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How to Plan Your First Renovation Project

by Andra Hopulele
9 min. read

Renovating your home is an exciting step towards truly making it yours. Whether you’ve bought a bargain fixer-upper and want to transform it into your dream home or you simply wish to renovate a few rooms, going over designs, styles and new layouts is always a lot of fun. 

However, undertaking your first renovation project is no small task, and if you’re not careful, there’s a chance you might not end up with what you had in mind. Fortunately, help is at hand, so read on to see how to plan your first home renovation project perfectly.

Take Your Time

Wise men say that only fools rush in, and they speak the truth! Take time to plan your renovation, especially if you’ve only just moved into your new home. You need to get an idea about how space flows at the moment before deciding how you can redesign it to work better. By spending at least 4 months in your new home before going ahead with a renovation, you’ll be in a far better place to decide how your space can best work for you.

Of course, if you’ve bought a fixer-upper, it might not be in any state for waiting. Even so, it’s best to work out how you will renovate it, and whether it’s viable, before rushing in and grabbing a bargain.

Plan Ahead

Though you’re taking your time before going ahead with a renovation, that’s not to say you need to sit idle. Start planning exactly what you want to do to your home and get the bare bones of a plan on paper. This plan may change over time, but it’s good to have a rough idea. Figure out whether you want to renovate the entire home or just a few rooms. Maybe renovating your bathroom or giving your bedroom a makeover will be enough to breathe new life into the entire home.

Go Into Detail

Once you have the bones of a plan down on paper and an idea of what you want to change, you can start fleshing it out a little more. Think about what materials you want to use, which styles and designs you like, and what colour schemes would work best. You don’t need to create a complete blueprint, but this information will be very useful when you start to speak with contractors.

Meet with Contractors

Once you know what you want, start researching local contractors. Take time to research as many as you can, taking recommendations from friends and family into account. Create a shortlist of around three to five contenders and arrange to meet with all of them.

When you meet, discuss your plans and get feedback from each one. A good contractor will generally offer advice, constructive criticism where needed, and alternative ideas that might save you money. Ask as many questions as you can think of and be sure to get an estimate.

Meeting with several contractors allows you to get feedback from a number of professionals, as well as getting an idea of which you feel you’d be happiest working with. When you do come to choosing one, don’t just go for the cheapest, but think about which you’d be comfortable having in your home.

Budget and Check Out the Return on Investment

With a contractor in mind and an estimate to go on, you can start to create an accurate budget, and see just how feasible the whole project is. Be sure to take into account additional expenses such as eating out, accommodation, etc., and always add at least 15% to cover unexpected costs.

It’s good practice to consider the return on investment (ROI), even if you don’t plan on selling any time soon. Make sure you’re not going to end up pricing your home out of the neighbourhood and think about whether it’s worth going all out on a luxury remodel. It’s not too late to alter your plans and to go for a more mid-range renovation if you think it might be the best thing for your budget and ROI.

Finalize the Details and Fix a Date

Using your budget, ROI and suggestions from your contractor, tweak your plans until they’re feasible—and until you’re happy. Meet with your contractor to discuss the revised plan and finalize the small details. Finally, fix a date for the work to commence, being sure that you know how long it’ll take.

You may choose to do everything at once or stagger the work room by room. The choice is yours and mostly depends on your budget, schedule and the urgency of the work in question. If you do need to stagger, target the rooms you use most first, favouring kitchens and bathrooms over bedrooms.


Expert Insights

Renovating a home has many advantages and can be a lot of fun, but the experts warn about the mistakes people constantly make which turn the whole experience into a nightmare. Read on to see how to avoid the most common renovation pitfalls and also which home improvements add the most value to your home in the long run.

Ciro Giammona

Ciro Giammona
CEO of Harrell Remodeling Design + Build
Palo Alto, California

What do most people fail to take into consideration when budgeting for renovations?

