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How to Manage A Successful Home Remodel:

I purchased my first home in 2003. It was a decent sized townhouse in a great area of Phoenix. When I purchased the home, my plan was to live in it for a few years and then turn it into a rental and purchase a larger home.

I hate moving and didn’t want the hassle of dealing with renters, so I never actually got around to purchasing a second home. When I married Aaron in 2010 he was in the process of building a home, so I moved in with him and we started renting my home.

We wanted to sell, but the housing market was still fairly weak, so we decided to give it a few years and then sell the home. During those years we discovered that we both really hated being landlords.

When our current tenants gave notice we decided it was finally time to sell out.

We had a little problem though.

The home was built in 1997 in the southwest style that was so popular at that time. As in it still had those ugly pinkish style cabinets, laminate counters (also pinkish tinge) and old style tile.

I’ll admit, I had kind of forgotten how ugly the color was until I went over for the final inspection – it was pretty hideous. I just wish I could find some old pictures to share.

I was willing to sell the house as is and just take the loss, but Aaron sells custom cabinets for a living and didn’t mind managing the project.

Home renovation projects are always very tricky. They never stay on budget, are never finished on time and always end up being more work than expected. Our house wasn’t any different.

I learned a lot from our home renovation project.  Hopefully, my mistakes will help you guys avoid the same issues.

1.  Walk the home and make a detailed list of everything that needs to be repaired, replaced or updated

This list needs to be incredibly detailed. I recommend walking the house multiple times.  You won’t catch everything the first time around.

We thought we had all the items listed, but very quickly realized we had forgotten a lot of little things.

For example here are a few of the things we missed when we did your initial list:

  • Do the door nobs, electrical/light switches, power panels or fixtures need to be replaced?
  • Is their water damage anywhere?
  • Do window screens need to be repaired?
  • What about mold?
  • Do the blinds need to be replaced?
  • What about the A/C control box and other electronics?

Also, remember that just because you were willing to put up with a minor little blemish doesn’t mean the future owner will feel the same.

Little blemishes can drastically decrease the selling price for your home.

2.  Provide detailed requirement to contractors

Once you’ve determined your needs, break down the list for each of the various contractors.

You will need to provide them with a list that covers all of the work in their area.   This list should have detailed directions in order to get accurate quotes.

This is your wish list.  You may have to tone it down based on price, but start out big and then shrink the project as needed.

Your return quote should incorporate you lists of requirements and should be signed off by both parties.  Don’t skip this step!!!  Always make sure that every change is signed by both parties. 

3.  Budget

Having an accurate budget is critical to a home remodel.

This step will actually be done twice.

We did our first budget based on Aaron’s knowledge and the initial calls to contractors. Once the contractors had actually met with us and provided their quotes we redid the budget.

Remember to include all the little things you’ll be doing yourself as well.

Our list wasn’t as detailed as we needed (why point 1 is so important) and next thing I knew I had spent 600 at Lowes on a bunch of little stuff.

Light bulbs, cleaning supplies, screen repairs and minor patching all added up very quickly.

Also, include an estimate of your time. You may find it is more cost effective to hire people for the final cleaning and miscellaneous stuff.

4.  Speaks with and receive bids from multiple contractors

Research, research, research.  A good contractor can save you thousands of dollars, a bad one will cost you thousands.

  • Take the time to research each contractor.
    • Verify they have an active ROC license and are bonded and insured to do the contract work they are being employed for.
  • Speak with previous customers.
    • This is easier said than done since the referrals you receive from your contractor will most likely be from his favorite customers.
    • I’ve used Angie’s List in the past and have been impressed with the recommendations.  It is a good starting point when searching for reputable contractors.
  • Ask for recommendations from friends.
  • Trust, but verify!

Your contractor and subcontractors will make or break your budget.  Take the time to find the best contractors in your area.

Also make sure that you provide them with accurate information and are very clear as to your expectations.  They can’t give you accurate bids if they are missing information and don’t have a clear picture of your expectations.

I was able to skip most of this step since Aaron knew the contractors personally and had worked with all of them in the past.

Most of the work was actually done by his team at Homedge (if you are local give them a call – they do cabinets and granite)

5.  Never Pay in Full, Up Front

Never fully pay a contractor until the work is completed.

If I contractor is insisting on full payment up front, start running. This is a huge red flag.

In the cabinet industry, most companies require a 50% deposit at time of order, 40% at the time of delivery/install and the remaining 10% upon completion.

Personally, I would try and use this payment method with as many contractors as possible.

I’ve learned the hard way that contractors always give you better service when you still owe them money.  Obviously make sure and pay them what is owed, but make sure you are getting the product they were contracted to deliver.

6.  Calendar out everything

Be very clear as to your time expectation with the contractors and set a specific timeline for your remodel.

The timeline will end up getting shuffled, but the important thing is organizing the timing based on the needs of the next contractors. It doesn’t work to have the plumbers in prior to setting the sinks and cabinets.

If you get the process out of order you’ll end up incurring additional costs to have a contractor return to finish things up. Speak with the contractors, they will know the best methods of managing the different groups.

Double check that all of your supplies are in stock and ready to be used.

Don’t just assume that you received the right product either. Check all your boxes prior to beginning the remodel.

I had a friend who ordered tile from out of the country. The tile arrived she started demolishing the kitchen only to discover the most of the tile was broken. She lived out of a partially renovated kitchen for weeks.

7.  Be involved

Speak with the contractors regularly and make sure they know you will be monitoring their work.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and hold them to a high standard of work.

Be very, very accessible. You want them to feel comfortable contacting you when there is an issue instead of just making a judgment call because you are rude and difficult to work with.

And on that note, don’t be crazy.  There is a little-known up-charge in the contracting industry called a COA (Cover your Ass), this is a little charge that contractors add when they know they are going to be working with a difficult customer.

This primarily applies to trades like cabinets, carpet, tile, and granite.  Every time they have to send someone to your home to deal with your complaints it costs them money.

Salesmen get a pretty good eye for those type of customers and during the bidding process will typically add anywhere from 10-50% to the cost of the job.

I know it sounds harsh, but after hearing about some of the crazy customer’s Aaron has dealt with over the years, I can understand why they do it.

8.  Inspect Everything Personally

Just because a contractor says the job is done, doesn’t mean it is really done. Don’t just do a surface level inspection either.

In our case, the granite guys didn’t set a sink properly.  We didn’t discover the mistake until the plumbers were doing their connections.  The plumbers couldn’t finish the job which meant yet another plumbing visit which put everything else behind.

The sink looked fine at a distance. It wasn’t until the plumbers tried to do the next step that we realized there was an issue.

Obviously, as a homeowner, you aren’t always going to catch mistakes like this.  Stuff happens, but if you are involved and paying attention you’ll be more likely to catch errors.

9.  Do your research

You should become a miniature expert on the remodeling process.

Don’t assume that your contractor is honest.

Know enough about the different areas to be able to spot poor quality work, inconsistencies in pricing and stories.  Don’t be the stereotypical dumb blonde who gets taken advantage of.

Ask a lot of questions, takes notes and do your research.  The money you save by doing your research will more than pay for your time.

The Hassle Will Be Worth It In The End

Home renovation isn’t fun, it is a miserable experience that I still cringe thinking about and I wasn’t even living in the home.

However, if you do the initial research and take the time to set everything up right you should be able to alleviate the vast majority of your stress.

I must say the finished product made it all worthwhile. I wish I had done the renovations when I still lived in the home rather than wait until I was selling it.