How to Plan for a LESS-Painful Renovation
Renovating is brutal no matter how well you plan and prepare. There are so many unforeseen hiccups and problems that arise. It’s key to set the bar low and plan for a really bumpy and messy ride.
We wanted to buy a home that wasn’t updated because I didn’t want to pay for anyone else’s choices. I knew EXACTLY what I wanted and I wanted to pick out EVERYTHING!
Besides updating EVERYTHING and changing EVERY finish there were a few structural changes we needed to make. I have always LOVED the layout of this home but we needed the size of the kitchen to be bigger to accommodate the needs of our large family.
THEN reality set in! I thought I knew exactly what I wanted but the reality of price, time, indecision, backorders, accidents, lack of patience, your sanity, all set in really quickly. Having gone through this I can save you a few of the things that really caused our project to bottle-neck WAY too many times.
Here is what I wish I knew before I started.
YOU WILL ALWAYS GO OVER BUDGET
So make sure that going over your budget won’t break you. Whatever you’ve budgeted make sure you plan for at least another 1/4 of that budget in overages. Re-calculate your budget accordingly.
The reason is, your contractor has no idea what he is going to find behind the walls when they get opened up and I promise you he made sure not to include that in the contract. Remember he’s done this before. Also, he will continually try to up-sell you, this isn’t always a bad thing but be prepared for it. He might see that your electrical panel won’t support the new AC you put in so there’s another 5K or the insulation in the walls is old and now would be a great time, while the walls are open, to fix that. These are things you need and will cost you more later when you realize you should have done it originally. Don’t be succored into fancy finishes where he/she is probably making money off you but do buy quality for all the things that you can’t do yourself. If you have to pay a professional to install or would have to open up a wall to get to it. DO it right the first time and spend the money.
CONTRACT IS KING
Make sure you write out everything and YOU ARE BOTH ON THE SAME PAGE! If you need something to be added to the contract make sure it is and then sign it. Also, I have often made a contract myself with painters, tilers, electricians, etc. this way things aren’t being left out that are crucial and could easily get overlooked.
Keep all your contracts close. You will have to return to them and probably refute things so make sure everything is clearly stated. If you have questions clarify and ask questions before you sign.
We got screwed because we didn’t do our research before we signed. If you pay someone for just the labor and you’re on the hook for all the installed products, price everything out before and ask your contractor everything he will need, before you sign. You don’t know what you don’t know so ask for EVERYTHING he will need to complete the job so you do know. Have him sign off on everything so you won’t have any surprises.
Get an accordion folder LIKE THIS ONE. It’s nice to have an organized file that can travel with you to tile stores, counter-top stores, appliance stores, etc. Keep swatches with you so you can easily match as you’re shopping. Having all your business cards, contracts, payment schedules all together really helped me to stay organized.
Get a separate credit card! It gets really crazy, really fast! It’ll seem like you’re bleeding money all day, every day! Having everything on one credit card helps to see what money is going out and coming back in because you will have lots of returns too. Nothing seems to fit or be the right item for the first time, unfortunately. It’s nice having a paper trail of everything going in and out all in one place.
Make sure every payment is accounted for if it’s with cash or check, keep a ledger, and have the contractors sign off. Also, you never pay in full before a project is started.
By law, you only have to put 10% or $1,000 (whichever is less) down to start a project. This is a California law. Make sure you don’t pay more. Payment is your only leverage. Hold a big chunk of money out until the end. Some workers won’t even come back for a few hundred dollars to do the little things they forgot or the touch-ups. You’ll never get a completely finished job unless there is enough money to come back for.
ASK YOUR CONTRACTOR FOR A SCHEDULE
Have your contractor create a schedule stating the order in which he will need everything. You might be spending time choosing your floors or tile but he needs you to have picked out, ordered, and received your shower valve and hardware because that goes in first. I hated not having time to pick the right product I wanted or having to run to home depot 10 times in a day or having to pay expedited shipping to get something the next day.
Unfortunately, you have to be your contractor’s supervisor. If you want it done right then YOU have to check it. My contractor only cared if I did, unfortunately. If an item isn’t on sight when the workers are there to do a certain job that day then they will leave to their other job and your job could sit there for days while waiting for the missing products.
SPEND TIME PLANNING ELECTRICAL, LIGHTING, AND PLUMBING
Electrical, lighting, and plumbing might not seem like a crucial aspect of your design but if you don’t plan it, your outlets will end up being in the most inconvenient places, and instead of having a polished, well-curated design you’ll have ugly wires hanging from everything. Also, this is one of the first decisions you have to make and all the rest of the design of your home depends upon it. So be ready, and have all your choices made.
