By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

It seems the economy is finally on the mend.

Though concerns and worries still abound, things are looking more positive.

Before Remodeling have a real plan and a real budget

A master plan is especially crucial before remodeling project is started. The worst thing a homeowner can do is plunge in and see how far money will go.

While we are certainly no financial wizards, we do have a few thoughts about architecture/residential construction as we slowly emerge from the economic cloud of the past few years.

We have written numerous times about the value of having a master plan before you undertake any construction project.

That approach is even more critical now that money is tighter. We are seeing more people who want to tackle their home remodeling in smaller bites. Now, rather than a major blowout of their home, people wish to approach the project in phases.

This has obvious benefits to the budget, and it reflects the greater difficulty we now face in obtaining financing in this “new” economy.

The first several thousand dollars you spend should be with an architect to create a complete master plan.

The worst thing you can do is decide to become more energy efficient and run out to buy new windows for your home. Once you have invested in these new windows (or a new kitchen or new flooring, etc.) you have tied your hands for improving curb appeal, or whatever other goals you may have in mind.

In order to accomplish these goals, walls and windows may need to be moved — yes, even the kitchen may need to be moved — which, of course, will not be an option if you already spent thousands of dollars you are not willing to throw out shortly after they have been (unwisely) invested in your home.

Besides a master plan, a competent budget is a critical component of remodeling these days. It always has been, of course, but today people have more definite limits for projects.

In the past, if a budget ended up with a 30 percent overrun, homeowners could usually deal with that without it being a crisis.

Today, however, budgets are more “real” and need to be strictly respected.

So, how do you best manage the budget of your project?

Well, it is not just by diving in and seeing how far your money will take you. This will end in frustration emotionally and dissatisfaction (or disaster!) architecturally.

It may seem ironic, but the best way to control the cost of a project is by spending more up front. Once again, time and money spent with an architect to intelligently analyze your needs, explore options and produce a thorough set of drawings and specifications will save both time and money during the construction process.

Instead of designing and purchasing on the fly throughout the project, coordinating your design and finishes with your budget during the planning process will enable you to control the amount spent and give you peace of mind along the way.

Seeing the whole picture before you actually undertake any construction will allow you to distribute the funds to get the biggest “bang for your buck.”

You may decide to splurge on a fabulous range or a wonderful fireplace (since there should be something wonderful in the project to thrill your heart).

Instead of breaking the budget by adding this somewhere down the road during construction, if you plan ahead this can be accounted for by reducing the size of a room, multitasking functions in one area, or minimizing the cost of finishes in other areas.

Using plastic laminate countertops in a child’s bath or the laundry room may be just fine with you if it allows you to upgrade to a six burner gas range.

By making all of your selections up front, you will be forced to look realistically at your choices in relation to the big picture, i.e., the budget.

Having a real budget up front will also mean allowing for a contingency fund, since every remodeling project has its surprises and unexpected expenses.

If this fact is faced realistically from the beginning, when something does come up it won’t be a cause for hysteria or despair.

The money spent by creating a master plan and thorough construction documents based on a real budget will return to you in several ways.

First, you will not begin a project hoping it will turn out OK. You will know the scope of the work, which will enable contractors to give you thorough bids up front.

Second, changes by the owner and mistakes by the contractor during construction will kill your budget. A good set of construction documents will minimize the chances for these to occur.

Finally, your finished project will look better and work better if you plan ahead rather than make it up as you go along. This will increase both your enjoyment of your home and your actual property value, both of which are worthy goals as you try to invest wisely in your home. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at as*@re*******************.com.

Before remodeling, get professional plan and real budget