one in the middle. Look for the one who bid most fits into your plan. Also, include a visit to the registrar of contractors' website to verify the contractor has a valid license to complete the work you are requesting, how long they have been in business, and their complaint history. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is hiring a non-licensed contractor for more reasons than space in this article allows. Another great way to find reliable contactors is to ask friends and quality distributors for recommendations.
The great thing about a remodel project is personally creating something you know is beautiful. You will be living with and looking at the fines you select for many years to come. Light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, wall color, tile, stone etc all cost money, and how you prioritize your spending, where you choose to spend, and save is a very personal decision. In most cases you will get what you pay for in terms of service, durability, and quality. The last thing you want is for something two years old to already look dated, worn out, or worse yet need replacing. Electrical, framing, piping, etc are understood so absolutely it is the finishes that select that will determine your project's final appearance. Imagine if you select and install a cheap glass tile for your kitchen backsplash and the setting material shows through the glass, how happy will you be looking at the ripples in your wall in the kitchen where do you spend so much time for the next ten years? I have seen a floor that started to show irreparable large chips only months after installation because a cheap ceramic tile was used to save money, leaving the homeowner with the decision wherever to make another investment tear out and replacing the tile, or live with a floor that is only going to look worse over time.
Regardless if you are using a general contractor or exceeding the project yourself, you will want to make sure you are using quality products that are backed up with outstanding technical support. You can not tell the product quality or availability support by looking at an item; you will have to ask the supplier about warranties or guarantees. You will also need to determine if the material is suitable for its intended use. Can the product be used outdoors or in wet areas? Regarding technical support, two years ago I received a solicitation from a Chinese Glass Tile Company promoting their products to us. I asked their installation instructions and was surprised when they sent me instructions for a paper-faced glass tile rather than the mesh-mounted glass tile they were promoting. When I advised them of the error, they could offer no additional support; I can guarantee if I had been selling their products and had product challenges, they lacked both the technical expertise and product knowledge to provide any solutions.
Almost every project is going to take longer and cost more money to complete than originally anticipated. A plan will help prevent problems from occurring, however your plan is going to have to be flexible. Project promises can be very costly. One way to avoid these is to make your finish selections early in the project and purchase the items as soon as possible. This will help prevent backorder challenges that can result from shipping logistics or production schedules. If a material is backordered and you are ready for it in your project, only three things can happen, all bad; either construction stops while you wait for the material to arrive, or you pay extra freight charges if the material is available somewhere else to get sooner, or you reselect the material. I can tell you so many stories of delays and cost overruns that could have been forevented if the client had just purchased the fines well before they were needed and had the vendor safely store the items in their warehouse until later.
If you know what you want, you can build it. The planning process is your road map for a successful project and yet you will have to always remain flexible as every project will have one or two surprises. Using quality products and reliable licensed general and sub-contractors will help ensure a smooth process, patience and understanding will need to become your friends, and in the end you will be able to stand back and know you created something specifically special for you and your family.