Preparation Makes Perfect

Preparation Makes Perfect

Chapter 1: Preparation Makes Perfect

You’ve finally saved up enough to remodel your house, but you don’t know exactly where to start. No problem; we’ve got you covered. Throughout this chapter, we will see how you can start by doing the necessary preparations, including planning, budgeting, and choosing a contractor.

However, before we delve into the nitty-gritty details, let’s answer the two most important questions of all: why do you want to renovate your house in the first place? And when is the best time for you to start demolishing that wall that you’ve been eying for the past year?

The Why and When

Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

Before you make any other decisions, you should be clear on why you’re make those decisions in the first place; understanding your motivations will play a crucial role in defining other aspects of your remodeling, be it your budget, your priorities, or even the contractor you choose to approach. With this in mind, here are a few of the most popular reasons for renovating your house.

  1. You just might want to make your home feel more like… Well, home. Perhaps there is room for making the living room more comfortable, or maybe installing a second bathroom can ease the traffic on the first one. There are myriads of ways in which you can enjoy your home more; don’t forget that.
  2. On the other hand, you might want to repair something that is broken. Whereas a roof leak is an annoyance for any home owner, some electrical problems pose a safety hazard that must be dealt with promptly.
  3. Another possibility is your need to expand your home in order to provide you and your family with more space. This could be done in response to a new family member joining the ranks or the growth of your children who need more space to flourish.
  4. Occasionally, the impetus behind renovating your home is something as simple as you wanting to change the style of the place: It could very well be the case that you are tired of an old, outdated interior and are looking to give your space a more modern feel.
  5. In the event that you are planning to spend your retirement years in your current home, then you need to start making preparations for it to accommodate both you and your significant other. After all, after retirement, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time in your home, and you need it ready for that.
  6. With the green fever spreading throughout the nation and everyone’s insistence on relying on green energy more and more, you might want to make your home more ecofriendly by increasing its energy efficiency. Doing this includes using better windows, increased insulation, and so on.
  7. A further consideration you should keep in mind is that renovating your place is paramount for making it preserve its value, if not increase it. This might not seem like a pressing issue now, but should the day ever come when you choose to sell your house, you won’t have to settle for bottom dollar.

      Having explored your reasons for why you might want to revamp your property, we can now look into when is the best time for you to do so.

      The first thing to understand is that the cost of both the materials and the labor that go into overhauling your place is seasonal and reliant on the whims of supply and demand. By planning ahead, you can buy the materials when they are at their cheapest: during winter, when no one expects people to think about remodeling, especially with Christmas decorations all around. You can keep them shelved till it’s time to put them to use.

      With the materials taken care of, you now need to pay attention to when is the best time to hire a contractor (assuming that you will hire a contractor). Interestingly, the time for doing the actual remodeling doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with the time for buying the prerequisite materials. You should try to hire your contractor when their hands aren’t full with seven other projects at the same time. Otherwise, you risk having plenty of mistakes on your project, receiving a small fraction of your contractor’s attention, or, worst of all, having your project sidelined altogether. Therefore, you should aim to approach your contractor during off season and when they’re hungry for work. In most cases, this is late fall or winter.

      Conversely, it is worth remembering that not all projects can be done any time of the year. Some projects are considerably easier to do during the summer, while others are more suited for the cold winds of winter. However, every project needs a lot of planning beforehand, so it's best to approach a contractor early on. This way, they will have you in mind even before the work starts and you'll be their first priority.

      Planning and Budgeting

      After you figure out why you want to remodel and when to do it, it is time to start planning along with setting a budget.

      Assuming that you know why you’re renovating, you can start imagining what you’d like to have done. You should definitely consult with other members of your family so as to make sure that you are all on the same page; they might have different ideas that will compliment yours. Afterwards, you should compile a list of all the renovations that you want done, while splitting the list into three categories: necessary items, nice to have but not necessary items, and items that belong on a wish-list. This will come in handy when you have to prioritize and make tough decisions.

      If you’re wondering about where you can get ideas to put on your list, there are several places from which you can draw inspiration. You can check out TV shows, magazines, websites, blogs, books, and newspapers. You can also ask your friends and family for recommendations, especially if they’ve just renovated their own homes themselves. Additionally, you can always resort to professionals, be it architects, interior designers, manufacturers, or suppliers.

      Once you know what you want based on your reasons and needs, you can begin worrying about the budget of the project. Firstly, figure out how much money you have on hand that you are willing to invest in your property. With that dollar sum in mind, you should set aside approximately 20% of that amount as a contingency fund. At the end of the day, construction projects tend to be unpredictable, and their costs always tend to go up with time. Furthermore, project creep, the phenomenon where the scope of a project keeps increasing incrementally, can be a disastrous force that wrecks your piggy bank.

