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Top 10 Things I Learned About Home Renovation... So Far

In no particular order, these are the top 10 things every new home renovator should consider. I am by no means an expert on the topic; these are merely observations gathered from my experiences as well as friends'.

  1. Find the right contractor. It's easy to find a contractor, but it's hard to find the right one for you. Unless you are a seasoned renovator with loyal service providers, you really wouldn't know if a contractor your hired was the right one until the job is done. So, it's kind of a crap shoot. But you can increase your odds of finding the right one by doing your due diligence. Interview as many contractors until you can whittle it down to three candidates. Then, ask to see their current and previous projects before you make your selection.
  2. Money... they don't grow on trees. For most people, the contractor's quote is the single most important deciding factor in the selection process. Understandably so, because let's face it: how are you going to pay for that "good-on-paper" contractor when you don't have the money for the job? So, figure out a budget and work with it. Be forthright with contractors on how much you are willing to spend (although we all know that this particular conversation would be forgotten when the time comes). A budget can help you understand who and what you can afford realistically.
  3. Contractors think we pick money from trees... that they can turn into lumber. No matter how much your budget is, always have a contingency fund. The rule is 10-20% contigency. But through my own and my friends' experiences, it's more like 30-50%. To get an idea how much and where people are spending on renovations, watch home shows on HGTV, BBC, and TLC. They give you a rough idea on pricing and budgeting, then you can cross reference with the quotes you received.
  4. Be your own demolition man. Before you even think of choosing a contractor, order some pizzas and invite a few friends over for a demolition party. You can save some money by doing demolition yourself, plus you have the advantage of seeing what's behind the wall before your contractor does. Here's a secret contractors have. They know there are many surprises behind the drywall of old houses. They lowball the quote to hook you in, expecting to drum up more business once the drywall is down. And usually, they are the ones who end up being more expensive. If, however, you become your own demolition man you can get a more straightforward quote from a contractor since you have exposed the structure. Pony up the money for a disposal bin, and with a little bit of elbow grease, you can save yourself a lot of grief!
  5. Get an architect to draw the plans. After you knock down the walls, employ the services of an architect. Not only are drawings/plans necessary for building permit application, they also serve as your visual index from which you can measure work milestones during this process. If getting a licenced architect is too expensive for your taste, solicit the services of a student architect looking to expand their portfolio.
  6. Get the drawings/plans even before you pick a contractor. This is a continuation of number 5. If you have your plans ready by the contractor interview time, you can discuss your design blueprint with the candidate. Be upfront during the interview about your ideas and limitations. Gauge the reactions whether they are willing to work with your plans.
  7. The contract: rules of engagement. Here are a few tips. Include a start and end date even if you know that it's going to be a long shot. Base the payment structure on milestones instead of dates, but you can also do a realistic combination of both. If contractor is supplying materials, fixtures, and finishes, make sure you see the samples and sign off on them. Include a termination clause for both parties, and don't forget the 10% holdback to check the final work. But just remember, a solid contract doesn't translate to a job well done. It's merely a document that serves as your back-up in case sh*t hits the fan!
  8. Don't blow your budget on your contractor. Remember, you need money to buy furniture, appliances and other housing supplies. Don't hand all your money to your contractor.
  9. Gather your support system. This entire process is long and difficult, to say the least. It drains your pockets, your relationships, your energy. A loving group of people to cheer you on is great to have!
  10. Stick to your guns! No, not those guns... Stick to your plans and your budget, and believe that there is an end to all this. Be flexible yet firm with any changes that may come. Because they will come and come and come... such is the journey known as home renovation.

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Top 10 Things I Learned About Home Renovation... So Far + trip