4 Things You Can’t Afford to Miss If You Are Renovating Your Home

An architect reviewing blueprints

You’ve finally successfully navigated all the hurdles of the home-buying process and have a place to call your own. Now you’ve decided you’d like to renovate your home. Where do you start? This article takes you through all the essential steps along the way, and highlights important considerations. Read this when you are still considering renovating your home, or refer to this guide anywhere along the process.

Renovating a home can be at times exciting and at other times a nightmare. Read on to learn about my experience of gut renovating my entire home. I share lessons I learned along the way that may hopefully be useful in your own project.

Set Your Budget!

Step one in home renovation is deciding on the budget that you’d like to dedicate to your project. This goes hand in hand with deciding the scope of the work you’d like to accomplish. For instance, after purchasing our home, I knew that I wanted to focus on interior work only, including the kitchen, bathrooms, and all living spaces. I had a ballpark budget in mind, and I knew that almost every project will likely underestimate true cost by at least 20%.

This first step can be a challenge in itself since it is difficult know the actual price of any project until you get further along. However, one way to begin budgeting is to plan to spend only as much as the value of the room as a percentage of your home. You can find estimates of smaller projects online and determine if your budget is close.

When considering the scope of the project, setting limits on what you work on is important in trying to stay within your budget. For instance, if you plan to work on the kitchen, resist the temptation of “scope creep”, where you may then decide the adjacent living room also needs some small changes. Try to avoid falling in the 31% off home renovators that decide to change their project scope along the way. There will always be more work to be done, so keep a mental check on the limits of the scope of your project from the outset — your wallet will thank you for it.

Other methods of thinking about scope include separating interior and exterior work. Your decision on scope can also be affected by the season. For instance, save exterior work such as painting on the outside for warmer seasons, since painting when nighttime temperatures drop below freezing can cause substantial problems.

What Help Should I Consider Hiring?

As I was starting my renovation, I was overwhelmed with options for people that I could potentially hire. Do I need an architect? Do I need an interior designer? Do they overlap in skills? Do I need a kitchen remodeling specialist? Or a general contractor? As I’ve learned, the answer to many of these questions is, “it really depends”.

A modern house at night

No two home improvement projects are alike. Find help that fits your particular needs.

For instance if you are only renovating your kitchen, it’s possible you may only need a designer who focuses on kitchen remodeling. Their skill set may include drawing an architectural plan, including a new floor plan, elevation drawings, and other details to help you plan your new kitchen. These plans can be sufficiently detailed to allow a contracted builder to construct your new space.

In our scenario, we planned to create a completely new bathroom in an unused hallway space, to change entryways and to create new ones through existing walls.  So we quickly realized these more complex tasks required the skills of a dedicated architect. The architect can serve several roles, and their scope of work should be clearly laid out in the contract. Some large architectural firms may actually include many other services, including designers, decorators, landscape engineers, and construction management among other additional services.

If you are only renovating one interior room, an architect is likely unnecessary. If you are building a brand new home, then an all-in-one architectural firm may make the most sense for you.

How Do I Decide?

Interview all your candidates before you decide. The larger the project, the more important it is that the person you work with is compatible with your needs and wants. It is equally important to ensure your candidate has excellent references. In an age where internet rating sites like Yelp, Angie’s list, Homeadvisor and others dominate, finding the right person for a home renovation project can still be a very difficult ambiguous process. My advice? Word of mouth references still are the most trustworthy. Hearing from a trusted friend or colleague about someone they were happy gives you much better odds than an anonymous 5-star rating from a stranger that may have completely different standards than yourself.

For example, in our home renovation project we interviewed several architects ranging from solo-practitioners to small firms and larger companies. We finally settled on a solo architect with his own firm because we understood that although our project was large, it wouldn’t require the wraparound services that other bigger firms offered. Our architect came from a trusted resource who had a longstanding relationship with the architect from several different past projects. We met with him at our house and we enjoyed his no-nonsense approach. We also appreciated how responsive he was to our communications. An additional advantage he offered was that his scope of work included construction management.

Timeline and Rate-limiting Factors

Just as important as your budget is the time needed to complete your project.  These are both variables that are easy to underestimate. Home renovations of any size can lead to surprises that require additional time, but there are a few key steps that should be on your radar from Day 1. For example, for interior renovations, any custom cabinetry will likely require significant lead time. Whether these are sourced through your general contractor, or a third-party cabinet maker, make sure to discuss how to minimize the impact on your overall timeline.

In our case, we used a third-party cabinet maker for not just our kitchen, but also two of our bathrooms for custom designs. From first contact to delivery of our cabinets was nearly two-and-a-half months. This included time for us to choose paint colors, review sample doors, finalize our design choices, and finish production.

Whatever the rate-limiting factor may be in your project — be it custom cabinetry, special order lighting, or imported marble countertops — be sure to discuss these potential delays thoroughly with your project coordinator.

Summary Points

  1. Set a budget and make sure to have a contingency set aside (at least 20%)
  2. Hire help that fits your project
  3. Do your due diligence on those you plan to hire
  4. Clear, constant communication and quick decision making on your part can keep things moving smoothly and expedite the process.
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