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House Remodeling in Just 8 Steps (Yes, It Can Be Done)

House remodeling is daunting. Even when you have solid house remodeling ideas in mind, you still have to embark on the whole process. 

Good news! This detailed guide will walk you through tackling a renovation, eliminating the anxiety.

Step 1. Is house remodeling worth it? Before you begin, think about how you use your house. It will go a long way toward shaping your house remodeling plans.

Home remodeling projects can come up for many different reasons. Your spouse got a new job and could use a home office. Your kitchen hasn't been updated since 1973. You've heard if the right homebuyer were to come along, a hot tub could equal bonus bucks in your pocket.

When considering a remodeling project, how do you decide what will make your life better while possibly adding to your home's resale value?

Ask These Questions for Your Home Makeover

Understanding your intentions for your house can go a long way toward shaping your remodeling plans. These are some questions to consider:

  • How long do you plan to live in your current home?

  • Will you get to enjoy the results of your remodeling project?

  • Will the remodel meet an immediate but temporary need? Or be an investment in your lifestyle?

  • How old are you? What kind of income do you anticipate in the years ahead?

  • If you are close to retirement, is now the time to invest in home improvements?

  • How much chaos can you live with during the renovation process?

  • Does your house—the floor plan, the garden, the bathrooms, everything—work for you?

  • Will your home need a lot of updates? Will there be simple ways to update things like energy usage?

Remodeling and the Bottom Line

Can you get your money back when you sell?

The truth is you likely won't get back the full amount. But there are moves you can make to ensure you invest smartly:

  • Hire an appraiser to find out how much your home is currently worth.

  • Research other nearby renovation projects and how those homes sold after project completion.

  • Design around your home's architecture and character. Vinyl siding on a Queen Anne Victorian house will reduce its value. A three-season porch too hot to use in a Texas summer might not help the bottom line.

  • Consider your timeframe. If you're only going to stay in your home another year or two, it's probably not worth living with months of construction headaches.

Home Improvement Projects Worth Your Money

If you want to maximize your remodel for resale, think exterior: safer doors, better windows, or easy-care siding. Data from the latest remodeling reports shows those types of projects can recoup more than 80% of the investment. Extra bedrooms and updated master bedrooms sell well, too.

Your high-end kitchen update with custom cabinetry may not sell itself, but it will help if your current kitchen could double for your grandmother's old set-up. An extra bathroom, especially if your house only has one, can be a solid choice over the long term—or finishing the attic. Smart homebuyers will appreciate any moves you make to reduce utility usage, such as energy-efficient window casings or new water heaters.

Some values depend on geography. A home office is not something every buyer would use, so it could recover less of the funds you invest, unless you live in an area with high real estate costs and plentiful telecommunication options. Pools are all about your pleasure, not the selling price—many buyers don't want the headache of caring for one. But in some communities a pool may feel almost standard.

Why Remodel?

Your home is your castle. You deserve to enjoy it. If a remodel makes your home more livable and serves the changing needs of your family—more bedrooms, more bathrooms, or a more functional kitchen—it will be a big win if you can also recover at least some of the cost.

Depending on your real estate market, your finances, the schools you want for your kids, it might be smarter for your current needs to remodel rather than trying to sell and buy anew

Step 2. Set your home remodeling budget It’s easy to figure out what you want in a house remodel, but calculating how much you can afford is harder. Use this four-step plan to help you.

1.  Ballpark the costs: First, get a handle on how much your remodeling dreams will cost. In general, major upgrades, such as a bathroom remodel or a family-room addition, run $100-$200 per square foot.

2.  Figure out how much you have to spend: Once you've zeroed in on a project, the next question is whether you have the money. If you're paying cash, that's easy to answer. But if you're borrowing, you need to assess how much a bank will lend you and what that loan will add to your monthly expenses.

3.  Get quotes from contractors: Before seeking bids, determine exactly what you want, right down to the kitchen countertop material and the type of faucet. By specifying these details up front, you ensure that prospective contractors are all pricing the same items.

Get recommendations for at least three contractors from friends, neighbors, and other tradesmen you trust. Give each one your project description and specific product lists and request an itemized bid. To find the right contractor, do these things to make sure all is right:

Reality Check: Cost Overruns

Take the winning contractor's bid and add a 15%-20% contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, you're ready to get started. If not, it's time to scale back your plans.

