8 tips for surviving a renovation project

The reality of tackling a home renovation project hits at some point.

For some homeowners, the overwhelming feeling happens at the planning stage. It can sweep over you when you look at the cost of updating or expanding your home, or when you realize workers will be in your life for months.

For others, especially those who skip or hurry through the planning process, the realization hits when expectations don’t match the changes occurring in your house.

“A lot of people want to rush in and get started without doing the proper prep work. This will make for a miserable experience,” said Clark Harris, owner of Roswell-based Innovative Construction. “A renovation is painful enough if you do it well and are prepared. It is common to start six months or longer after my initial visit, on a large project.”

Architect Andy Jessup got a call one time from a woman who hired a builder to renovate her condo in Norcross. When she returned from an overseas trip, she discovered the builder had stripped the condo to the studs and it was unlivable. She had not expected the changes to be that extensive.

“She called me in a panic. The builder was uncooperative and threatening to walk off,” said Jessup, a principal in Southeast Studios, which has offices in Atlanta and Gwinnett County.

It takes more than a few deep breaths and shelling out more dollars to survive a renovation. Instead, these steps could save you money and reduce renovation-related stress.

1. Decide on the details up front

Start with a willingness to reveal your budget and to be honest about your financial situation.”If you’re not discussing the budget at every single design meeting, it’s really going to be frustrating because you’re going to hit a dead end at some point,” said Warner McConaughey, founder and president of HammerSmith, a Decatur-based design and renovation firm.

Working with an architect to draw a plan for the home adds to your budget, but it could pay off in the long run. With a plan in hand, you will be able to present a contractor with more specific information so they provide a more accurate estimate for the work. “A lot of times clients haven’t made up their mind or paid an architect to draw up all the information. As a contractor, you have to make your best guess. If you have a full set of plans, you can give a very precise price,” said Gary Dresser, owner of Dresser Homes, a custom homebuilder and remodeler based in Atlanta. One potential client even handed him a list of appliances they wanted, such as a Wolf 36-inch dual fuel range.

2. Expect to spend more

When budgeting for appliances, plumbing, electrical fixtures, tile and other items, add a 20 percent cushion, Harris recommends. Spending a little bit more here and there can add up throughout the project, he adds. “You may think, ‘I can buy a light fixture for $20,’ then you go into a showroom and you start looking at the most expensive things. You get kind of caught up in it,” he said. “The biggest mistake you can make is falling in love with what you like aesthetically rather than sticking to the price point.”

Some homeowners and buyers have unrealistic expectations, thinking they can renovate a home for a bargain today, said architect Greg Mix, president of Southeast Studios. So many subcontractors left the industry when the housing market collapsed that he said it can be difficult to find good subcontractors as renovation projects have picked up, and the cost of building supplies is increasing.

3. Set the daily schedule

Decide on a start time with your contractor to avoid unexpected knocks on the door. Also, consider the rest of your routine. “If you have a child that needs a nap, that’s going to be a problem,” Harris said. Also, if you are living in the home during the renovation, ask how the house will be left each day, Dresser says. Important questions include: Will it be swept and cleaned up? Will tools be left on the site?

4. Stick to the plan

Sometimes, homeowners have a difficult time making a plan and following the plan, McConaughey said. When you are in the building process and decide you want to increase or decrease a room size or move windows or doors, it could impact the rest of the changes. Dresser adds that unless there is a compelling reason to make a change, stick with the plans the architect created. “Sometimes, homeowners can get too many opinions,” Dresser said. “Sometimes, people want to put too many features in their renovation. Instead of it being a cohesive, thought-through theme or style, it will start to have a little of this and a little of that.”

5. Make selections early

Indecision or putting off choosing your lighting, tile, flooring, countertops, windows and other features could be costly and delay the project. Builders and contractors have noticed dealers and showrooms offer fewer inventory on site, creating a longer wait time for materials. Ask your builder to give you a list of everything you need to select and the date they need to receive the materials, to keep the process moving, Harris said. He adds that if you can shop local, it could reduce headaches, if the item is not the right size or is broken.

6. Plan to get out of the house, at some point

Remodeling a kitchen - one of the most popular types of renovations - could be so inconvenient that you might want to arrange other housing. But if you are willing to deal with that inconvenience, or maybe the project isn’t touching the kitchen, other changes could require you to leave the house. One could be loss of water. Smells are another factor, especially if floors are being finished, Harris said.

7. Catch workers when they’re on site

If an electrician has done his job and then you ask them to return to add another outlet, it will take more time and extra money, Dresser said. It’s the same for other subcontractors, such as plumbers. Having workers return to make one more change that could have been done quickly on their previous visit is a bigger deal than homeowners think, Dresser said.

8. Provide a toilet

It sounds funny, but contractors say it’s best to provide a portable toilet on site for workers. Harris estimates a portable toilet costs $80 a month. “Some people feel rude saying, you can’t use my bathroom. In reality, the workers appreciate it, too,” Harris said.

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