1. Know Your Limits: Remodeling can take its toll on your patience as well as your pocketbook. Being clear about your priorities and realistic about your resources at the outset can save countless headaches once construction starts. Think twice about doing part of the work yourself or living in your house during a major remodel. Don’t underestimate the impact of noise, dust, debris, and early morning work hours on your family.
2. Know Your House: Don’t start remodeling the day you move in. It can take a year or more before you fully appreciate your house and how you live in it.
3. Work Within Your Comfort Zone: Assemble a team you trust and make sure that they have what they need to do their jobs well. Don’t start construction without a contract, budget, and schedule. Set aside your own reserve contingency of 5-10% of the construction cost and up to a fifth of the time you expect construction to take.
4. Work “with the Grain”: Don’t try to turn your rambler into a two-story Georgian unless you’re willing to pay a premium. Remodeling involves many more constraints than new construction. It’s generally less expensive to work with them than against them.
5. Play By the Rules: Permits are required more often than many homeowners realize, and with good reason. Failing to comply with zoning and building codes may make your project unsafe, illegal, and in the end, more expensive. For example, homeowners who plan to remodel unfinished attic or basement space into a new bedroom may discover that the ceiling is too low, the stair too steep, the windows too small, and the cost too high. Use the building department to your advantage. The Department of Construction and Land Use in Seattle has many helpful “Client Assistance Memos” online and staff to help you understand which hoops you need to jump through and why.
6. Watch Out for “Scope Creep”: There’s an old saying that the four most expensive words in remodeling are “while we’re at it…” The new tile in the bathroom looks so great that you decide to redo the kitchen floor at the same time. You’ve never liked those windows, and by the way, wouldn’t it be great to add a bay window to the living room…. Although there are economies of scale, it’s all too easy to get in over your head without self-discipline and some hard-nosed cost feedback from your contractor (see below).
7. Know the Lingo: Don’t feel badly if you don’t know a p-trap from a PSL or GWB from a GMAX. Ask your architect and contractor to explain terms that you don’t understand. One of the most common (and costly) misconceptions is that the construction or “hard” cost is the total cost of the project. In fact, hard costs typically only include labor, materials, and the contractor’s profit and overhead. “Soft” costs include everything else: i.e. permits, professional fees, surveys, soils reports, special inspections, and so forth. Unfortunately, many in the construction industry quote dollar per square foot estimates that cover only hard costs. Homeowners may be surprised to find that soft costs can add 20-30% to the bottom line.
8. Don’t Expect Something For Nothing: Recognize that you can’t cut costs or time without a corresponding change in quality, scope, risk, or stress-level. If a subcontractor’s bid comes in at half his or her nearest competitor, it’s likely that they are going to have to cut corners somewhere. Likewise, it’s unrealistic to expect an immediate 1-for-1 return on most remodeling projects.
9. Know your Numbers: get cost feedback early and often throughout design and construction. Designers and contractors may be more focused on giving you what you want than on being sure that you can afford it.
10. Be Flexible (and Have Fun!): If you find yourself agonizing over minor details, take a step back and focus on the big picture. Keep an open mind so that you can solve problems efficiently and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Remodeling can and should be fun!