4.  Set priorities and trim the project to fit your budget: Dreams and budget not in alignment? Carefully scale down your dream—chances are you'll end up satisfied and solvent. Enlist your contractor for suggestions on cutting costs—that way, he'll be an ally in helping you stick to your budget.

Step 3. Plan your perfect project Facing the blank slate of remodeling your home can be daunting. How do you start planning your new design?

Here are some sources for ideas to help boost your home's wow factor.

Peruse Pinterest

This visual collection site has become the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to design inspiration. There's a reason—it works. From clever utensil storage to color palettes and striking before-and-after pics, the ideas from DIYers and pros can offer hours of inspiration. And no detail is too small—not even the perfect outdoor sconce.

Pop into Porch

This new entry into the field of online home design and remodel resources brings design ideas together on the same site as contractor recommendations. You can check out permit histories for specific projects, get the specifics on how a home project progressed, and maybe hire the same professionals for your house if you take a liking to what a local has done. And of course, update your share-worthy home remodel once your pride and joy is finished.

Try Design Software

Will your dream built-ins accommodate your big-screen TV? Will puce curtains work with tan brick? Is there a way to make your mother's old gold mirror modern? Design software lets you map out furniture and design options, so you can check which furnishings will fit and play with colors. Some software is free. The highly rated Home Designer suite costs $99. Before you buy any package, make sure it meets your needs. If you're reworking exteriors too, you'll want software that does the same.

Look at Magazines

Tried and true glossy magazines offer photo details that some websites might miss. You'll learn about the latest trends. Plus, you can tear out pages that inspire, create your own look-book or bulletin board, and easily compare physical images that may not have made it onto Pinterest yet.

Ask Your Friends

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Know someone who recently remodeled their kitchen? Ask them about nifty things they installed and they might tip you off to the wonders of knee-triggered faucets or spring-loaded cabinet shelving. They might also offer an unexpected source that lowered their costs, improved usage or otherwise eased a sometimes difficult process. Be sure to ask if they have recommendations for local architects and contractors. And don't forget to find out the things they wished they had used, or the problems they encountered.

Ask the Right Questions

We like HouseLogic's notes about being specific when you look for inspiration. Doorknobs have thousands of options—can you narrow down the search by color, or by the style of your house? Otherwise you could lose yourself in hours' worth of options, or even worse, fail to find anything that strikes your fancy. The same goes for the folks working on your remodel, especially if you have an older home. You'll want someone who can bring plumbing into the modern era, or work with the overall house aesthetic. Don't hesitate to get specific.

Be Open-Minded

You've got your vision, you've hired some great people, but it turns out that: 1) The corner hot tub idea may not work after all; 2) You can't move a wall without the roof buckling; and 3) The oven of your dreams remains on a three-year back order.

Don't fire the contractor. Accept the fact that you may have to change your plans. And budget accordingly, so that a few missed milestones along the way won't keep you from reaching your dream.

Step 4. Choose your team The people you select should be problem solvers, good listeners, and budget watchdogs.

Choosing your architect isn’t a decision to take lightly. The person you select will be the brains behind your project, an invaluable problem solver, a good listener, and the one keeping your budget on track.

Here are seven questions to use as a starting point to get the candidate that's right for you and your house.

1. What are the biggest challenges and attractions of this job?

An architect may have a beautiful portfolio and great references, but those won't indicate how he or she will approach your project. During initial interviews, ask about the architect's vision for your project:

The answers are important, but you'll also want to use these early conversations to make sure you have a good rapport and that your personalities are compatible.

"You can hire any number of architects who’ll come up with creative solutions to your job," says Pittsburgh architect Gerald Morosco, author of the book "How to Work With an Architect.”

“The differences are in how well the architect matches his design to your taste and your lifestyle," he adds.

2. Do you have a signature style?

Most architects pride themselves on their adaptability, which allows them to tailor their style to fit each house and client.

But some have an overriding design sensibility that they bring to every project. For example, an architect might specialize in sleek modernism, a beach cottage feel, or reinterpretations of historic houses.

By talking about the architect’s signature style up front, you can decide whether it’s the right fit for you.

