This is a frustrating market for buyers. Many move up buyers wonder if they should stay put and renovate or expand their current home versus moving. Below are 10 points to consider when thinking about a renovation provided by Bruce Irving, Renovation Specialist. Bruce was formerly the producer of public televisions “This Old House” and today has a construction consulting practice as well as a successful real estate sales practice.
Ten Things to Get Straight before You Renovate
1. Live there. Unless the home you’ve just purchased is a total wreck, live in it for a good period of time before shaking it up with a renovation. Learn its flow, where the groceries land, where the laundry wants to go, how the sun hits it, where the choke points are, which way the rain slants, even get a sense of its soul–all of which will inform your choices when you make your plans to change things.
2. Accept this truth: almost every job costs more and takes longer than you think. After you (and your advisors) have done your very best to estimate the cost, add 20%. If you don’t have the funds, cut the job back. Ditto on the time: add 25%. If it’s a big job, add slightly less–say 20%–if you can vacate the house for the bulk of the project. If you happen to beat these projections, then your surprises are happy ones.
3. Good professional help is worth the money–that means design as well as construction. You are about to spend more than you ever thought possible—it might as well be for a correctly designed thing.
4. Use your professionals wisely and efficiently: Many architects charge by the hour (which is a good way to work with one), so bring a lot of thinking and pictures (of likes and dislikes) to your first meeting. If he or she doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about your needs, desires, and the way you live, find someone else. Listening skills and curiosity are crucial in an architect and builder. With contractors, be willing to pay for (and wait for) a good one. Skip the low bidder and probably the one who is available right away.
5. Choose your teammates wisely. Be it a designer or a general contractor, ask to contact their last three clients. These people will have experienced the person at his or her current level of achievement and staffing. Also ask the architect for two GCs s/he has worked with; ask the GC for two architects. These people have seen the person as only a professional can. Visit a couple of candidates’ jobsites to check out cleanliness, organization, and vibe.
6. Take your design to the schematic stage (as opposed to finished “biddable” plans) and then get a contractor or two to look at it. This way you can find out if your project is in the right budget ballpark before falling in love with a plan–and paying for a complete set of bid drawings. It’s also a good way to meet potential contractors, get their input, and not misuse their time.
7. Lay it out for real. Lots of people have great difficulty truly understanding blueprints. They say they get it, but quite often they don’t. Whenever possible, mark out the proposed change on the floor, the wall, the yard, and walk through it. The experience may surprise you. Ask lots of questions. There’s no such thing as a dumb one, and besides, it’s your money you’re spending. You should know why and on what.
8. Water kills houses. If you’re faced with a choice of working on the outside or the inside, start on the outside. No point in putting in a new floor if the roof is getting set to leak. Gutters, grading, foundation plantings, flat roofs—make sure the water is going where it should: away from the building.
9. Synthetics are good. Especially when it comes to the exterior, low-maintenance is the name of the game, and cement clapboarding (HardiePlank), expanded polyurethane moldings (Fypon), and cellular PVC trim (Azek) outlast today’s wood and hold paint better. Each has its own quirks, so make sure your contractor is familiar with them or willing to learn about them. New treatment processes have made real wood exceptionally rot-resistant as well—Centurion is a pine trim that comes with a 50-year warranty against decay.
10. Psychology counts. I was describing my business to someone in a restaurant when the woman at the next table leaned over. She was a psychologist and she said that in her experience, renovations were right up there with moving and loss of a job as stressors on couples. The issues, she said, were power, control, and money. One way to see what your issues will be is to take on a small project together–paint a room, put up a mailbox. Your styles will soon be apparent, and you can work on figuring out a division of labor that might accommodate them–on that job and larger ones in the future.
BONUS: Spend good money on things you touch every day–door hardware, doors, faucets, appliances, kitchen cabinets. The tactile experience sends a daily reminder to you and your guests about the solidity and quality of your home.
EXTRA BONUS: Think long and hard before you replace your windows. If they’re original to the house and are in half-decent shape, they can and should be resuscitated. In combination with a storm window, a properly functioning old window comes very close to equaling the energy efficiency of a modern thermal-pane unit–and will outlast it. Anyone claiming that you will earn your money back in energy savings by installing replacement windows is either misinformed or looking for your money himself.