Wednesday, October 19, 2011

5 of the Worst Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid

Even if you love HGTV, unless you love "do-it-yourself" projects, remodeling isn't something people do very often. As a result, homeowners often make costly mistakes that can be avoided.   HomeSavvi has talked to experienced homeowners as well as many professionals to  assemble this list of most common mistakes, no matter what kind of project you are taking on.

Assume you know what your project will cost without doing the research first.
We’ve met homeowners who think that a kitchen remodel with all new appliances, custom cabinets and granite countertops will only cost $20,000. What they find is that a $20,000 kitchen most likely includes a basic appliance package, laminate countertops and stock cabinets from a home improvement store. In fact, the average kitchen remodel is closer to $50,000, with many approaching $80,000. (See Our Kitchen Budget Calculator)
“Many homeowners develop a budget based on what they think things should cost versus knowing what they actually do cost,” says Bruce Donnally, principal of award winning Donnally Architects, based in Seattle. “Home products have advanced tremendously in the last 10 years, so what you got for a refrigerator in the ‘80s isn’t what you’ll get today.”
This concept of developing a real project cost goes hand in hand with selecting your materials before starting any work. Materials will make the biggest difference in what your remodel costs. Because cabinets are usually a big ticket item, we talked with Ingrid Miller of Rainier Cabinetry and Design about the variance in cabinetry costs. She tells us that the labor cost to install new cabinets doesn’t really vary much. However the cabinets themselves can vary from $100 per lineal foot for already made stock cabinets bought at Home Depot to over $500 per lineal foot for custom made or specialty cabinets.
We can continue to give lots of examples, but the point is to do your research, and don’t forget to account for every little thing – even drawer pulls and door knobs can start to add up. It may seem unnecessary to develop a budget that detailed, but you’ll be much better prepared if you do.
Says Tom Fine, owner of award winning Fine Construction in Seattle, “A great idea is to work with a contractor AS PART of setting the budget. You can get a lot of good advice during the bidding process, and learn whether or not you can work with that contractor.”
Donnally reminds us, “Don’t forget to include all non-construction costs such as permits, and design costs. And don’t forget to add tax. In Washington State it is 9.5 percent, so a $300,000 construction quote from a contractor actually will come in at $330,000.” 

Start without a design or a plan.
Many homeowners don’t know how to come up with a plan or design, and don’t understand the importance of how design will affect the final outcome.  Design is not decoration. It is the practical application of where permanent items will be installed in your home, how they will function, and what they look like.
One easy example of poor design is a bathroom where the door can’t be opened without hitting the toilet.
Emphasizes Fine, “Don’t start without design, and make sure you take the time to understand it. If you don’t allow enough time to understand it, you’ll be surprised in the end, which is always bad.”
Faith Sheridan, top designer and winner of HGTV’s  Designer Challenge, agrees. “Visualize the design and do a final check when the construction is in the rough in phase. Check the height, distance and spacing for countertops, electrical switches, shower heads, and faucets. Otherwise, fixing mistakes later is quite expensive.”

Neglect to create enough time in your already busy schedule.
It’s all too common for home improvement projects to take longer than you think they will, even after you’ve doubled or tripled the estimate in your head. Whether you are doing the work yourself, or working with a professional, things don’t always go as planned.
One homeowner we know has spent at least 10 weekends putting a new roof on an outdoor shed. The project got delayed when the homeowner slipped off the roof and broke his ribs. Ouch! Hopefully not a common delay, but unexpected things do happen.
And for large projects, many homeowners just don’t have the experience to know how long a project can take. “For instance, says Donnally, “what might seem like a simple addition to your home can take up to 2 years from permit to completion.  The homeowner needs to allocate time for drawings, design, building permit, to interview contractors, get quotes, to buy the materials, move out, and schedule the workers.” And, there are many more tasks than just those.
Says Fine, “I advise homeowners to allocate at least 2 – 4 hours per week, and sometimes more when selecting materials. Allow time each week for meetings, walk throughs, decisions, and progress reports.”
And, remember if you are working with professionals that you’ll have to take time off from work during the day to meet with them. Contractors, architects and designers have families at home, too!
Fail to set clear goals for what you want to do, and change your mind in the middle of the project.

Nia Collins, chief designer at Collins Group Architecture and Design suggests, “ Ask yourself why you want to do this project? Is it for resale, to make your home more functional while you live there, or just improve its cosmetics?” Each of those answers should help in your selection of materials, colors, and maintenance. 

Once you have those selections made, don’t get wishy washy and change your mind about design or materials choices mid-stream. This will almost always cost more, and take more time. On the other hand, says Sheridan, “it’s wise to allow 10% of your budget for surprises or to adopt new ideas.”

Select professionals based on price alone.
Of course, we’ve all heard horror stories about contractors gone bad, but reputable designers, contractors and subs want you to be happy with their work and will stand by it with written guarantees.
“Don’t cut corners by going with a cheap installer for an expensive product. If you are using a general contractor, get a warranty for work done by subs – get it in writing, and get it for more than 1 year. A reputable firm will stand behind their work,” says Collins.

Sheridan agrees, “If you are handling really high end or specialized materials, you may need a higher level of expertise for installation than normal.”
Fine stresses, “Trust and communication are the number one and two qualities you should look for in a professional who will be coming into your home.”
Hourly rate is the last thing to consider when selecting a designer. Sheridan says, “The question to ask is “I want to know if you are the designer who can help me create my dream within my budget.” Find out if this is the designer who can help you achieve your personal dream.”
Says Miller, "Remember, pricing and service go hand in hand. When you focus on price alone, you may save hard dollar costs, but the end result may not be what you wanted."

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