Right now, we’re far, far along in a major remodeling project – by which I mean we’re almost 15% through. On the off chance you’re foolishly thinking of doing something just as bone-headed, let me pass along some valuable advice.
People who have survived the ordeal of a home makeover will use words like “exhausting”, “overwhelming” and “it was entirely my wife’s idea.” But there are countless others who tackled the same project who don’t have a single negative word to say about their experience. That’s because they’re all dead. It killed them. But if they could return from the grave, they’d totally concur with the survivors.
Before you begin your long, arduous journey into this Hell hole, ask yourself a few salient questions: “Why on earth would you take on such a lengthy, expensive, frustrating endeavor?” and “Is your life raising teenagers not stressful enough already?” and “How do you feel about living in the garage for the next six months?” These are all excellent questions I wish someone had posed to me before we took the plunge. Actually, my sister raised all these points, but what does my sister know about home improvements? (I can’t believe you wrote that! – Betsy, your editor and SISTER!)
My best counsel would be to forget about a remodel. Buy a nice hot tub instead. Way less hassle. But once you’ve decided to ignore my advice, the first thing to consider is how extensive of an upgrade? Are you simply looking to retile the bathroom? Or is it a bit more wall to wall, like ripping out the carpeting and replacing it with hardwood floors? Or have you gone completely off the rails and decided to gut the entire main level down to the studs and start over? Only an idiot would think such a massive undertaking was a good idea, and by idiot, I am, of course, referring to my wife’s husband.
Next, you need to research contractors. Be careful. There are some fly-by-nighters who are notoriously unreliable and apparently think that an 8 am arrival means showing up sometime before sunset. Be sure to check their references. If they include their brother-in-law Larry, you might want to keep looking.
As you narrow down your list of possible contractors, ask them each to provide an itemized quote. If any of them furnishes a sheet of paper with no detail and just a single number that reads “$30,000, give or take”, be careful. “Give or take” is contractor fine print for “add another $40,000.”
The financial outlay of your home renovation is often a shock to those foolhardy enough to pursue this venture. So, I’ve devised a fool-proof three-step formula to calculate the actual total price to within 5%: Step 1: Get three separate estimates. Step 2: Add them all together. Step 3: That’s your final cost.
A word of caution: Often the single biggest reason home remodeling ends up costing far more than the contractor’s original estimate is something called project creep. This happens when you start off with a modest plan and then you keep adding more and more items to your makeover wish list.
For example, say, hypothetically, our original thought was just to replace the vinyl floor in the kitchen. But the new look clashes with the cabinets – so the cabinets should be replaced. Now the kitchen looks half modern and half 1950s, so in go the new granite counter tops. Next thing you know, hypothetically, my wife suggests upgrading every door, redoing two bathrooms, replacing all the baseboards and window trim, and, while we’re at it, how about installing a really cool gas linear fireplace surrounded by stacked stone. Well, if she gets to do all that, then it seems only fair that I get to add a few items from my own wish list, such as an elevator to my man cave, an indoor lap pool and a giant garage vehicular turntable that rotates my car 180 degrees to make getting my car out of the garage a snap. Again, just hypothetically.
Now that your project is underway, you’ll soon discover that what used to be your living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathrooms now bear an uncanny resemblance to the Oklahoma panhandle in the aftermath of a tornado. You’ll have to improvise a way to live in the midst of all this chaos. Start by erecting a pup tent in the backyard. You’ll need a port-a-potty, maybe a small refrigerator, microwave, generator, and nine other essential appliances… project creep strikes again. Another option is simply to pack your bags for a four-month vacation. But based on the scope of your remodeling, that’s probably not nearly long enough.
A word about your pets. Renovations are particularly hard on cats and dogs. Often you need to confine them to a very small space to prevent them from falling down a hole in the flooring or snacking on exposed insulation. My best advice is to give them away – permanently, to a more loving home. Trust me, they’ll be much happier.
Finally, set a realistic expectation about the completion date. In truth, your contractor has no idea when he’ll be done. You remember your high school math teacher explaining about the frog that with each leap would make it halfway to the wall, and therefore, would never ever actually reach the wall? Home remodeling projects are a lot like that frog. You keep thinking they’ll finish in another 2 weeks, then in 1 week, then in 3 & 1/2 days, but it never actually gets finished. Our contractor’s latest estimate is that it will all be done … eventually.
When your “new” home is unveiled, take pride in how spectacular it looks, with its stained hardwood floor, that state-of-the-art kitchen, and the awesome garage turntable for your car. Truly stunning. You’ve every right to celebrate. And don’t give a moment’s thought to your depleted bank account – and the fact that you can no longer afford to send your children to college. There’s every reason to think they’ll get over their disappointment eventually – hopefully in less time than it takes that frog to reach the wall.
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2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know Before You Remodel”
This fits every single thing, large and small, we ever did with our house.
We had project creep for 20 years in our old house. When my older son was about 8, he asked when the house would be done, and I told him, jokingly, “By the time you go to college.” Sadly, my prediction was true! Then we moved and started all over again. Tim, you hit the nail (and the screw, the pipe, wallboard, putty knife etc.) right on the head. Great post.
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