      Armed with your budget and your list of things you want to change, you can sit down with a professional and start ballparking the cost of the whole thing. It is at this point in the project that you’ll be able to add new items to the project or remove some, depending on how close or far your ballpark figure is to your budget. Fortunately, a good professional can help you squeeze the most benefit from your buck.

      Here is a quick guide of what the ballpark figure should include:

      • Cost of labor (especially if you’re getting a contractor to do the work for you)
      • Materials required
      • Designer fee (if you’re letting a designer take the reins early on)
      • Permits
      • Cleanup
      • Tools and equipment (whether you’re doing things yourself or you need to lease a very specific piece of machinery)

        With all our talk of budgeting, it may very well be the case that the project you have in mind is well beyond your current means. In that case, you have a few options to choose from, the first of which is to postpone the whole project to a later date. You can also attempt to lower the cost by opting for alternatives that are lower in cost than the one you’ve chosen or by reducing the project scope and replacing only the things that need replacing. However, if you don’t want to compromise, you can choose to pursue a different method of financing your project than through your personal funds; you can seek a loan from a bank, which range from a zero-interest home remodeling loan to a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC).

        Finding a Contractor

        The minute you are ready to start getting to work, you have another important decision to make: are you going to go at the job yourself or would you rather have a contractor work on your behalf? Each option has its pros and cons, and to make a good decision, you need to honestly answer a few questions.

        Besides the financial side of things, you should assess your level of skill in the task at hand along with your learning ability. You might come to the conclusion that given the amount of time you’ll be wasting learning how to remodel your kitchen as well as the amount of mistakes that you’ll make (which will be costly); it would actually be cheaper to hire a contractor.

        Knowing yourself and your family, you should be able to gauge to what extent you will be able to maintain your level of enthusiasm for your project plus how much time do you have to devote to it. The answer to these questions and more should help clarify which option might be better for you.

        Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

        Assuming that you decide to go with hiring a contractor, you need to be very selective in the person you choose because they’ll be spending a considerable amount of time around you and your family. Furthermore, the last thing you want is an incompetent contractor who is going to cost you money through the nose trying to fix their mistakes. Although being licensed is a plus, it is no guarantee that a contractor is any good: it is easy for a contractor to get licensed in most states, and some states don’t even require a license. Consequently, you should research a licensed contractor’s past work history and see how they’ve interacted with the community:

        • You can start by getting recommendations from family members, friends, and neighbors.
        • Anytime you consider a contractor, look at their credentials: How has this contractor invested in his business and which associations vouch for him
        • You can also investigate how professional a particular contractor is by seeing how easy it is to get in touch with them, whether they carry the necessary insurances to protect you from specific liabilities, and so on.
        • Depending on the type of project you want done, you should choose a contractor who specializes in that specific type of project.
        • Take a look at their previous work along with their current job sites. You shouldn’t be afraid of popping up at a job site unannounced in order to see how the contractor works.
        • You also want to know how much of the work does the contractor do and how much of it is outsourced. This will help you know how many people will be going in and out of your house.

        By the time you’ve whittled down your list of potential contractors to three or four names, you can start inviting them to bid on your project. Just make sure that they are all bidding on the same exact specifications so that you can compare apples to apples later on. Another tool in your arsenal you can utilize to choose the perfect contractor for you is an interview, either over the phone or face to face.


        Finally, you need to check with your local permitting office which permits are required for you to start renovating your home. These permits can vary from one place to another, and ignoring this matter can be a hassle down the road. It is better for both your mental state of mind and your wallet to just get the permits and be done with it. With that in mind, you should be forewarned that acquiring your permits can take longer than you expect, so you should get started on them as soon as you can.

        An important thing to point out is that if your work requires specific permits and your contractor gets started without them, you, the property owner, are the one liable. Therefore, regardless of what your contractor tells you, it is your responsibility to make sure that all your paperwork is in order.

        To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few things for which you’ll probably need a permit:

        • Demolishing a load-bearing wall
        • Installing electrical wiring or putting in new circuits
        • Having a fence built that is over a specific height
        • Installing a new water heater

        Throughout this chapter, we have seen what you need in order to prepare for renovating your home: figuring out your rationale for the renovation, timing it perfectly, the basic steps of planning and budgeting your project, finding the perfect contractor for you, permits and how to handle them. Now it’s time to explore the designing aspect of your project. We will see what are the benefits and drawbacks of having an architect along for the ride with you as well as the principles you need to keep in mind when working alone.

        For a full list of chapters, click here.

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