3. Who will design my project?

Unless you’re hiring a sole proprietor, there’s a good chance the person you meet initially isn’t the one who’ll handle the actual design work.

That’s okay, as long as you understand it up front. Because good communication is crucial to a successful job, you need to meet the lead architect for your job before you hire the firm.

You’ll be interacting with this person a lot, so be sure to get necessary contact information, and ask to receive a schedule of meetings with mutually agreeable times.

4. What project management services do you provide?

Architects can do more than come up with the design and blueprints. They also can do these tasks:

  • Manage the project

  • Help you hire a contractor

  • Check the contractor’s work as the job proceeds

  • Make design adjustments as the work progresses

  • Review invoices to ensure that payments never get ahead of the work

  • Obtain necessary lien waivers [on] from all contractors so no one can make a claim against your property later

Ask your architect which of these services he provides, and what they cost. Some services, like site inspections and revisions, should be part of your contract. Others likely will be a la carte.

5. How do you charge?

Architects usually charge a percentage of the total project cost, anywhere from 5% to 20%, depending on the services provided, the complexity of the job, and the renown of the architect. Ask what percentage the architect will charge for your project, and when and how payments will be due.

Architects typically bill monthly, starting as soon as they begin work. But most up-front design work happens before you bring in a contractor and know the total project cost.

In the interim, the architect may bill by the hour or charge a retainer—a fixed monthly fee—with any necessary adjustments occurring once the real numbers are known. Each billing approach can work well. What’s important is utter clarity about the plan so you can manage your remodeling budget.

6. Can you provide three-dimensional drawings?

Reading a standard two-dimensional plan isn’t easy. Even if you can tell where the walls, windows, and doors are, you may not get an accurate feel for how the design will look in the real world.

Ask your candidate how the ideas and drawings will be presented. Most architects now use software to render 3-D images that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles. A lack of 3-D rendering capabilities may mean the candidate isn't up to speed on the latest building techniques and methods.

7. Will you recommend two or three general contractors?

Good architects can recommend reliable general contractors in your area and help you evaluate portfolios and bids. They may even recommend someone they've worked with before and set up some meet and greets.

That’s a boon to the homeowner, since it means you won’t have to do another big search to find the right contractor. But don’t stop your search with the first contractor you like. It’s always a good idea to get multiple bids, which may give you some bargaining power with the one you ultimately pick.

Step 5. Map out your schedule Even if you aren't Type A, living in a construction zone can be difficult.

Renovating outdated or inefficient areas of your home can increase your comfort and raise your home's value, but it can also disrupt your life. The length of such a home renovation project can run from days for basic cosmetic alterations and painting to months for major remodeling.

Knowing what to expect is often half the battle in home renovation—without losing your mind.

Any remodeling project starts with interviewing the experts who will do the work—the architects, designers and contractors. With each person, check for licenses and ask for references. Don't hire the first one you interview without talking to others. That first architect might have grand ideas, but the second may offer practical guidelines you hadn't considered.

A kitchen renovation, for example, can cost a lot of money and time, so you should be completely satisfied with the design and the contractors involved. The work you are paying for will be done in your most personal of spaces. You want professionals who will listen to your needs, and whom you enjoy working with. Personality matters.

After you settle on the design, order essential items such as cabinets and appliances, before the work begins. Poor planning can delay a job unnecessarily. Your contractor will seek permits, which could take a week to a month, depending on where you live. Construction could also take weeks or months.

Plan Your Home Renovation Projects

Here are general estimates for the time involved with different projects:


Duration: 3 to 6 months What it entails: A complete remodel usually means replacing all appliances, cabinets and counters—and installing the backsplash and floors. Potential pain points: Existing conditions in your home can affect the length of time needed to perform the job. These might include moving ductwork, updating old plumbing or improving electrical wiring to accommodate more appliances.


Duration: 2 to 3 months What it entails: Bathroom remodels tend to take less time then kitchens. They are smaller and usually don't need extensive electrical and vent work. Bathroom changes mainly involve plumbing, so spend time researching and hiring good plumbing contractors. Planning well is important to maximize usage of a small space. Potential pain points: Unintended delays can be created by problems in the floor—and any room below the floor. Because waste plumbing is located in the floor, there is a risk of damage to the room beneath the bathroom. Proceeding carefully is key.

