Jennifer Ott, A designer (and serial renovator) shares tips learned from years of working with clients and remodeling her own home with Houzz.
I have more than 10 years of experience working with homeowners on their renovations, but I’ve also spent the past 20 years renovating my own properties. Having stood on both sides of this always-stressful process, I’ve learned quite a bit about what to do — and what not to do. These are my top 10 tips and suggestions for homeowners about to embark on a major renovation.
1. Assemble a Good Team
Don’t jump to hire the least expensive designer, architect or builder unless they also come highly rated, well-regarded and positively reviewed. Have a thorough chat with their past clients to make sure there are no red flags. Ask to see examples of recently completed projects to make sure they have a proven track record.
Hiring the best team may mean having to cut back on something to make the budget work. But I guarantee it will be money well spent. And often you’ll save more money in the long run than if you had simply gone with the lowest bid.
On a related note, it’s a good idea to bring together professionals who have prior, positive experiences working together. Ask your architect or designer to recommend builders they’ve previously worked with. Or if you have a great builder on board but need an architect or designer, ask the builder to recommend someone they have a proven track record with. Think of it as a good marriage — you want to bring together people who can communicate effectively and resolve problems quickly, efficiently and amicably.
2. Settle Budget and Scope Before You Begin
Before you even start dreaming about demo day, get a firm handle on your project scope and budget.
I’ve seen this scenario happen to people before: Imagine being on year two of a remodel that was originally supposed to be just a master suite renovation. You experienced major “scope creep” and started adding and adding to the project, then got stopped in your tracks when the city caught wind and insisted you update your permits (something that can take ages to resolve in a place like San Francisco). You’ve gone over budget, especially since you had to cover such a long stay in temporary housing. And so on.
So think long and hard about the scope of work before you get started, and then stick to it so you’re done on time and within range of your intended budget.
3. Include Budget and Timeline Contingencies
Make sure you are prepared for “worst-case scenarios” because, inevitably, they’ll happen. You’ve probably heard it’s a good idea to add a 15 to 20 percent contingency to your budget, but you should also add the same amount to your timeline.
Of course, the budget contingency also depends on the scope. If you are practically rebuilding from the ground up, you might be able to get away with 15 percent, or even 10 percent, because there shouldn’t be too many unknowns. (You are redoing everything, after all). But if your remodel involves working with existing elements, the condition of which won’t be revealed until demo day, you definitely need to have at least 20 percent set aside for unknowns.
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