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Remodeling 101

Remodeling can be both an exciting and frustrating experience. Here are some experiences and lessons learned from a recent remodeling project.

When faced with the options of moving my business from my house or enlarging my home, I opted for the latter. This decision was not purely motivated by business needs: in addition to the needed storage space, I will have a private office and a workshop area for art projects and household repairs. I am hoping that it will encourage an increase in my own productivity since it's difficult for me to write when there's a lot of background noise. Whenever I meet with clients at my home and my staff is there, I take my clients out to the patio (or the dining room table when it's chilly outside) so we can have privacy. A private office will be much more appropriate. Of course, we can always take the laptop computer and sit on the patio when it's gorgeous outside.

Preparation

Contracts and extreme attention to detail are paramount. We were prepared with a basic list of what we wanted, but it wasn't enough. We talked with three contractors and got three very different quotes. We chose a contractor in July. We knew the quality of this person's work as a custom home builder, and his reputation for honesty. His fee was based on a percentage of the actual costs: parts and the labor (except for his direct labor). We felt confident that we wouldn't be taken for a ride.

Our teeth started grinding when it wasn't until late September before the plans were drawn and the permits approved. We had heard that you should always expect to pay more than the estimate, and thought we were being smart by budgeting a 20 percent overage. As it turns out, the job is costing about 50 percent over the estimate. The problem in the estimate was that the contractor was basing the cost of certain aspects on cost per square foot when building a home. Unfortunately, there are many construction costs that are fixed regardless of the size of the job (e.g., equipment rental), which increases the cost per square foot for smaller projects.

Regardless of how well you've planned, there are always little things that happen in the remodeling process. It's amazing how many ideas and options we've thought of since this project commenced. For instance, once the floor was poured and the framing started, we realized that there would still be room for me to park my car on the side. So we added a side door. We also considered putting up a carport (Covered parking! Ooooh!), but a quality carport extension would cost at least $2,000, and we are already well over budget. The other financial consideration is all the other things to purchase once the remodeling is complete (e.g., window treatments, rugs, furniture). It adds up quickly!

Tips

Here are some of the things we learned.

  • Sketch a basic model of the project and make sure it's to scale. Put in items such as furniture, lights, ceiling fans, and equipment so you can see how everything fits together, and choose convenient placement for outlets and telephone jacks.
  • Make a list of everything you want, including little things such as the number of electrical outlets, ceiling fans and skylights. Give this list to all the people who are bidding on the job.
  • When you get quotes from the contractors (or subcontractors), get a detailed list so you are certain they are bidding on what you requested.
  • Find out ahead of time how charges are assessed for changes.
  • Allow substantial time for plans to be drawn and permits issued (conversion or renovation permits are usually processed more quickly than permits for adding space).
  • Plan on the job taking twice as long as projected due to changes, unexpected delays (e.g., bad weather, illness, worker injuries, materials not shipped on time or damaged), and oversights (such as not allowing for holidays).
  • Budget at least 30 percent more than the quote.
  • Avoid remodeling if you are currently experiencing a lot of stress (a significant number of relationships end within one year after a building project).
  • Develop a plan for how you handle the logistics of running your office (or home) during remodeling.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Make your presence known.
    Remember: They work for you.
  • In general, only give a maximum of one half of the fee upfront (and this is after getting the architectural plans and permits).