Room addition (such as bedroom)

Duration: 1 to 2 months What it entails: The planner and contractor have to examine ground conditions and work with any structural and foundation issues. Potential pain points: A good contractor will build the room outside of your house and complete electrical work in the room before opening the wall between your home and the new room. That way, the construction will be less disruptive to your lifestyle.

Step 6. Get your paperwork in order Filling out forms may be the least fun part of house remodeling, but you have to do it. 

Pushing paper may seem like the least fun thing about a remodel, but like eating your broccoli, you have to do it. Here's an overview of the basic paperwork you will need.

Contractors' Responsibilities

Contractors, like any business owners, have to take responsibility for employees and for their work. They should have the following papers in order—signed, with current dates (not expired), and filed with local government agencies where applicable.

License: Independently verify a contractor's bona fides. California, for example, posts contractor licenses online in a searchable database.

Bond: A contractor's bond offers compensation in cases where a contractor doesn't finish a job, does defective work, doesn't pay vendors, or causes other problems. Many states require contractors to have a bond.

Liability Insurance: What happens if a roofer falls off a ladder, or a carpenter has an accident with a saw? Your contractors should have their own liability coverage, including workman's compensation coverage.

Homeowners' Responsibilities

Homeowner's Insurance: Your homeowner's insurance probably doesn't cover much if someone gets injured on the remodel job, says HouseLogic. But it helps. And it's especially vital if you've got friends helping with a project, and you aren't hiring a dedicated professional. Your insurance may go up if you're expanding your home or adding a pool or hot tub, but it could also dip if you include safety features such as upgraded doors or windows. Industry experts recommend talking to your agent.

Get Everything in Writing: All of it, from initial bids to pay schedules to change orders—if something goes wrong, it's best to have a written trail in case you need to prove your side before a judge. This also cuts down miscommunication. If you discuss a paint color but a different shade goes on the wall, pointing to an email or note stating the right hue can save the argument over who pays for added time and money for the change.

All Together Now

Work contract: Don't let work start without a contract. It protects both you and your contractor (remember, they've dealt with their share of shady clients, too). The contract should lay out the project's scope, deadlines, payment schedules and payment amounts. Read it carefully to make sure nothing has changed from the bid or other previous agreements you didn't already discuss.

Permits: Your contractor should help with this, but ultimately you are the one on the hook if something's amiss. Interior projects like installing shelves, replacing flooring or painting probably don't need a permit. But work that impacts the structure or utility usage of a house—such as plumbing, moving walls or replacing windows—likely need permits, especially if you live in a historic district with rules about cosmetic changes.

The permit system might feel cumbersome, but it protects you, too. Non-permitted work could let an insurance company off the hook should problems arise and could tank a buyer's mortgage should you try to sell.

Step 7. Plan for problems You can expect equipment breakdowns, supply shortages, and miscommunications with just about everyone when remodeling your home.

The larger your home remodel, the greater the chances you will hit some snafus and frustrations. You can expect equipment breakdowns, supply shortages, various delays and miscommunications with your contractors, their workers and even, perhaps, your spouse.The best solution is to be as prepared as you can be for every situation you can think of.

How to Manage Your Remodel Project

Have a rock-solid contract: Getting all the details in writing protects you and the contractor. Keeping things professional and making sure everyone is on the same page will set the right tone for the project. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has a sample contract. HouseLogic has tips, too.

Designate a project point person: Who's in charge, both from your side and the contractor's? If you have a concern, whom do you talk to? If parts of the project need the homeowner to sign off, can you and your spouse do it, or is just one of you in charge? Do you want to know about every cost overrun, or just the big ones? Empowering decision-makers on both sides will reduce confusion once the work begins.

Establish rules for workers: Where can the workers park, grab a smoke, or store their gear? Can they use your lawn because you're ripping it up after the house is done? Will the city tow a dumpster left by the curb? If your contractor is local, he or she should know the city rules and can provide some guidance. A quick call to City Hall might help, too. And asking the contractor to specify what he or she expects in terms of storage, parking and other logistics can avoid future headaches.

