Monday, March 15, 2010
3 tips on house remodeling, to ease the pain
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
While experience may be the best teacher, remodeling a house is not an experience that most (sane) people undertake repeatedly in their lifetimes.
Therefore, it becomes critical that you benefit from others'' experience, both by working with architects, contractors and subcontractors who specialize in residential remodeling and by seeking advice from homeowners who have been through the remodeling process (and survived).
We often ask our clients what advice they would give someone looking to remodel. Here are the top tips from the homeowners with a remodel under their belt.
1. Be patient.
Remodeling takes longer than a homeowner thinks it will or should. It is a complicated process that is easier said than done, and a realistic expectation of the time and energy involved will help reduce your level of frustration.
The planning and design phase, the creation of the construction documents, the process of interviewing and choosing a contractor, the bidding process and obtaining a permit take time. It is not unrealistic to devote six to 12 months to these activities before construction starts. Once everything is ready, the actual construction time depends on the size of the job and the contractor's schedule.
The average residential construction project takes from four to eight months. If you think you want to build next spring, begin no later than the early fall of the year before.
Obviously, clients who are decisive are the ones who move the process along faster. However, this is a team sport, requiring the input from many sources, so you can count on the fact that there will be times when patience is necessary.
2. Choose a great contractor!
This means choosing a contractor with plenty of residential remodeling experience.
In this day and age, there are many contractors who need jobs. Logic may say that if someone can build a strip mall, they can surely build a house.
That is possibly true if you are talking about a house that is new from the ground up, but taking an existing building and working with its own structural surprises, as well as with electrical and plumbing systems that may be antiquated or just poorly done, require skills that cannot be taught in books.
It is on-the-job experience that really counts for contractors — and for architects, too, come to think of it!
To make the process easier, your architect should be able to provide you with a list of quality contractors they have worked with in the past.
Gather as many references as possible, ask about a portfolio and customer references, and start interviewing.
Try to identify at least three contractors who will submit bids, and remember that just because a contractor is the low bidder doesn't mean they are the best person for your job. Look at all the other factors, and trust your instincts.
It is essential to feel comfortable with your contractor. "You have to be able to communicate with them, especially when the issues arise," one client says.
3. Be budget-conscious.
When you are remodeling, it is easy to get a case of the "while-we-are-at-its." The tighter your budget, the more thorough and comprehensive your planning and construction documents should be.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to spend more money up front, analyzing and prioritizing needs should be done in the design process, not when half of your house is ripped open.
Also, make sure your architect provides budget "reality checks" during the design process.
Another way to manage your budget is to create a master plan and do your project in phases.
The master plan will ensures you won't do work in Phase I that you will have to remove or replace in the future.
There are ways to avoid becoming just one more remodeling horror story.
The process, though always painful, is survivable and may even be positive if you assemble the right team and take the advice of those who have gone on before. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.