I think what most people fail to take into consideration when budgeting for renovations is the reliability of the source of their information. No one wants to pay more than necessary for a remodeling project and so it is not uncommon that clients come to us with budgets derived from a variety of sources and they are typically over-optimistic. Friends, family, and neighbors who have remodeled, the internet, newspapers, and magazines all provide cost information, but none of those sources can provide an absolute “one size fits all” cost transferable from one situation to another.

Renovating a space entails many variables that are handled in a variety of ways by the designers and builders of remodeled spaces. Here are just some of the questions we ask before trying to help a client establish a budget:

  • How long do you plan to stay in your home? (The project quality and hence the price of the project is often greater when homeowners plan to use it themselves for a while.)
  • Do you plan to stay in the home while the renovation is going on? (Creating a clean, safe and useable space for homeowners to live in has a cost associated with it, and depending on the situation may cost more, not less, than moving out.)
  • Are you good decision-makers? (Choosing design options and finishes quickly from a short list is less expensive than exploring multiple designs and redesigns, along with numerous shopping expeditions. No judgement here! Good designers and builders can accommodate either style!)
  • What is the capacity of the designer and builder you are considering? (Operating costs for larger and established firms are typically greater than small shops and that cost is of course, passed on to the homeowner. The value of a firm with a “deep bench” is they may not be as easily overloaded as a small shop so projects may be completed more quickly and predictably, saving a client’s sanity along the way.)

These are just a few of the considerations that are easy to overlook when imagining the end result of a project and its potential cost, without looking at the process required to achieve it.

What home improvement would you say adds the most value to a home, in the long run? Why?

There are a number of home improvements that can increase the value of a home. We sometimes discourage homeowners who want to live in a home for a while from over-emphasizing resale value as the ultimate factor in their decision-making. We’ve heard many clients who fixed up their home for sale say “I wish we had done this a long time ago so we could enjoy it!”. A good remodel can be a life-changing experience, and there is great value in that.

That said, something as simple and relatively inexpensive as improving the insulation of the home can increase comfort and reduce heating and cooling costs, thereby paying for itself in a short period of time. Not a very “impressive” improvement by itself, but certainly a high-value addition and it would be shortsighted to do an extensive remodel and not upgrade the insulation at the same time.

Bathrooms are where we typically start and end each day, and the kitchen is the heart of the home. Stylish and highly functional bathrooms and kitchens not only provide “ROE” (Return of Enjoyment), they preserve a large portion of their value at resale compared to dated and worn out spaces. Will they return 100% of the dollars invested to improve them? Probably not, but the lifestyle improvement will often exceed the difference by a large margin.

Is there underutilized space in the back yard? With our beautiful California weather, we are seeing a major trend in outdoor living spaces including patios, arbors, decks and kitchens. Weather resistant and low maintenance features enable homeowners to more easily entertain without having to spend an inordinate amount of time and cost taking care of the space when not in use. Compared to an expansive (and expensive) lawn, a beautiful and functional outdoor space is a great value.

Daren Smith

Daren Smith
Owner of Smiley Renovations in Silver Spring, Maryland
President of NARI Metro D.C.

What do most people fail to take into consideration when budgeting for renovations?

For an extensive renovation, I see that many customers do not take into account the necessary cost for the design fees associated with preparing drawings.

Not only are permit drawings necessary which show the structural and mechanical aspects, but there is a considerable effort necessary to make all the selections for a project. Clients meeting with the architect and designer is crucial to providing a plan that meets the specific needs of the client. Design fees are a considerable cost and need to be budgeted in from the beginning.

What home improvement would you say adds the most value to a home, in the long run? Why?

There are many projects that will add value to a home. Certainly, adding square footage to a home can have a major impact on the appeal and value of a home. If this kind of investment is not possible, I believe when clients choose to renovate the first floor of their home, they see a great return on investment.

Many homes in our area are smaller and the footprint is made up of smaller rooms which do not function well with today’s lifestyles. Once we open the spaces, create usable storage, address the need for a mudroom, often add a powder room, and design a modern kitchen, the first floor of the home will become a space the family loves to be in and enjoy. This is a project that sells a home.

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