Use This Handy Guide to Ensure Your Project Goes Off Without a Hitch

If it seems like everyone you know is renovating, you’re not imagining things. According to a survey by Houzz, more than half of homeowners (55 percent) planned to renovate in 2022. Considering joining their ranks in the year ahead? We talked to renovation professionals and experienced homeowners to assemble a checklist that will help you prep for the road ahead. With their tips and some strategic planning, your remodel has a fighting chance to finish on time and within budget.


1. Make a wish list.

The first step in any renovation is to identify the essentials, says Jean Brownhill, the founder of Sweeten, a platform that helps homeowners find vetted contractors. “Know what’s definitively required, then make a second wish list of nice-to-haves,” Brownhill says, noting it’s valuable to include all of the changes you’d like to see but might be willing to forgo. When you start to get bids, you could find that some things are less expensive than you imagined and others are more costly. “You’ll learn a lot from the process of getting quotes,” says Lacey Soslow, cofounder of Matriarchy Build, which connects home remodelers with female and LGBTQ+ tradespeople for online renovation consultations.


2. Batch the work.

Doing things all at once is way more efficient. When Soslow added central air-conditioning, she tacked on forced-air heat at the same time for less than the cost of adding it later. Another upside: less disruption to your life. Faith Durand, a homeowner who just finished a bathroom renovation in Columbus, Ohio, advises, “If you have your walls, ceiling, or floor opened up, do anything you think you’ll need to do. Don’t say, ‘We’ll do that later.’” When you’re remodeling, it makes sense to think about energy efficiency upgrades too (especially with the Inflation Reduction Act tax credits going into effect in 2023, which could save you hundreds of dollars).


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3. Do your research.

Looking into average costs will give you a ballpark idea of how much you’ll need to spend. But beware that the data can vary wildly. Prices differ dramatically by market and chosen materials, which can in turn impact labor. (Laminate flooring, for example, is a lot easier to install than hardwood.) Soslow notes that there can also be a big difference in price between “scrappier teams who are just getting started and a builder who has been custom-building for decades.” The goal is to get a range; your design team should be able to fill in the blanks.


4. Create a budget.

Architect Holly Mumford, who sells ready-made house plans through Hereabout, says to take full inventory. Make a list of every single item in the room being renovated, including little details like cabinet hinges and dimmer switches. Then plug those items into a spreadsheet and start to assign guesstimate costs to each. Even after you settle on a price with your general contractor (GC), you’ll also need a slush fund for unexpected expenses. “Build in a cash reserve for issues that come up along the way,” says Brownhill, who recommends 10 to 15 percent above the expected budget for a non-gut remodel and more than 15 percent for a gut remodel.

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5. Get organized.

That inventory spreadsheet should be set up before you go out to find a GC, says construction consultant Kate Smith, who notes that busy builders “want to take on people who are serious and have it together.” She suggests setting up a separate email address just for your project and says to get everything, including all bids, in writing. Contractors are much more likely to call or text throughout the day as issues arise, but Smith says to follow up in writing too: Reiterate what change was discussed, the timeline quoted, and the cost changes.

hire the right crew

You will almost certainly need a licensed GC, and if you’re planning to move walls, an architect too. (They will help you find tradespeople like electricians and tile setters.) The best way to source a crew is through word of mouth. If you don’t have a network to tap, Mumford says to ask your home inspector and real estate broker for recs. “Ask to see some of their past projects in person or to speak to their past clients—at least two,” Brownhill says. Whether you need an interior designer depends on you: “As a parent who works full time, I realized it made more sense to hire someone than spend hours of my own time trying to pick a faucet,” Chitnis says.


7. Assess the level of disruption.

Staying in your house during renovation is dirty, chaotic, and generally unpleasant—and it can slow the work down. If you have the means to rent a place or can stay with family, do, Brownhill says. As for timing, interior work can happen any time of the year, while exterior painting and foundation work require warmer weather. Homeowners, especially parents, say that summer is a good time to undertake home projects because of more lax schedules and the possibility to take advantage of grilling and outdoor showers.

8. Decide if it’s worth it.

If you’re on the fence about whether to renovate or relocate, choose based on your life, rather than your finances alone. Most renovations won’t ever recoup their initial costs. The top two interior renovations that do pay back homeowners upon resale are refinishing hardwood floors, which returned 147 percent on the investment, and installing new wood floors, which provides a 118 percent return. (Check p. 48 for ideas.) Ultimately, the value of creating a home you love is incalculable. “I think people don’t realize how uncomfortable they are living in discomfort,” Brownhill says. “People’s lives can be much smoother and less stressful if their homes work better.”

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