Should you renovate?
Let’s talk about whether you should renovate or not. Let’s talk about design for that renovation. As homeowners, we live in a house for several years; sometimes it’s as little as a year; sometimes we spend our entire lives there.
I do a lot of work in the remodeling business where somebody buys a property and they say, ‘We just want to make a couple of changes to make it perfect for us.’ I would advise you to be patient during your house hunting process and settle for nothing less than what suites you completely. Remodeling has a cost associated with it. After you put money down on a house and pay the additional costs associated with buying, the last thing you want to face is an expensive remodeling project. Sometimes it’s as simple as enlisting the help of an interior designer or a builder. Make sure whoever you choose, that they are skilled at space optimization and traffic flow. The chief goal is to determine how you want to occupy the space and ensure that the home meets those needs completely.
So, you have narrowed down your selections to 2 or 3 homes. Your criteria may be one or a combination of the following: aesthetic appeal, layout, finishes, traffic flow, scalability, location, or maybe square footage. Whatever those standards are, let’s say that you purchase and decide to renovate. I have heard stories of a family living in a house for 30 years hating certain aspects of the home but have no idea how to remedy the issue. Sometimes homeowners come up with a plan they feel makes the most sense.
I see this process every day. Most of the time the homeowners come up with a renovation design or plan without the knowledge of how much renovations cost or what can or cannot be done. I’d wager that most of you who read this last passage think the mistakes lean towards the too expensive and the unbuildable side of the spectrum, and you would be wrong.
Your Designer Knows Things
I rarely see a homeowner design that optimizes the space or addresses traffic flow. Most homeowners avoid technical framing tasks or projects that may involve cutting concrete. I see a lot of shed roofs and blocky room configurations when I visit with a homeowner who has come up with a plan to remodel.
A recent client visit found me meeting homeowners who had crews working on their house as we met. They were adding two pushouts to their home totaling about 40 square feet. The roof line had been extended along the rake and the overhang on these additions were less than 6 feet above the ground. Neither the owner nor the builder knew how to make the roof work in an acceptable construction fashion.
They shared their vision with me in the meeting. I took the time to hear what they wanted and how they thought the best way to go about it might be. When I returned with an initial design, they had trouble getting their head around the changes I proposed. With my typical design candor, I told them that I felt the pushouts were clunky and ill thought through and many of the changes they wanted done would do little to accomplish what they told me they wanted to accomplish.
One of the questions I always ask my design clients is “What is your budget, investment number, target cost, whatever you want to call their all-in number.” It is critical that your designer understands the total amount you feel comfortable spending on your project.
In the design I created I moved a set of stairs that ascended to a second-floor room addition they had completed a few years prior. I redesigned the space up stairs in the new addition then moved plumbing around drastically. As I typically do, I limited access to the kitchen and created a more useful space with a walk-in pantry.
The Decision to remodel is a complex one. Decide up front what you want from the outcome. Are you renovating to sell or to spend the rest of your life there? These two goals require completely different scopes of work and pricing.
The couple, who had lived in the home for mor than 30 years gave every sign that they were uncomfortable with the new design. I asked a couple of questions as to what they liked and did not like about the design. What it came down to was price. Once I informed them that everything I had drawn fit easily into their budget, they smiled and admitted that they loved the new design but were afraid it couldn’t be done for the money they had.
This type of misunderstanding of the costs and what can be done for that cost is more common than most people know. Conversely, the new homeowner typically underestimates the costs of renovation. Usually, their understanding is created though the prism of limited funds because of the costs of purchasing a home have annihilated their capital. Too often, the new home buyer will renovate as cheaply as they can get by with, resulting in turning their beautiful new home into a cheap shanty. The most common renovations of the new homeowner are kitchens and bathrooms. Ironically, they try to remodel the most expensive portions of their homes as cheaply as possible. This never works.
There are always established costs associated with any renovation you do. Trying to cut those costs will result only in two things. Either the work will be substandard and will need to be redone due to failure or poor operation, or the project will not be completed because the desperate contractor who took the job at an unrealistic price just to get a down payment was not able to pay himself and build the project.
Do your due diligence whether you have a new home or you have been there a while. Get a builder or designer involved.
Good Builders are Rare - Wait for it...
Let’s say you did everything right and you are a serious candidate for a renovation project. You don’t have the answers on how you can improve the space – or maybe you do. Preparation is key to your success. My clients who thought adding a few square feet would help, acted because they could not find a contractor they trusted. They hired architects who were of little help and knew nothing about the costs associated with building their project. They acted in desperation.
This is a common problem homeowners face, and I understand their frustration. There is no satisfying answer. Accept that this a part of the terrain you will have to travel and redouble your resolve to find that right person to help you though it all before you build.
Whether you are a young couple expecting a new family member and need a baby room, or you are an older couple soon to be empty nesters, consider this point. When should you add an addition and when should you simply renovate within the existing envelope of your home? A good rule of thumb is if you have more than 2,000 square feet under roof, renovation is a viable option. If you have less, you may need to add on. By the way, adding a second floor is a very technical build, even for established remodeling contractors. Think long and hard and select your builder carefully. I would not DIY that one.
Let’s say that you have decided that renovating is the right move. You don’t know exactly the cost, but you have watched enough HGTV and googled enough projects to have a general idea of what you want and what it may cost.
“Back into Your Project.” Don’t go headfirst. What do I mean by that?
Most homeowners who contact an architect first are going into their project headfirst. Always establish a budget and stand by it. There are times that the money is not sufficient to the scope of work. It is better to know that before the drawings are completed and a builder prices the work and gives you the bad news. Architects don’t refund for overdraws. Get your builder involved at the design phase to make certain that your design phase does not end in disappointment and hard feelings.
Some round costs are these: a kitchen renovation can cost as little as $25,000.00 to $100,000.00. A hall bath generally runs about $14 to $16k. A master bath (not politically correct to say that anymore) is as varied as the kitchen pricing – and about the same costs.
Establish your budget nmuver before you contact a designer. If yo need help with the current cost factors, hire a builder you can trust and talk with them about your investment levels and what you can get for what you have available to spend.