What will the room be used for? Will you need bright reading light? Does the room already get a lot of sunshine so not much lighting is needed? Is it a room you’ll use a lot at night, needing more light for this use? What about fan/light combinations? In bathrooms, you need to have your cabinetry and mirrors picked out, your backsplash height so you know right where to put the electrical for the sconces. Kitchen chandeliers and pendants, hall lights, where do you want dimmers? If you want special lighting options this all needs to have been researched, the items bought, and ready to go when the electrician shows up.
Plan out all your media stations. Where will you have TVs and all the cable, gaming systems, and accessories that support it? Put outlets in your built-in bookcases that will hold the accessories and hide the cords and wiring. How many will you need? What about closets and pantries. Do you have items that need to be plugged in or charged? This would be a great place for an outlet. Think of where dressers, nightstands, bookcases, end tables will be. You might have lamps, clocks, TVs on them. Make sure outlets are in good places. Where will your vacuum be plugged in? Is there a spot in your hallways and landings? Then there’s outdoor lighting. Besides all the obvious places…will you want lights back by the garbage cans as you’re taking the trash out at night, above doors, lighting by the basketball hoop so the kids can play in the evenings. What about outlets up high to plug-in holiday lights, why not?
I wish we would have thought of all the outdoor spaces where we need water. The inside is obvious but the outside wasn’t even on my brain. I wish I had a spigot right by the garage so we can spray off surfboards, sandy feet, and ALL THINGS SAND! It would also help when washing the cars, having a hose closer to the driveway. Also having a hose next to the door in the backyard. I would say have a hose at least 2 ends of the backyard to accommodate all the plants. Also, I love having a sink in my laundry room which is attached to the garage. It’s a great deep sink to soak clothes, scrub stains, clean paint brushes, wash the dog, another option is putting a sink in the garage for these purposes. When we move onto the backyard remodel I for sure will be adding an outdoor shower. Pretty much a must-have when living next to the beach, if it’s in the budget, of course.
CHECK ALL THE WORK THOROUGHLY
When I say check, I mean check EVERYTHING! See if every door closes properly, all outlets work, every light switch, all drawers close and don’t hit others or rub against others. This may seem obvious but you will find so many things that weren’t done correctly after you’ve paid and your contractor is long gone. If you work through a local reputable company, they will stand by their work but the random painter you found through a friend, good luck getting him to come back.
PLAN FOR THE LONG TERM
If you’re a Pinterest junkie like I am, then you have a board for every room in your “dream house” and have pinned all the latest gadgets and fun upgrades to every room. I thought it would be so helpful and practical to get those little drawers that pop out that are actually stools so my littles could easily brush their teeth.
Although fun add-ins like these are amazing remember that they are all custom jobs that will often cost as much as a pre-made drawer system that can save you a lot of money in your bathrooms. I found an amazing local cabinet and quartz countertop company, it’s called 405 cabinets and Stone that helped me design my cabinets to look exactly like the custom ones we had made for our kitchen. In fact, the bathroom cabinets are holding up better than the kitchen. Not a scratch or paint peel on them, I wish I could say that about my custom kitchen cabinets. More importantly, keep in mind that your kids grow up really fast. Both my twin girls, Just 1 year after moving in didn’t need a stool anymore, making this add-in obsolete! Spend your money where it counts, on the bones!
Side Note: I use these amazing step stools all over the house. We have one in each bathroom, in the pantry, and in each closet. They are amazing for reaching the counter for the little kids and great for reaching the high shelves in the closets. They are also so helpful when the kids want to pullup to the island to help me cook. They stow away so easily and are super versatile. We use them ALL the time! They’re cute too and come in lots of different colors.
YOU GOT THIS
I hope this helps! Remember that it will come to an end! And, don’t be afraid to do things in stages. Just do it right the first time! Spend the money on the things that aren’t fun, like the plumbing, electrical, insulation, good windows etc. If you don’t , the fix is EXPENSIVE! In California it pays to stay in the same house as long as you can! Buy the house that’s STRETCHES you! It’s so uncomfortable but if you’re confident that your jobs will continue to include promotions than you will soon be able to get back to that comfort zone. Realtor fees and increased tax rates are insane in California. So the sooner you can sit on that stable tax rate the better! Good Luck! You can do this!
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