Remodeling Guide

Are you thinking of remodeling your home but don’t know where to start? Browse our Remodeling Guide and see how simple it can be.

Remodeling Guide

When remodeling we often start with a vague desire to improve the look and functionality of our home. But dreams can be unclear and fuzzy, and communicating that fuzzy idea to a contractor can be frustrating for both parties.

Step 1: Determine Your Maximum Budget

Unfortunately, most of us have a limited amount of money to spend on a remodel. If your remodel costs more money than you are willing to spend you may find yourself in a very uncomfortable place. Determining your maximum budget will depend upon where the financing will come from. This should be your first step. Most people choose one of two methods to finance a remodel:

  1. Savings - If you have a savings account from which you are going to finance the project ask yourself if you are willing to spend 100% of it on the project. If you have set aside some money for a project it is wise to make your budget about 80% of that amount. This will give you some flexibility and breathing room knowing that should something unexpected occur, you can still move forward.
  2. Loan - Many homeowners who are considering a major project will also consider a loan of some sort. Refinancing your home is a good way to finance a large project without your savings taking a large hit.

A good rule of thumb for a full kitchen remodel (Flooring, counters, cabinets, painting, plumbing, etc., etc.) is that you should plan on spending about 8-10% of your homes value. A master bathroom remodel should fall in the 4-5% range.

Step 2: Know Where To Stop

Remodeling can snowball out of control if you don’t have a firm grasp of the areas to be remodeled. A full kitchen remodel may wind up in the dining room and living room if you have not given it much thought. You must decide where the remodel will start and stop. If you feel comfortable spending a little more than 10% of your home’s value, you might decide to repaint the dining room or put new flooring in the laundry room. But don’t make those decisions halfway through the project. Giving yourself and your contractor a firm stopping point will help you get a firm grasp of the real cost of your project.

Step 3: Get Inspired

Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy here- but try to keep it as organized as you can. Get some manilla folders and label them. Here are a few examples but feel free to make your own:

  • Paint Colors
  • Cool Kitchen Accessories
  • Fixtures
  • General Style
  • Floors
  • Counter Tops

Make a trip to a local home store to gather paint samples, take pictures of appliances & fixtures, and buy a few relevant home magazines (usually located right next to the check out). Start clipping and sorting. The main point here is to give yourself a reservoir of ideas to draw from when you get to the planning stages.

Step 4: Time To Get Help

It is now time to assemble your team. This is the single most important decision you will make. If you are doing a full remodel of a kitchen or bathroom, I highly recommend using a licensed General Contractor (for referrals click here). A General Contractor will have the expertise to coordinate the job, deal with permits, and keep the project on schedule and on budget. Most General Contractors will charge a flat rate of 15-20%. For example, if your cabinetry is $10,000 your General Contractor will bill you $12,000 which will cover the cost of the cabinetry plus his 20% mark up.

At this point you may be wondering if you can do without a General Contractor. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Most tradesmen are used to working with a particular General Contractor. There is often a close relationship between the trades and as a result they work very well together. For example, the electrician knows how the cabinet maker builds his cabinetry and thus installs his wiring accordingly. Bringing a team together on your own introduces a level of uncertainty in your project.
  • Most tradesmen will give General Contractors lower pricing that they do not offer directly to homeowners. We do this because General Contractors make our lives easier by guiding the homeowner through the remodeling process. This mitigates at least a good portion of that 15-20% mark up. For example, installing a new hardwood floor on your own might cost $1,000 if you deal direct. Your General Contractor may get that same floor for $800 and bill you $960 ($800 x 20%). In the end, even though you paid 20% to your General Contractor, you saved money.
  • A good General Contractor does this for a living and is good at things that may be brand new to a homeowner. Don’t be fooled by the Do-It-Yourself TV shows. A full remodeling project means lots of brainpower. In the end, you will be thankful that you didn’t have to do it alone.

If your project is not so big, however, you might not need the services of a General Contractor. If you are merely looking to repair some existing cabinetry, put in a new floor, or some other smaller project you may safely opt to go it alone. My advice is to call the person who will be doing the most work first. If you are refacing your cabinets and replacing the floor start by calling a cabinet maker. Then ask for a referral for a flooring contractor. This way you are not bringing people together who may have totally different ways of working.

Step 5: Make A Plan

This is one of the most critical steps in the remodeling process. Forming a concrete plan simply means deciding on the new layout of your room(s). With the help of your General Contractor and his team this should not be too difficult. Here are the questions that must be answered in this step:

  • Will you be moving walls? If so, how much and where?
  • Will doors & windows be replaced or relocated?
  • Will your kitchen cabinet layout be different? If so, what will be your new layout?
  • Will your appliance locations be moving? Where to?
  • What aspects, if any, of your existing room do you want to keep intact?
  • What style of cabinetry do you like? No need for specifics yet, just a general idea.

Many people prefer the help of a designer to help them with this step but most people just hammer it out with their contractor and cabinet maker.

Step 6: Make it Happen

With the right planning, the right team, and the right attitude the work itself should be quite an easy step. At this point you have communicated all of your wishes to the General Contractor, he has submitted to you a bid and plans that you have approved, and the job can now move forward easily.

There may be an unexpected turn here or there but any good team can handle those easily.

Avoid changes to your plan at this point. Keep in mind that the tradesmen have most likely already ordered materials and formed their own plans and schedules to get your job done. Changes that are made halfway through the process can be quite costly as well since they may require other work to be redone.

Tips & Tricks

  • Get help planning your project from friends and family. Their advice is free and it dramatically reduce the liklihood of your brother-in-law walking into your newly remodeled home and saying, “It looks great but I would have….”.

  • Take your time in the planning phases. Make sure you can see your project in detail in your mind’s eye before you start work. No one likes surprises when it comes to remodeling.

  • Ask your contractor if you can save some money by doing some of the work yourself. From the demolition to painting you may be surprised how handy you can be.

  • Splurge on something. Much of your remodel will be driven by your budget but don’t be afraid to splurge on one or two things that you will really enjoy. Upgrade a cabinet or two to the glass face you like or get the professional model stove. You won’t regret it.

  • Do some research before you start. Get acquainted with some of the terminology that you might come across during the project. Good communication is the key to a successful remodel.

  • Be friendly with the workers. A cooler full of ice cold sodas may cost $20 but will get you a lot of respect and loyalty.