keeping home improvement costs under control

Planning and research.  Planning and research.  Way before you start ripping out a piece of your existing home, do your homework.  I will use a bathroom renovation as an example.

First make a list of all the work that you would like to do.  Don’t forget the little things.  For example:

  • replace fixtures (toilet, shower/tub and vanity/sink)
  • new faucets at shower/tub and sink
  • new floor
  • new tile surround at shower/tub
  • new lights and exhaust fan
  • paint
  • new accessories (towel bars & hooks, tp holder, mirror/medicine cabinet, etc…)
  • window coverings

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Make a binder.  Pull images from books and magazines of bathrooms that you like.  Browse your home improvement superstore.  Use the internet.  Go directly to manufacturer’s websites to find anything from toilets to towel bars.  It will give you a better idea of the range of prices and you’ll be better prepared to establish a realistic budget and also compare contractors’ material prices if necessary.

Ask trusted family and friends who have done similar renovations.  They can be your best resource since they’ve been through it before.  They can tell you what was successful for them and what they would do differently from hiring help to picking paint colors.

Although every renovation project is different, chances are if you are just doing cosmetic work you won’t need a design professional unless you want help with the decorating aspect.   If you decide to hire a contractor get at least three (3) bids or prices on the work you want.  If you can get names of recommended contractors from family or friends start there.  If those contractors are busy, ask them who else they could recommend to you.  The construction industry, especially for smaller residential work is typically a "small world".  Most contractors know who’s ‘good’ and who isn’t.  There are online sites where you can search for local contractors such as Angie’s List where you pay a sign up fee and then monthly or yearly to use the service.  All the ‘home service contractors’ on Angie’s List are reviewed and rated by actual homeowners who have used them.  The site lists the contractors by city.

Don’t automatically hire the contractor with the lowest price.   They may need babysitting which takes away from your time.  And the most expensive contractor may put a lot of supervision time into his price which may not be needed for your project.  Ask lots of questions.  If they don’t want to answer them then you probably don’t want them working in your house.

A good reason to hire a design and/or construction professional instead of doing the work yourself is their experience with materials, budget and schedule just to name a few. (when to DIY and when not to DIY is  another discussion for another post!)  They can add to the initial cost of your renovation but can also save you money over the long term.  They should be able to foresee more of the snafoos that you can run into and know how to deal with them so that your schedule and budget don’t go out of control.

Use standard or off-the-shelf products.  Anything you have to custom order can be twice what the standard is.  If you are handy, installing faucets, painting and touch-up are things you can do after the major work is done and can in some cases save you labor costs.  Talk to your contractor about this before he starts.  Some are more willing to negotiate prices than others.

Stick to your plan.  One renovation project can turn into another and another.  You will get a much bigger sense of accomplishment and relief if you finish one project before you begin another.  Trust me!

This process can apply to kitchens, basement finishing and any other room renovation.  Adding on can be a more involved process and I will talk about that soon.

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