Brace yourselves: Make a list of all the things that could go wrong and how you would respond. Deliveries at dinnertime ... morning showers cut short by early arriving workmen ... lingering dust and paint smells ... feeding your family dinner without a functioning kitchen ... weather delays ... having to decamp to your mother-in-law's place .... having to leave your mother-in-law's place ... You'll cheer when you've avoided such hassles. But if they wallop you, well, being prepared is half the battle.

Schedule down time. You are going to be living in a construction site. Your daily rituals will go out the window. Things get lost. The sounds and smells might drive you nuts. The stress of budget overruns and forgotten details—just plan for a detox now. A weekend out of town, a mid-project vacation, a massage, even a 30-minute walk with your phone off: "you" time matters.

Step 8. Keep your house remodel project on track Lose your focus on the project and you may pay for it—literally. 

We've been around enough remodeling jobs to know that if you want great results, you'll need to actively manage the process—even if you've hired a general contractor to oversee the work. Get apathetic or lose your focus and you may pay for it—literally.

Here are seven smart ways to stay on top of your remodeling project and maintain strong communications with your contractor and construction team.

1. Avoid Allowances

An allowance is a line item in the contractor’s bid for something that’s yet to be determined. For example, if you haven’t chosen the plumbing hardware for your new master suite, the contractor will put an allowance number in the budget as a placeholder.

But with such a wide range of price points for these products, his estimate may be far lower than what you wind up spending.

Try to eliminate allowances by sorting out all of your material and product selections before the contractor gives you an itemized bid for the job. Otherwise, do enough shopping to give the contractor an accurate ballpark price for the materials you’re considering.

2. Establish Good Communication

Ask the contractor how he prefers to communicate with you. Good options include the following:

  • Being onsite and talking with your contractor every morning before work begins.

  • Having your contractor's cell phone number and the okay to call or text anytime.

  • Talking with the job foreman every day at a pre-determined time.

Try to meet with the project leader at least once a day. This is an opportunity for you to hear progress reports, to find out what work is scheduled over the coming days, and to ask your questions and voice any concerns you have.

3. Keep a Project Journal

Your project journal is your friend and ally. A journal can help keep communication clear by providing a record of who said what and when, which could help you iron out disputes later on.

Use a journal to do these tasks:

  • Record progress.

  • Note things you want to ask your contractor.

  • Jot down ideas.

  • Record product order numbers.

  • Note upcoming delivery dates.

4. Track All Changes in Writing

Your team may encounter unforeseen structural issues, or you may decide to include additional work as the project evolves. Any good contractor can handle these changes. Just make sure that he bids them in writing first.

Specify in your remodeling contract you want change orders in writing for anything that’s going to add to the bottom line of the job. That means the contractor must give you a description of the change and a fixed price for what it will cost. You both must sign the change order before the work is done.

5. Check the Work

Be proactive about checking your contractor’s work. A good time to check is when the crew has left for the day. Make notes in your journal and bring up anything you're wondering about during your daily check-in with your contractor or job foreman.

You can do these things:

  • Compare the model numbers on appliances and fixtures against your receipts, invoices and the contractor’s bid to ensure that the right product was delivered.

  • Check the locations of window and door openings against the blueprints.

  • Note any quality issues, such as misaligned trim. You're the client; you have the right to expect good work.

6. Pay Only for Completed Work

Your remodeling contract should establish a series of payments to be made when certain aspects of the job are completed. For example, your contract could stipulate that you will pay in three equal installments, with the last payment to be made after the project is complete, and after you and your contractor agree the work is satisfactory.

Never put down more than 10% up front; any more than this is too much cash to hand over before any work is complete. Your contractor should be able to get any necessary supplies on credit.

7. Be a Good Customer

One of the best ways to get quality work out of a contractor and construction crew is to make them enjoy working for you. That means being decisive with the contractor and giving him a check promptly at the agreed-upon points in the project.

Being friendly and accommodating of the workers is a great way to motivate them to do their best for you.

Try these ideas:

  • Designating a bathroom they can use.

  • Greeting them by name each morning.

  • Serving them cold lemonade on a hot day.

Complimenting their work (as long as you feel it’s worthy of praise)

Bonus step: Throughout the process, remember how soon(ish) you will be enjoying cocktails on your new deck, a luxurious steam shower, or whatever the amazing fruit of your reno labor will be.


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