WE ALL KNOW that remodeling can be a disaster—for new homeowners, for marriages, for budgets, for human sanity. So once you've found your first affordable home and before you write the first check, heed these professionals' warnings before you undertake a potentially disastrous and costly remodel.
John DeForest DeForest-Ogden Design Office, LLC
1. Delusion: Start right away!
Reality: No, says DeForest. "It can take a year or more before you really know your house and what you need." Live there for a while before remodeling.
2. Delusion: Build your dream house!
Reality: Not so fast. "Don't try to turn your rambler into a two-story Georgian. Work with the grain."
3. Delusion: Screw the permits!
Reality: Uh-uh. "Failing to comply with zoning and building codes may make your project unsafe, illegal, and, in the end, more expensive." Besides, the DCLU isn't as slow and unfriendly as it used to be.
4. Delusion: I'll do the math later!
Reality: Bad idea. Know your budget, contracts, and schedule before starting. Then, DeForest advises, "Set aside your own reserve contingency of 5 to 10 percent of the construction cost and up to a fifth of the time you expect construction to take."
5. Delusion: Take the lowest bid!
Reality: Slow down there, pardner. "If a subcontractor's bid comes in at half his or her nearest competitor's, it's likely that they are going to have to cut corners somewhere."
6. Delusion: I got the bid, I'm done!
Reality: No, that's just your hard costs (labor, materials, contractor). But soft costs include permits, professional fees, surveys, soils reports, special inspections, etc.—and can add 20 to 30 percent to the bottom line, DeForest explains.
7. Delusion: Toss the receipts in a shoe box!
Reality: No—track them throughout the process. "Some designers and contractors may be more focused on giving you what you want than on being sure that you can afford it."
8. Delusion: We can live in the basement while they're working!
Reality: Not with the dust, noise, and bad radio stations blaring all day long, you can't. (KISW rocks, man!) Move back in with your parents during construction.
9. Delusion: "While we're at it . . . "
Reality: Those are the four most expensive words in remodeling, according to DeForest. Avoid scope creep; stick to your original plan.
10. Delusion: It has to be perfect!
Reality: Take a Zen approach instead. Breathe deeply and forget about aligning the screw heads on your door hinges. "If you find yourself agonizing over minor details, you're probably missing the point—and the fun—of remodeling."
Shirley Blayden Blayden Design Build
Cathy Gaspar Gaspar's
Sherry Schwab H.C.S. Construction Services
1. Delusion: I can build my dream house anywhere!
Reality: Take a good hard look at your neighborhood. Are housing prices high enough to recoup your investment? "You might be better off moving," warns Blayden.
2. Delusion: Let's get going!
Reality: Figure out how you're going to live in a place first, or else you may find that the office space you thought you wanted in your kitchen becomes nothing more than a place to pile junk mail.
3. Delusion: He seems like a good guy!
Reality: Have you bothered to check references? No? Great way to end up with a contractor who takes six months to finish your kitchen.
4. Delusion: It shouldn't cost that much!
Reality: Have you thought about the steel beam you'll need for that expansion? What about the new electrical panel? The cost of remodeling is not just the "pretty little things you see when you go into a room," Blayden explains.
5. Delusion: The old stuff is all junk!
Reality: Think again about everything you're throwing out. You may want a new door, but the doorknob and hinges could be reusable.
6. Delusion: I've been to Home Depot, and what I want doesn't exist!
Reality: Before you knock down a wall to make room for a Jacuzzi in your bathroom, a professional can help you find a super-small model that big-box stores don't carry.
7. Delusion: I must have granite!
Reality: "Must-haves" like stainless-steel appliances not only look rich, they're for the rich. A single granite countertop can set you back $10,000. There are plenty of Formica surfaces that could pass even in Medina.
8. Delusion: It's all about beautiful things!
Reality: If you don't think carefully about the space they're in, you'll spend a fortune on a room that doesn't work. "I can't tell you how many times I've sat on a toilet with the [sink] countertop 12 inches from my knees," Gaspar laughs.
9. Delusion: "But everybody says . . . "
Reality: Ignore them. "I bought a gas cooktop because everybody told me you have to have a gas cooktop," says Gaspar. She couldn't ever sear meat on the thing because it didn't release as much energy as her decades-old electric range.
10. Delusion: I can have it all!
Reality: Only if you want to spend it all. Some foundations don't support a second story. A little jiggering can entail revamping the entire electrical or plumbing systems. Learn to live with your house's limits.