If you’re planning any serious construction work at your home, or even planning on building a new home from scratch, you’re going to want a plan of action. Without one, the series of events can go haywire, and you end up not knowing whether the project is nearly started or nearly finished. Things get missed, it runs over budget or over time, and you could even end up forgetting something crucial entirely. The only way to ensure it all runs smoothly is with a comprehensive checklist, which is regularly reviewed and adapted as things change. Don’t let anyone anywhere near your home with a hammer without following these simple steps.
Make a wish list
First things first, you’re going to need to sort out your priorities. It can be tricky when you’re in the heat of the moment, or the middle of a technical discussion with an architect, to prioritize new ideas effectively, and you could end up agreeing to something you don’t want, or spending more money than you have, if you don’t make this list.
Ensure there are three columns: want, need, and luxury. If you’re building a house from scratch, for example, ensure the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, and any vital rooms are in your need column. The want column can contain things like a playroom or a garage, and things like a swimming pool or a jacuzzi bath would go in the luxury column. This will also help when it comes to number crunching, as you’ll be able to price the need column first, and any money left over can be allotted to features relegated to want or luxury. Be realistic, don’t allow yourself to promote something to need unnecessarily, you might find it skews your budget and expectations.
If you’re adding an extension to your home or converting an existing room or loft, the want and need list will look quite different. Be sure to include features like lighting and power points, windows, and even soft furnishings. The more things on your list, the more likely you are to get the perfect home.
Crunch the numbers
Nobody wants to have to think about the numbers when it comes to home improvements, but it’s a sad fact of life that we must. Before you meet with any sort of contractors or designers, you’re going to need to know how much money you have available for the project. That way, you won’t be scratching your head when you get quotes for the work, and you lessen the risk of running over budget. Be realistic with your finances. It’s a good idea to leave around a 10% buffer on what you expect to spend on the project. That way, if it runs over on money or time, you’re not digging down the back of the couch trying to find the money to fund it. It’ll also help to keep the stress off a little, as the finances can be one of the most anxiety-inducing bits of a large home improvement project.
Check the dates
You’re going to want a timeline for your plans in mind before you approach any contractors. That way, you’ll be able to lay down your expectations honestly and comprehensively, even if your contractor is surprised by the desired length of time. If you would like the project to be completely over by the time a special event comes around – your anniversary, your kid’s high school graduation, Christmas, or a birthday party, it’s best to be realistic about when to start the project, or whether to postpone until after the event. You’ll also probably want to consider the weather – reroofing the home right before a cold winter in the north, or in hurricane season in the south, is probably ill-advised.
If the project is huge, like building a home from scratch, it’s unlikely (read: almost impossible) that you’re going to be able to fit it into the space of a few months, so making other arrangements for special occasions is crucial. Even for a larger project, it’s still important to have an end date in mind, though. This will help contractors to calculate their costs, and it gives you a point to aim for when the going gets tough.
Start your research
Once you know what you want, when you want it, and how much you have to spend, you can start looking for the people who will make it happen. Contractors including designers, architects, and building firms such as VisionOneHomes are the best place to look. Don’t just choose the cheapest, or the first to pop up on a Google search. Use references, ask friends, and make sure you meet the people before you make any agreements. A reputable contractor or design and build company, will always want to conduct an interview before any agreements are made. It is crucial that both sides understand what the other wants and needs.
Consult professional organizations, such as nari.org to ensure the contractor you choose is bound by their strict professional code of conduct, guaranteeing that you’re getting a good deal, and certainly no cowboy builders. Choosing the right contractors and designers can be difficult, so ensure you speak to a few to find one on your wavelength. Check their portfolios, and ask them about their previous projects. Then you can start discussing costs and timeframes, and get the show on the road.
Do the legals
If you’re undertaking any large home improvements, make sure you get some legal advice first. There could be planning restrictions in your area, and you may need planning permission before undertaking any significant work, even on your own property. It’s also wise to research construction insurance – when you’re plowing so much money into a project it’s a real weight off your mind to know you’re protected financially if any does go wrong.
Make your arrangements
Depending on the nature of your project, you might need to make alternative arrangements for your family, pets, and even belongings for the duration of all or part of the work. Renting storage space is great for ensuring your things won’t be damaged. You might even want to check into a hotel for part of the work to avoid the disruption, especially is water, gas, or electricity will have to be turned off for any length of time. Animals, in particular, can find it very stressful when work is going on in their home, so asking a close friend or family member to care for them for a while might be best. Otherwise, it could be worth checking them into a kennel to keep them out of the way. Remember to factor all this into your budget when you’re working that out – you don’t want to be lumped with a huge bill that you weren’t expecting.
If you plan on staying at home throughout the work, make sure there is a safe space for you and your family to hang out in. A calm oasis when the rest of the house is a mess will have a considerable impact when you’re trying to relax. Try to make it as comfortable as possible, considering the circumstances. A sofa, blankets, DVD player, kettle, and ear plugs are all a must.
If you’re planning on building a home from scratch, you need to know exactly how you plan on living during that time. Will you live in a trailer on site so you can be close to the action, or perhaps stay with friends and family to keep bills down? If you’ve got your own family, will you have to rent a property during the build? This can add a significant cost to your budget, so be sure to crunch the numbers properly. It’s important to understand the termination clause on a rental contract if this is the case – how much notice do you have to give before you can leave the property, and how does this fit in with your planned time frame, and the possibility that the work could overrun?
Stay in the loop
Whatever the home improvements are that you have undertaken, if you’re not doing them yourselves it’s crucial to stay in the loop. During the design phase, and especially the build phase, ensure you’re having regular meetings with the contractors in order to be kept up to speed with how it’s progressing. This gives them the opportunity to discuss any setbacks with you, but also helps you to feel like an intrinsic part of the process. Be sure to keep thorough notes in these meetings; they’re useful for looking back on afterward, and particularly crucial if any disputes arise at a later date.
Home improvements are a particularly stressful time for any household, however big or small. The money pressure is only a tiny bit of it, but having your home taken over by workmen can put a real strain on you and your family. Being prepared for whatever the project throws at you is the best way to keep your head above water, and take everything in your stride. If you’re planning a huge home improvement project, let me know what your planning stages looked like, and how you ensured everything ran smoothly.