Major Home Renovation – How to Start Planning Your Remodel

If you’re totally clueless about home renovation like we were, I’m hoping this post will give you an idea of where to start!

Home Renovation Phase 1 | suburbancluster.com

Renovations on our house are FINALLY underway!  And by that I mean absolutely no work has been done.  BUT…we found a professional we want to work with and have started the design process.  Which is actually a really big deal.  It was a lot of work just to get this far.  I don’t have any progress pics to show (yet), but I wanted to share what our experience has been like during this very early stage.  This is a long post, but I think the information is valuable and will hopefully give you an idea of where to start if you’re in the same boat.

We’ve taken away 5 major things from this first phase to home renovation.  Honestly it wasn’t very fun, but important to plan the project correctly and make sure we build relationships with the right people for the job (fingers crossed).

If possible, live in your current space for awhile despite how much you hate it.

This one was unintentional but has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  We planned to jump into renovations right away but in typical Cluster fashion, life had other plans.

We had a hard time selling our previous house.  It was a MAJOR pain in the butt and a huge ordeal.  It wasn’t pretty.  The whole situation bummed us out and we needed some time to regroup and get excited about our new house again.

We apparently forgot we had 2 small children about to start the school year (one in a totally different district).  Adjusting to new schedules, new schools and a different house took time.   They needed our full attention even more than usual.

We had some personal events surface with jobs and family we needed to work through, delaying any thoughts we had about home renovation even further.

So with all that here we are, closing in on 9 months in the new house, and just getting started.  But by living in this jank space during that time we now have solid ideas about what we want to change.  We know how our family uses all the rooms, which areas are priorities and which ones we can live with for awhile.  We know what structural changes (the expensive ones) need to be made to make the house more functional for us.  We’ve had time to learn about our new neighborhood and which updates will make our house more valuable in the long run.  Even if you don’t plan on moving any time soon it’s important to keep resale in mind because you just never know.  I feel like by waiting this long we are less likely to make impulsive decisions we’ll regret down the line.

Do your research.

I literally spent hours and hours researching possible people to work with on our project.  Based on all that research these are the categories I think most professionals fall into and who you hire depends on the type of help you need.

Individuals

  • Sub-contractors – This option is for the hard-core DIY’ers planning to do most of the work themselves.   If you need professional help with a few of the major things (like moving plumbing, electrical, etc.) you’d look for individuals/companies that specialize in those specific areas.  Cheapest option for sure, but this was definitely not us.
  • General Contractors – This is getting closer to what we needed, but not quite.  General contractors will manage entire projects and most bring in their own sub-contractors.  So basically one project manager makes sure everything is completed and you only have to interact with the lead person.  This can save some money (in comparison to the design-build options below), but the drawback is that most don’t really provide design help.  If you have a major home renovation planned like we do this could be a huge source of frustration.
  • Interior Designers – The design frustrations mentioned above are why many people also choose to hire an interior designer.  But in my opinion that’s adding one more person to the mix and communication between all the parties could be a challenge.  Designers typically charge either by the hour (for consultation advice) or a flat fee to oversee an entire project.

Design-Build Firms

Design-builds are the one-stop-shops, but there are really 2 types.  We ended up going with one that falls into the first category below.

  •  Design-Build (without a designer) – Design-build provides comprehensive layout and architectural assistance.  You’ll work with a professional (our’s is a licensed architect) to come up with plans for your space.   A lead manager will be your point of contact and work with you for the duration of the project.   Now unlike the next option, our firm does not include interior design.  That means we are responsible for finding and purchasing our own materials and finishes.  The project manager is very knowledgable and is definitely offering guidance in this area, but ultimately this is up to us.  The pro is we have control over everything we buy.  It also leaves room to make changes as we go and gives me a chance to shop around for the best deals.  The con is all that rests on our shoulders.  If we can’t make decisions quickly or find things that fit in our budget, delays and overages could affect our project.
  • Design Build (with in-house designers) – Bids provided by these companies were by far the most expensive.  But that’s because these firms offer the whole shebang.  They provide all the services above plus in-house interior design.  You basically work with their designer and pick all your finishes (usually directly from their showroom) before any work even starts.  The upsides are decisions get made quickly, products are ordered immediately and project managers handle it from there.  The downsides are you’re pretty much locked into your choices and you aren’t able to shop around or make changes as you go along.  You know, like should your budget start to head downhill.

Figure out your budget and get a real clue about how much things cost.

I love HGTV but Chip and JoJo’s renovation budgets are cracked out.  Or maybe we just need to move to Waco.  Once I started scheduling consultations we had a real discussion about money.  We thought we had a pretty big budget in mind.  But then again, we were starting off clueless about major home renovation.

I felt a bit like we were playing poker with potential contractors, and nobody wanted to be the first to show their hand.  I don’t really play poker but that seemed like a good analogy.  We wanted them to throw out some numbers and give us an idea for the project scope, and they wanted to know our budget right off.  So it was a bit awkward.  But we eventually got the hang of meeting with new people and getting them to give us an idea about their pricing without just blurting out how much we had to spend.  A reputable company shouldn’t bump up their estimates just to max out your budget, but this is the real world.

These conversations really opened our eyes to what things actually cost and what we were going to be able to do.  And we quickly realized we didn’t have the budget for the whole shebang companies I mentioned above.  Which leads me into the next point.

Meet with a crap ton of people.

I think in total we met with close to 10 people from different companies.  That’s actual in-person consultations and walk-throughs in our home.  I narrowed those down from about a hundred contractors, design-builds, and interior designers I researched on my own before-hand.  Take your time with due diligence before signing on with anyone.  Check out their websites, Facebook, Google, read as many reviews as you can and ask for references and licensure.   Keep your ears open for suggestions (or horror stories) from people in your local area.

I’m not gonna lie, our first few meetings were really discouraging.  It didn’t seem like we would be able to accomplish what we wanted with our budget.  But I kept on making appointments and searching for the right match.  Then we had one meeting and pretty much agreed right there he was going to be our guy.  It was like suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

He was upfront about costs but willing to work with our budget.  This company uses detailed budgeting software that we can access ourselves to help manage our costs and timeline.  This is totally up my alley because I’m an accounting nerd.  The company has long-standing relationships with reputable sub-contractors.  They offer a long list of former clients we were able to contact for references.  We feel like he understands the vision we have for our home, our style and we communicate well.  Workers will be all up in our business for an extended period of time.  So I think being comfortable with them is extremely important.

Get an idea of your renovation timeline and then add forever to it.

Ok maybe not forever, but the point is to be realistic about the timeframe for a major home remodel.  Odds are it’s going to take longer and be even more invasive than you think.  Patience is not my strong suit but I’m learning to take things in stride.

It’s both thrilling and terrifying to wait for work to begin.  We have to figure out how to live around the chaos of losing our kitchen and primary living space.  We’ll probably need to be completely out of the house least for at least a few days at some point during the project.  Planning for easy meals, extra eating out, travel, hotel or pet accommodations, laundry, etc. are all extra potential costs to consider on the front end as well.

So all of that is what we’ve taken away from this process without even starting any actual work.  Hopefully doing our best to plan our renovation appropriately will result in as smooth a project as possible.  Time will tell! I also hope this information is useful if you’re starting out like we are, and just need to know where to begin.

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