Taking the Plunge
Five Tips for Surviving a Home Remodel
What is it about the word “remodel” that can make even the most optimistic homeowner wince? Is it the expense? The disruption? The horror stories of things gone awry? Whatever the source of your remodeling anxiety, we have some good news. According to several previous remodeling clients we’ve worked with, there are some simple but effective ways you can minimize the stress that comes with undertaking your own remodeling project.
Tip #1: Set realistic expectations.
Benjamin Franklin once quipped that he always prepared himself for the worst and was often pleasantly surprised. Historians can’t confirm Mr. Franklin had a home remodel in mind when he made this observation, but our experts confirm it applies. They unanimously encourage first-timers to avoid overly optimistic expectations about two things: cost and the occasional hiccup.
“There’s no getting around the expense involved in doing a remodel correctly,” one veteran remarks. “It helps tremendously to understand upfront that it’s going to be expensive. But what also helps is to remind yourself—every day if you have to—that all that money is going toward an investment, not an extravagance.”
Another reality check: Our veterans agree that remodels never go precisely as planned. “Unexpected problems have a way of revealing themselves once walls get opened up,” one veteran observes. “Knowing from the get-go that change will be a part of the process helps you cope better when problems arise.” Another remodeler takes this perspective a step further. “It’s not always easy, but it helps to view the unexpected changes as an opportunity. If you’re working with the right contractor, you can creatively address an unplanned setback in a way that delivers a better solution than what you had originally planned.”
Tip #2: Know your number.
No one knows more about the do's and don'ts of a remodel than homeowners who So you’ve made peace with “expensive.” Now define it. “Sit down and figure out your bottom line before anything else,” advises one remodeling client. “Identifying that number sets the right expectations about what can and can’t be done in a remodel. It helps you choose the right contractor. And it keeps everyone involved with the project, significant others included, on the same page.”
Ready for a twist? While all our experts agree on the importance of knowing your number, they caution against letting it make all your decisions for you. “I’ve seen first-timers get fixated on the number in the short-term and forget about the long-term returns on their investment,” one homeowner says. “The longer I live with a remodel, the more justified I feel in having spent a little extra to stick with a design feature I really wanted. But those decisions can’t be made without a clear understanding of how far I am stepping over the line.”
Tip #3: Choose your roles...and stick with them.
For couples embarking on a remodeling project, the best way to ensure that your relationship stays healthy is to clearly establish your respective roles in the process. Will one person make the critical decisions, or do you both want an equal say in what happens? Will one person be the design lead and the other the keeper of the checkbook? According to our past clients, the key is to have these frank discussions early and stick with that plan once the construction begins.
Tip #4: Don’t sweat the (relatively) small stuff.
If a remodel sometimes feels like a never-ending series of decisions, that’s because it is. Choosing a contractor, your appliances, the perfect shade of eggshell white—it’s a lot to take on. According to our experts, one way to remove the “daunting” from all those decisions is to recognize that some are more important than others. “If you’re going to stress out over a decision, make it a hard-wired one,” one homeowner suggests. “You don’t get do-overs with things like the foundation or the electrical. But don’t lose sleep over those ones that can be fixed later on.”
Tip #5: Be there for the big stuff.
While it’s always a good idea to be an engaged and inquiring client, this rule especially applies to whatever parts of the remodel you identify as “the big stuff.” “Be there for the start of anything that’s hard-wired or important for you,” one expert recommends. “Mistakes can happen, and if you’re there to catch them early, something can still be done to fix it.” She used her last kitchen remodel as an example. “I insisted on being there when they installed the handles to my cabinetry,” she remembers. “Sure enough, they started marking the wrong place on the door to start drilling, and I was able to avoid a mistake that would have bothered me every time I walked into the kitchen.”
Bonus Tip: Be kind to yourself.
While it’s always a good idea to be an engaged and inquiring client, this rule All our experts agree that perfection is a myth, and first-time remodelers should not pressure themselves to be the exception to that rule. “You can’t get everything right,” one advisor sums up. “So don’t beat yourself up over a mistake. Consider the lesson learned from the slip-up, and use it to make better decisions down the line.”